On February 24, 2016, two Israeli NGOs, HaMoked and B’Tselem, released a report “Backed by the System,” alleging “Abuse and Torture” in “at the interrogation facility run by the Israel Security Agency (ISA) at Shikma Prison in Ashkelon, southern Israel.” The claims come from terrorists and suspected terrorists who were at the facility in late 2013 and early 2014, and who were referred to HaMoked by their relatives (pg. 6). In contrast to the impression created in this report, only 14 of the 116 prisoners complained about “physical violence” during interrogation, and these cannot be independently confirmed.
Given the political and ideological agendas of these organizations and their previous distorted allegations, this publication appears to be again motivated by factors outside the realm of human rights.
- As with many NGO publications, including those by the two groups, there is no meaningful research methodology. The report consists entirely of “testimonies” that cannot be and have not been verified, from individuals who have incentive to lie. No evidence is provided to corroborate the claims of the prisoners.
- The “testimonies” in the report come from individuals convicted or suspected of security offenses and terrorism, who have political and personal reasons to falsely claim “torture.” Both Jewish and Palestinian terrorists have repeatedly used the tactic of alleging torture in order to garner sympathy and deflect from their heinous crimes.
- NGOs that demonize Israel with allegations of torture attempt to radically expand the definition of ill-treatment. For instance, HaMoked and B’Tselem complain that “Sixteen detainees reported being searched when they were stark naked, a situation they described as embarrassing and humiliating.” However, this is common practice for all prisoners in Israel and beyond; in fact, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was also strip searched when he began serving his sentence. Other supposed forms of torture, according to the NGOs, include “swearing and derogatory remarks,” “poor” food, “dirt and/or stench in cell,” and “shower withheld for more than three days.”
- It appears that the publication of the report was timed to coincide with a forthcoming UN Committee Against Torture review of Israel (April-May 2016). Submissions from NGOs are due at the end of March.
- The “research” for the report took place in “August 2013 to May 2014” (pg. 6), there are indications that all follow up was completed by June 2015 (pg. 14, 43, 53), and the date of publication provided is December 2015. However, the press release is from February 24, 2016.
- As the report’s name suggests, the NGOs emphasize an alleged policy of torture “shaped by the state” and not by “so-called ‘rotten apples’” (pg. 64). There is no evidence to support this allegation, intended to demonize Israel.
- The report was also published in the midst of discussions regarding an ongoing case at the Israeli High Court of Justice, based on a petition from the same NGOs and making the same arguments. However, this publication was publicized before the State of Israel submitted its response and before the Court could issue a ruling on the merits.
- The publication was funded by the European Union. The EU flag is prominently featured on the report’s cover, alongside the logos of HaMoked and B’Tselem, creating the false impression that the EU has corroborated the claims within.
- NGO Monitor research shows that HaMoked has been receiving an EU grant worth €654,423 from September 2013-August 2016 for “torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees held by Israeli security forces through joint advocacy and legal action” (emphasis added): One of the “Specific Objective[s]” is: “Holding duty bearers responsible through documenting maltreatment and distributing information through the Israeli and international publics” (emphasis added).
- According to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits, B’Tselem reported a donation of NIS 532,023 from the EU in 2015 for “support for a project against torture.”