JERUSALEM -- Israeli security forces frequently beat Palestinians working illegally in the country, sometimes severely, and detain them for hours without food and water, an Israeli human rights group said in a report published yesterday.
Security officials said in response to the report by the B'Tselem human rights group that the troops are operating under tough conditions to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from infiltrating the country. Any abuse allegations are investigated, the officials said.
Each week, security forces catch thousands of West Bank Palestinians sneaking into Israel through holes in Israel's uncompleted separation barrier, human rights groups say. With unemployment in the West Bank running about 25 percent, people have grown more desperate to cross to find work.
While Israel used to permit tens of thousands of Palestinian laborers into the country, it has sharply reduced that number during the past six years of violence. Israel says the barrier, whose more than 400-mile route is roughly two-thirds complete, is needed to protect against suicide bombers.
Workers sneaking into Israel are frequently detained by Israeli border police for much longer than the few hours allowed by Israeli law, often in the hot sun or rain without food or water, said Eitan Diamond, a B'Tselem researcher. The detentions appear to be used as a form of punishment, since the workers are usually not thrown in jail due to overcrowding, Diamond said.
In interviews with dozens of workers, B'Tselem found beatings are common, the report said.
"Every worker we talked to told us that at least once they were beaten, and sometimes severely," Diamond said.
There have been some well-publicized incidents of Israeli security forces shooting and killing illegal Palestinian workers.
In two such cases last year, indictments were issued against border policemen. But many instances of abuse are never revealed, B'Tselem said.
The Israeli Army said its forces were trying to thwart frequent infiltration attempts by suicide bombers without opening fire. The army investigates instances in which soldiers are accused of abusing their power, officials said.
The Justice Ministry, which investigates complaints against border police, said many cases are closed due to lack of evidence, but several have resulted in indictments.