By Amira Hass
In the most recent Israel Defense Forces raids in the Gaza Strip, during which dozens of people were detained for interrogation by the Shin Bet, the security service adopted a procedure unknown in recent years: The detainees were forced to undress in the presence of another detainee and a soldier or a member of the Shin Bet and then be interrogated while wearing a disposable, blue paper overall. This emerged in cumulative testimony from the Strip. In the West Bank, apparently, the color of the overall is white.
According to a clarification by Haaretz with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, this procedure has been implemented in the last three months with detainees from Beit Lahia, the Al Fuhari neighborhood in Khan Yunis and twice with detainees from the agricultural town of Shuka east of Rafah, on June 9 and on August 3.
In earlier raids where a large number of Palestinians who were not suspects nor wanted men were detained, they were not stripped and usually were questioned while wearing their own clothes. But the Shin Bet said in response that “an examination by the relevant security factors indicated there has been no change in the professional instructions for the manner of examination.”
Othman Hussein, a resident of Shuka who works in the research and planning department of Palestinian Authority Chair Mahmoud Abbas’ bureau, was detained with another 83 people during an August 3 raid, along with his 16-year-old son. All of them – except for an employee of the Gaza European Hospital – were released within 24 hours.
Hussein, 44, is a writer and a poet. He was held for interrogation a year ago as well. “At the time they maintained a certain attitude of respect,” said Hussein in a phone conversation with Haaretz. “I sat in detention for 22 hours, and I was interrogated for an hour, mainly regarding my opinion of current events. They didn’t strip me and they didn’t humiliate me. “This time, their method was particularly humiliating, embarrassing and disgusting. I’m convinced it’s a method designed to humiliate and weaken us in front of the interrogator.” Hussein said that all those questioned who were taken from their homes were Fatah members like him and known as such.
The raid on Shuka, which stands on the edge of Rafah airport, began at about 1 A.M. Friday morning and ended at 5 P.M. According to Hussein, the soldiers announced on loudspeakers that all men aged 15-45 should leave their homes and gather in the neighborhood square. At the same time, the soldiers conducted searches of about 50 houses, detaining men. Four children under the age of 15 and about 20 adults over the age of 45 were also detained, Hussein said. “I didn’t plan to leave the house, but when I saw that my 16-year-old son was on the way to detention, I joined him.” Hussein said it was about 6:30 A.M.
The 84 detainees gathered gradually in the square and eventually had their hands cuffed behind their backs. It was very hot, with no shelter from the sun. But the soldiers offered bread and water, said Hussein. Around 10 A.M. one group was told to get onto a truck, and a second group was taken at 12 noon. Hussein and his son were in the first group.
“We were about 10 meters from the truck. When we approached it, the soldiers blindfolded us. When they saw that we couldn’t get onto the truck with bound hands and blindfolded, they grabbed us, one by one, and tossed us into the truck, like sheep. Except that sheep are not handcuffed and blindfolded.”
After a short ride they arrived at an army camp in the Kerem Shalom area. There they were put two at a time into a wooden hut with only three walls. A man wearing civvies told them to undress completely in front of him and passed a metal detector over their naked bodies, including their behinds, according to Hussein’s testimony.
Hussein and his son were put together in the hut. According to additional testimony, men and women soldiers were walking near the open hut all the while. Afterward, everyone was told to don an overall and put his clothes in a separate black bag, and then the detainees were handcuffed and blindfolded again.
The detainees were moved to outside the interrogation rooms, where they waited, in groups of 10 at a time. Each was interrogated separately by a Shin Bet investigator. There appeared to be only two interrogators. At the entrance to the interrogation room, handcuffs and blindfolds were removed.
Hussein said he came before the interrogator angry and upset. The interrogator did not introduce himself and asked questions “whose answers he has in the computer in any case – how old I am, who my relatives are, how old they are, etc. Then he asked me about what had happened between Hamas and Fatah. I answered him: ‘You strip me next to my son, sit me in the sun for about four hours, and then you want me to tell you my opinion of Hamas and Fatah? I don’t want to tell you.”
The investigator nevertheless tried several times to get him to say something about his political opinions, but he refused, Hussein said.
At the conclusion of the questioning, at 2 P.M. they were once again handcuffed and blindfolded. At 10 P.M. they were allowed to look for their clothes in a pile of black bags and were taken by bus to the Sufa crossing, north of Kerem Shalom. From there, in the middle of the night, in a dangerous border area, they made their way on foot several kilometers to Rafah.
The response of the Shin Bet: “As a rule, the security check is determined according to the concrete level of risk of the person under interrogation, which is decided according to the circumstances of each individual case. This examination does not usually include stripping the interrogatee. However, in exceptional cases, the examination can include stripping in view of past instances in which terrorists harmed security personnel with whom they had contact. It should be emphasized that the examination is external only, and the dignity, privacy and modesty of the interrogatees are strictly maintained.”