More than two months after an international body accused Israel of abusing Palestinian prisoners at a detention center here, the Israeli Army opened the facility to foreign journalists today and denied that the prisoners had been mistreated.
The prison, located northeast of Nablus near the village of Al Faraa in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is essentially a detention center where prisoners are interrogated before being charged formally in the Israeli military courts that operate in the West Bank.
The facility is overcrowded, with as many as 15 young men sleeping on thin mattresses on the concrete floor of a single cell, but it appeared today to be clean and well-run. From the guided tour and brief conversations with some of the inmates, it was impossible to verify the accuracy of the charges made Jan. 30 by the International Commission of Jurists.
However, the prisoners, the bulk of whom are teen-age boys arrested for throwing stones at Israeli vehicles or participating in demonstrations, did not appear to be intimidated by prison officials who conducted the tour.
None of the prisoners who spoke to reporters in the presence of prison officials said he had been beaten or otherwise forced to confess to alleged crimes, as the 56-page report by the International Commission of Jurists asserted was a common practice at Al Faraa.
"Here everything is okay," said Mohammed Mohammed Blaide, 25, who said he has been charged with writing anti-Israeli slogans on a wall and has refused to confess to the charge. "Most of the prisoners went through interrogation as it should be done. There are no complaints, usually."
However, Blaide said that he was forced to stand during most of three days of interrogation. Another prisoner said he was forced to stand in a corridor for 12 hours before undergoing a six-hour interrogation. Prison officials denied that any of the inmates were forced to stand that long.
The tour was conducted by Israeli Army officers, who, under Army regulations, can be identified only by their first names. They included Lt. Col. Pasha, the head of the prison, and Col. Yaacov, the military commander in the West Bank.
While the officers denied the charges of mistreating prisoners, they conceded that there were two cases of abuse of prisoners in the past. It was clear from their comments that the system of interrogating prisoners here improved in January 1984, when a team of Army officers who had received special training was sent to the prison. Prior to then, the officials said, the interrogations were conducted by a mix of Army personnel and Israeli police.
Yaacov said he believes that since the special Army team was brought here in 1984, the interrogators' "hands are clean."
The report of the International Commission of Jurists involves alleged abuses at the prison between 1982, when the facility was opened, and May 1984. During that period at least two prison guards were convicted of beating prisoners.
The report was based on affidavits by 20 Palestinians who had been held at Al Faraa. The affidavits were gathered by Law in the Service of Man, the West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists.
In their statements, the former prisoners alleged beatings by soldiers, forced exposure to cold and water, inadequate food and medical care and other forms of harsh treatment. The report described Al Faraa as an "intimidation center" in which "confessions are manufactured."
When the report was released, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin dismissed it as "total nonsense," and the Army issued a statement that it had "no intention of addressing the web of false claims and baseless facts originating from hostile organizations."
Similar charges of beatings and other forms of mistreatment surfaced in the Israeli press last month and were based on interviews with three Palestinian men recently released from the prison. These charges are being investigated, Army officials said.
According to Yaacov, 60 to 70 percent of the men who are brought to Al Faraa confess to crimes, often implicating others.
One of the two guards convicted of beating prisoners, identified in the report as an Army Capt. Ghadir, is still here and was described by prison officials as "one of the best men" at the facility. Ghadir was placed on probation for two months and demoted to lieutenant.
Lt. Col Pasha, the prison head, said Al Faraa can hold 200 men but now houses about 300 and has contained as many as 400. As a result of the overcrowding, some of the inmates are kept in tents outside the main building, a converted police station built by the British authorities in Palestine in 1942.