Irit Ballas (Public Committee Against Torture in Israel)

Torture by Israeli authorities in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), have undergone dramatic changes. These are usually attributed to the controversial High Court of Justice (HCJ) ruling of 1999, which outlawed methods of torture while at the same time facilitating their legalization. After the Court's decision, the use of severe torture practices was dramatically reduced, but torture still persists, with the backing from legal and political echelons.  

The chapter examines these significant changes in torture practices in light of the development and implementation of torture prevention mechanisms, and their possible correlation with both the quantity and the severity of torture practices. A careful examination of these mechanisms shows that in the 1990s Israel saw major developments in the quality and quantity of mechanisms designed to increase oversight over those who control people under custody.  Such developments include, among other things, the establishment of the Public Defender's Office, the new Detention Law, and the establishment of an independent Police Investigation Department.   

However, a closer look at these mechanisms reveals a recurrent theme: while offering fairly well-functioning mechanisms for ensuring the well-being of prisoners, they are designed in a way that impedes their effectiveness in the most systematic and severe instances of torture. This is achieved inter alia by limiting the scope of the law, by excluding susceptible facilities from the mandate of these mechanisms, and by creating an institutional barrier to prosecution.

One example concerns judicial oversight over arrests. The 1996 Detention Law incorporates major changes regarding legal oversight over arrests, including being brought promptly before a judge. However, the law applies only to ordinary detainees; “security” detainees are arrested under a regime of exception which allows prolonged periods of arrest before judicial review. Moreover, many Palestinian detainees fall under the scope of the military law, another form of exception, which allows even longer periods of time to pass. Thus, judicial oversight over detention is the weakest where it is most required.