One of the men was hospitalised with kidney failure and 11 broken ribs. Another was nearly unrecognisable to his wife when he was wheeled into a courtroom. A third was stitched up after being attacked by a security dog.
Then the three Palestinians were returned to their Israeli interrogators. They had been swept up in a sprawling manhunt launched after a roadside bomb killed a 17-year-old Israeli girl and wounded her father and brother as they hiked down to a spring last August in the occupied West Bank. The attack raised fears of a sophisticated militant cell that might strike again, and Israeli interrogators appear to have treated it as a ticking time-bomb scenario. Israeli and Palestinian rights groups say there is strong evidence that Israeli interrogators tortured several detainees in violation of Israeli and international law.
The allegations against Israel are the most serious to come to light in years, and the rights groups say they point to a loosening of constraints two decades after Israeli Supreme Court outlawed most forms of torture.
Lawyers and family members of the three main suspects say they were tortured to the point of being hospitalized. Several other Palestinians swept up by Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency say they were threatened, beaten, forced into painful stress positions and denied sleep.
A landmark 1999 Israeli Supreme Court ruling forbids such torture. But the law allows interrogators to defend the use of force when there is fear of an imminent attack.
Rights groups say interrogators routinely make use of the loophole, knowing they will face few consequences, if any.
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel says more than 1,200 complaints against the Shin Bet have been filed since 2001, without a single case going to trial. Only one criminal investigation has been launched, over a 2017 case involving alleged rape, and it is still open.
The allegations come at a sensitive time following the release of President Donald Trump’s Mideast initiative, which heavily favors Israel and would allow it to annex large parts of the West Bank. The Palestinians have rejected the plan, and sporadic clashes have erupted across the West Bank in recent days.
The Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which has also been accused of torturing prisoners, has responded to the plan by threatening to end its longtime security coordination with Israel, which many Palestinians view as an extension of the occupation. The latest torture allegations could add to the mounting pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to follow through on those threats.