Since the beginning of operation "Defensive Wall", the IDF has detained hundreds of Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories. In the Ramallah area alone, over 1,600 Palestinians were detained and taken to Ofer military camp near Beituniya. Following the release of some of the detainees, Israeli human rights organizations began to receive information about the difficult conditions in the detention camp and about the violent treatment of detainees on the way to the camp and during detention.
Among other things, detainees reported overcrowding in the tents where they were held. They reported that they were denied food for many hours and that some of them were forced to sleep outdoors. On April 5, 2002, B'Tselem received information from an Israeli source about torture during interrogations in the camp. According to the information, investigators broke detainees' toes.
In light of this information, Attorney Yossi Wolfson of HaMoked - Center for the Defence of the Individual petitioned Lieutenant Colonel Yair Lotstein, Deputy Legal Advisor for the West Bank, demanding that lawyers be allowed into the detention camp immediately to meet with the detainees and examine holding and interrogation conditions. In response, Attorney Wolfson was told that there was an order forbidding all detainees to meet with lawyers. The order, issued by the OC Central Commander on April 5, 2002, determines that anyone detained on or after March 29, 2002, can be held for 18 days before being brought before a judge. After eight days, detainees will allowed to plead their case. The order also determines that during the eighteen days of detention, the detainee does not have a right to see a lawyer.
B'Tselem along with HaMoked, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, have filed an urgent petition to the High Court of Justice, through Attorney Wolfson on the same day. The organizations demanded that detainees be allowed to meet with lawyers and that the court forbid the use of physical force against the detainees during interrogation.
In the court hearing, held on April 7, 2002, the State claimed that in the wave of detentions currently carried out in the Occupied Territories, the IDF detains Palestinians involved in combat against the IDF or in attacks on Israeli civilians, as well as innocent Palestinians who are not involved in such actions. Processing the detainees takes a number of days. Until the decision whether to release a certain detainee or hold him is reached, it is impossible to allow them to see lawyers. The State claimed that the order is justified in view of the combat nature of the situation and the high number of detainees.
With regards to the claims about torture during interrogation, the State claimed that it is not aware of such a phenomenon and that it cannot investigate general claims, such as the ones presented in the petition. Needless to say, as long as lawyers or human rights organizations are denied access to the detainees, the names of those harmed and the details of their cases cannot be produced.
Following a short hearing, Justices Levin, Engelrad and Gronis decided to reject the petition and accept the arguments of the State. The judges claim that in light of the combat in the Occupied Territories, the OC Central Commander's order was legal and they were not inclined to interfere with his judgement. In addition, the judges accepted the State's argument with regards to the broadness of the claims with respect to torture and refused to discuss the matter.
Israeli law acknowledges the right of a detainee to see a lawyer as a basic right. It is entrenched in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and in military legislation as well. The denial of this right is permitted only in extreme cases, when it is absolutely necessary for the purposes of the investigation or for security reasons. This right may be denied only in such cases, and on an individual basis and not out of considerations of convenience or utility.
The order issued by the OC Central Commander contradicts Israeli law. It is sweeping and pertains to anyone detained since March 29, 2002. This contravention of the law is particularly alarming in light of the fact that the State admits that in the current wave of detentions, Palestinians were detained according to broad criteria of age and gender, and that many were detained simply because they were present where detentions were being carried out and not because they were under suspicion. Under these circumstances it is impossible to accept claims that denying detainees the basic right to meet with lawyers complies with the exceptions outlined in the law. Clearly, such meetings do not put the area at a security risk or hamper the investigation. It is also clear that the ban on such meetings is not made on an individual basis, and that the State has turned the narrow exceptions the law reserves for extreme cases, into a norm.
When harsh claims about torture are made, a ban on meetings with lawyers is particularly intolerable, since detainees are thus denied any kind of protection. It appears that the military is seeking to prevent lawyers from entering Ofer camp, not due the necessities of the interrogation or security needs, but because it wants to conceal what goes on inside the camp form the public eye.
B'Tselem demands that the IDF allow lawyers to meet with detainees and examine holding and interrogation conditions at Ofer camp, as in other detention facilities.
Mass detentions of people whose only sin was being at the wrong place at the wrong time, holding them in appalling, inhuman conditions; a complete ban on communication with the outside world for over two weeks; and above all, torture during interrogation -- all this is currently being carried out by the IDF throughout the Occupied Territories, with the seal of the High Court of Justice.
Copyright © IICHOCT 2002. Reprinted for fair use only
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