The latest batch of Palestinian children released by Israel as part of the truce deal with Hamas have spoken of their experiences in prison. They claim that they were beaten, tortured, abused, deliberately starved and intentionally deprived of information about what was going on in the world beyond the prison walls.
According to Yousef Burqan, a resident of Al-Thawri neighbourhood in occupied Jerusalem, he was beaten by the occupation prison authorities, before his release as part of the exchange deal with the Palestinian resistance in Gaza. He expressed his hope that all Palestinian prisoners will be released due to the extremely difficult conditions inside Israeli prisons.
Qusay Taqatqa from Bethlehem was arrested last year when he was 16. He said that he and his fellow prisoners heard about the Hamas operation on 7 October on the radio, after which the prison officers confiscated all televisions and radios and “completely changed” how they treated prisoners. “The treatment of the prison administration was barbaric for 50 days. They took away all the of our belongings.” No family visits or even communication was allowed.
“The conditions of our detention in the occupation prison were very harsh,” explained Omar Al-Shwaiki. “When the occupation authorities arrested me, I was 15 years old, and the detention room had 12 prisoners, even though it was intended for only six.” He pointed out that the prisoners suffered from the “inhumane” conditions. “It was very harsh, and there are many children aged between 13 and 15 being held by the occupation.”
The inhumane conditions were also mentioned by Yasser Zaaymeh. “The occupation forces dealt with us violently during our time in detention and treated us harshly. They beat prisoners.” He was held in Megiddo prison. “I witnessed the death of a number of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.”
Hassan Darwish said that he was “shocked” by his “unexpected” release. He described the conditions in which he was held as “dreadful, including abuse, beatings, isolation and the storming of prisons with police dogs and special units.” The “genocide and massacre of civilians” in Gaza caused prisoners a lot of pain, he added. “We prayed for their steadfastness and for the end of this war that is brutal in every sense of the word.”
Two brothers from Silwan in occupied Jerusalem were among those released. “We are very happy to be free from the restrictions of the Israeli occupation,” said Qassam and Nasrallah, “as we did not imagine that we would be released, especially since the treatment inside the prison was extremely bad, especially after the war on Gaza.” They said that the occupation authorities withheld food for days, and conducted nightly inspections with police dogs, with a lot of systematic terror and intimidation.
“We are very saddened by what is happening to our people in the Gaza Strip. We have followed the news that no one can imagine and we have seen the extent of the bombing, killing and destruction against citizens and committing massacres everywhere. The Israeli prison authorities deliberately showed Israeli channels that broadcast scenes of destruction and killing to try to frighten us and kill our morale.”
The head of the Palestinian Authority for Prisoners’ and Ex-Prisoners’ Affairs, Qaddoura Fares, described what has been happening in Israeli detention centres since 7 October as “war crimes” that began within the framework of acts of revenge.
“The repeated brutal attacks against the prisoners led to the death of six prisoners and the injury of hundreds including wounds and fractures all over their bodies, and the injured were denied treatment,” said Fares. He stressed that this is unprecedented, as this many prisoners have never before died within a period of 50 days.
The official added that the Israeli prison authorities confiscated prisoners’ possessions. “They even confiscated teapots… prisoners today are shivering from the cold without blankets, pillows or winter clothes. Collective punishment is being committed against prisoners in the occupation prisons, and a meal sufficient for two people is served to ten.” Most Palestinian prisoners held by Israel are said to have lost a lot of weight over the past 50 days.
Fares pointed out that cells are overcrowded after Israel enacted a law allowing people to be placed in cells at double their capacity. The most dangerous thing happening inside detention centres, he added, is the use of “armed units and special forces that roam the cell blocks with automatic firearms.” He explained that this is an attempt to lure Palestinian prisoners into confrontations “to justify shooting them.”