A man suspected of being “associated with Hezbollah” was electrocuted through his fingers. Food shortages left dozens of detainees without food. Prisoners were indefinitely incarcerated outside any procedural framework, without trial, and without detention orders.
Shin Bet, Israel’s national intelligence agency, released records this week detailing the administration and living conditions of several hundred Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held in the Khiam detention center.
Supervised by the Israelis in their South Lebanon occupation zone from 1985 to 2000, this place was known as a lawless territory outside any international regulation. During the 2006 Lebanon war, Israeli air raids destroyed most of the prison buildings and, with them, part of the collective memory and available evidence.
The documents were released this week after Israeli human rights activists petitioned the high court to force the Shin Bet reveal the information.
“The torture inflicted in Khiam Prison is a crime against humanity,” Itay Mack, the lawyer in charge of the case, told Haaretz. The documents are “shocking, and constitute only a miniscule glimpse into the hell that they ran there,” the lawyer added. He went on to say that their fight will continue until all classified archival documents are exposed and those responsible are brought to justice.
While most of the information on conditions for detainees is already known, the reports illustrate the degree of Shen Bet involvement and the hierarchical nature of its relations with its local collaborators, the SLA.
Haaretz reported that a 1997 document said, “The final decision must always be that of our forces,” as the Lebanese “have known interests, which are not always consistent with our interests.”
It also confirmed that Shin Bet was fully informed of the abuses that took place in Khiam prison, especially the torture inflicted upon its inmates.
The exchanges point to a debate within Israeli institutions over the legality of the Israeli army’s involvement, at a time when Israel had officially disengaged from Lebanon as a whole and had withdrawn to its South Lebanon security zone in 1985, when the prison was constructed.
An archival document from 1996 shows that the authorities recognized that there was a “diplomatic and legal problem” linked to the administration of a detention center on Lebanese territory, at a time when “the Israeli government had formally declared it is withdrawing from the region.”
Another source indicated that “the activity in Lebanon is not established in law, and even less so from the aspect of international law.”
Despite the leadership’s reluctance, documents confirm that in 1997 then-Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein approved the army and Shin Bet’s joint request to conduct interrogations “under certain conditions,” Haaretz noted.
These revealed documents are only the first step in an ongoing process. While the judicial proceedings are set to be initiated in early April, Shin Bet authorized Israeli media to publish a part of the material now. Most of the material remains classified.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.