For weeks, a team of 13 Shin Bet men interrogated four Palestinian women over social activities, Israel claims, linked to Hamas. Three filed torture complaints to the Israeli justice ministry after hundreds such cases were closed without charges.
Dina Karmi from Al-Khalil felt twice she was fainting at the same day during her interrogation in July 2018. “The first time she was taken to be examined by a doctor, who she said told the interrogators she was stronger than he was, thus she was sent back to the interrogation,” according to a complaint filed for her by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel to the Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.
“The second time the complainant woke up after cold water was poured on her. She was taken to the infirmary wet, very tired and trembling. She says the doctor gave her a tranquilizer and sent her back to the interrogation, which lasted for about another two hours.”
This description appears in one of the 31 paragraphs that spell out the manner and methods of the interrogation of Karmi, as explained in a complaint also sent to Rabia Hino of the Israeli justice ministry unit examining complaints by interrogees. The complaint was also sent to the military advocate general and the National Prison Wardens Investigations Unit, due to the aggressive arrest by the soldiers and the wardens’ treatment of her.
According to the complaint, when Karmi was interrogated by the Shin Bet man known as Dov, she too felt faint several times. But “Dov shouted at her in his loud voice until she woke up, and she was not taken for a checkup at the infirmary.”
Karmi, 40, was arrested on July 2 last year. Before her another two women who were linked to her were arrested. On June 5, Suzan Aweiwe, 41, a member of the Hebron Municipal Council, was arrested. On June 18, it was Safaa Abu Sneineh, 38.
Painful and humiliating
Lama Khater was the fourth woman to be arrested. The Shin Bet claimed that all of them were members in a Hamas women’s committee established by Karmi in 2010.
After what is described in the complaints as painful and humiliatingarrests by soldiers, the four were immediately transferred for interrogation by the Shin Bet at Shikma Prison in Ashkelon. Later, when they were in Damon Prison, the four women gave testimony on torture to attorney Ola Shtewe of the Public Committee Against Torture, so the statements could be processed into complaints.
In the end, seven women were arrested on the same suspicion. Hino, the Israeli justice ministry lawyer, met with the three complainants in prison. At the end of August last year, the Shin Bet released a dramatic statement about the exposure of a broad Hamas infrastructure that includes women receiving instructions from Hamas commanders and funding for terror activity. The Shin Bet was referring to this group of four women.
Noise and sleep deprivation
The four women have already been released to their homes after spending 10 to 12 months in prison following plea deals – less than the sentence first demanded by the military prosecution, 20 to 24 months. Experienced attorneys who represent defendants at military court say that such jail time is considered short, reflecting minor offenses, even according to the criteria of the Israeli military system: social and religious activity linked with Hamas, organising and taking part in demonstrations, starting a Facebook page, distributing prayer books and visiting the families of prisoners.
Already upon Aweiwe’s arrest there was no suspicion of military activity posing an immediate danger to human life; the women who were arrested subsequently were also interrogated for social and civil activity allegedly linked to Hamas. The women’s testimonies, as worded in the complaints, spell out the daily worsening of their conditions.
“The interrogation became increasingly difficult as time passed,” according to a complaint filed for Karmi. “At first the plaintiff was interrogated by Andy alone, but other interrogators entered and left the room, claiming that they wanted to meet the wife of the shahid [martyr] Nashat al-Karmi.”
Shin Bet claims that Karmi’s husband, who has been shot dead by Israeli occupation forces, was responsible for killing Israeli settlers in 2010.
According to the complaint, “the hours of interrogation became longer and harsher with time, as did the ‘tone of the interrogation.’ The interrogators made various threats, including that she would remain there forever, would not go home and would receive a harsh punishment. After three days of interrogation, Andy was replaced by Haroun, who took charge of the interrogation. The interrogator Haroun used shouts, humiliation and contempt for the plaintiff and her husband.”
The three women’s complaints and Khater’s testimony present a similar pattern. Each was deprived of sleep by long interrogations, 17 hours in Karmi’s case, 20 in Khater’s, or a variety of noises near the cell where they were kept in solitary confinement between interrogations. This included banging on the wall, loud conversations among the wardens and female wardens entering the cell every half hour “to ask if everything was all right,” according to Karmi, who said she “did not get an hour’s sleep without being awakened.”
Each was held in a sitting position for hours with her hands tied behind her. The interrogations included screaming and threats against the women and members of their families, as well as comments and hints at times of a clearly sexual nature.
In between the interrogations, each was held in solitary confinement in a dirty and smelly cell for several weeks. For a few days some were sent to a cell for a few days where conditions were even worse.
Painkillers for all pain
Aweiwe needed a doctor while she was in isolation. The doctor spoke to her through a small opening in the door and then received permission from Andy to take her to an infirmary. Following consultations with a social worker and senior physician, Aweiwe received Valerian herbal medicinal drops, but it was still advised that she be returned to her cell and be checked on every 20 to 30 minutes, according to the complaint.
Abu Sneineh also had to see a doctor several times during her interrogation. On one occasion, she said the doctor asked: “Why are you bringing her in every day?” She also received pain relievers and was sent back for further interrogation. She testified that her legs were often tied during the process.
Aweiwe was interrogated for 27 days in two separate rounds. After 21 days, she was transferred to Sharon Prison due to her medical condition, and was then sent back for another seven days of interrogations. Abu Sneineh was interrogated for 45 days, including 35 days of solitary confinement.
At the beginning of her interrogation, she was sent to Megiddo Prison for a week, but was later returned to Shikma. Karmi estimates she was interrogated for about a month and Khater was interrogated for 35 days.
‘I turned your husband into a sieve’
In their testimonies, the women for the most part mentioned the same interrogators: Andy, Binji, Johnny, Haroun, Dov, Rino, Marcel, Guy, Yehiya and Herzl. The women estimate that there were 13 in all.
“Interrogator Andy was particularly harsh during the interrogation,” the complaint for Aweiwe says. “He would yell, swear … and sometimes put his face right near the complainant’s as he yelled and spit, and a bad smell emanated from him.”
Karmi, meanwhile, said that at first, the interrogator Marcel “spoke with the complainant gently and calmly, and even offered her food that he brought with him to the interrogation room.”
The following day his approach changed: “Marcel arrived and accused the complainant of betraying him,” Karmi’s complaint says. “He said he had thought there was a close connection between them …. One of the interrogators told the complainant that he was the man who killed her husband; as he put it: ‘I turned your husband into a sieve.’ For example, the interrogator Marcel told the complainant: ‘We killed your husband like a cockroach.’”
The food they received was inedible, according to the complaints. Aweiwe, Karmi and Abu Sneineh were interrogated during the fast month of Ramadan and got one meal in which the only thing they could eat was the yogurt.
“Threats, sleep deprivation, painful restraints and being kept in uncomfortable positions are all, unfortunately, types of torture familiar in Israel and around the world,” says attorney Efrat Bergman-Sapir, director of the legal department of the Public Committee Against Torture. “International law defines torture as acts that cause serious emotional or physical pain and suffering. These methods, and especially the combination of them, certainly meet that definition and do long-term physical and psychological damage to the victim.”
This is also the conclusion of attorney Labib Habib, who represented Karmi toward the end of her legal proceedings. He said that most of the male prisoners who are interrogated don’t want to file complaints because they don’t believe they will be investigated seriously, doubting that the Israeli legal system is willing to deal with them.
Since 2001 the public committee has submitted 1,200 complaints of torture to the Israeli justice ministry unit that investigates them. Of those, only one has led to a criminal investigation, which was closed without charges. A complaint about torture and abuse takes an average of three years and three months to be examined. The committee is currently awaiting decisions on 37 cases; in 15 of them, it has been waiting more than five years.