Paramilitary border police detained two Palestinians at a checkpoint and beat them, forced one to drink urine and burned both with cigarettes, Israeli prosecutors charged Tuesday.
Although extreme, the incident is the latest case of alleged abuse of Palestinians at checkpoints by Israeli security forces. Often, the soldiers or police involved are young and relatively unsupervised.
Five border police officers were charged Tuesday with assault and abuse in the incident, which occurred two weeks ago.
Prosecutors allege that the officers halted two Palestinians who approached the checkpoint, marched them to an abandoned building nearby and began roughing them up during questioning. One Palestinian was forced to drink urine at gunpoint, and both had cigarettes stubbed out on their hands, according to the indictment.
The border police, a conscript force drawn largely from Israel's lower-income communities, have been involved in a disproportionate number of abuse complaints.
At a preliminary hearing Monday, a defense attorney said at least some of the allegations were true and blamed the actions on the stress and danger of manning checkpoints, especially those in and around Jerusalem.
Two border police officers were killed last week, when they stopped a suicide bomber at a checkpoint in north Jerusalem. The assailant blew herself up when they tried to question her.
Human rights groups charge that abuses are frequently unreported, and relatively few are brought to court.
The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said last week that hundreds of complaints have been filed annually, but the military over the last four years has conducted only 88 investigations into Palestinian deaths and injuries caused by soldiers and police. Twenty-two cases resulted in indictments, one in a manslaughter conviction, the group said.
"Investigation and conviction take place in far too few cases" of alleged checkpoint abuses, the Haaretz newspaper said in an editorial last month.
High-ranking members of the Israeli security establishment have acknowledged that soldiers and police need better training and oversight by experienced officers. "We are faced with a real problem, a tough problem, which we must deal with," the acting public security minister, Gideon Ezra, told Israel Radio.
Also on Tuesday, Israeli troops searching for weapons and wanted men in a refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus shot to death an unarmed, mentally disabled man when he approached them and ignored orders to halt.
Neighbors said the man, whom they identified as Bileh Bilalu, in his mid-40s, had a history of mental problems. He was wandering confused at the time of the shooting, they said.
An Israeli military source said the man climbed over a fence and walked toward the soldiers, who shouted at him to stop and wait to be searched for weapons. When he continued to advance, they shot him. No weapon was found, the source said.
In the Gaza Strip, a CNN producer who had been abducted by Palestinian gunmen a day earlier was freed unharmed.
The journalist, Riad Ali, said his captors identified themselves as members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Ali, a member of Israel's Druse minority, said the kidnappers made a videotape of him urging Druse citizens not to serve in the Israeli army.