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Israel treats Palestinian detainees in a degrading way, in defiance of international law

February 14, 2024 at 6:00 pm

Palestinian prisoners were brought to Abu Youssef Al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah in south of Gaza as a result of the torture inflicted upon them during detention by Israeli forces in inhumane conditions [Firas Al-Shaer]

Since the beginning of the Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip on 27 October, the occupation forces have detained thousands of Palestinians, mostly civilians, holding them incommunicado for weeks in unknown locations, refusing to reveal the detention sites and hostage numbers, while also banning the Red Cross, lawyers or anyone else from having access to them. To date, an unknown number of Palestinians have been held captive, with roughly five hundred people having been released so far.

Their testimonies reveal that they were subject to degrading and inhumane treatment at the hands of their Israeli captors. The newly-released detainees, including women, children and the elderly, tell of Israelis burning their skin with lighters, spitting in their mouths, sexual harassment and refusing access to bathrooms, resulting in captives defecating on themselves. Some report having been subjected to dog bites and being ordered to refer to the dog as “Sir”, as well as being forced to kneel before the Israeli soldiers.

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor has cited reports of crimes such as forced nudity, sexual harassment and threats of sexual torture.

The organisation has also reported receiving testimonies from newly-released female detainees who were subjected to sexual harassment, with Israeli soldiers touching their genitals and making them remove their headscarves.

Most of the Palestinian detainees, in particular women, were held in physically and psychologically dangerous conditions. They faced relentless punishment and maltreatment throughout the duration of captivity, the newly-released Palestinian detainees report.

Recently released Tamam Alaswad, a mother from Gaza City, recalls the harshest days she’s ever had in her life inside an Israeli jail. “My husband and my kids and I were sheltering at a school when suddenly the Israeli army stormed in and ordered all of the men to undress and gathered them in one place. They took me from my kids, who were kept alone, and told me, ‘You are under arrest, you are sentenced to five years in our prisons.’ I was shocked. I told them, ‘I am just a housewife,’ but they blindfolded and handcuffed me and humiliated me badly. There were elderly women and children, and we all were exposed to the worst type of torture.” She added bitterly that, “I still know nothing about my family and they know nothing about me.”

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One university student who requested anonymity was released recently from Israeli detention: “I was walking in the safe corridor with my family, trusting that they would never stop me, as I don’t even like politics or getting involved in any political acts. But they did and asked me alone to go with them. I was asked to leave all my belongings behind and go to where the tanks were stationed, then they arrested me for no reason other than to humiliate me and burn the hearts of my family.”

MEMO spoke to several freed Palestinian detainees in Abu Yousuf Al-Najjar Hospital, in Rafah, where they were transferred to be treated for the deterioration in their health due to the custodial torture and severe physical and mental abuse that they had endured. Many sported deep, bloody welts around their wrists, wearing grey pyjamas that offered no protection from the cold weather, and some of them were barefooted.

“I was going to buy bread for my kids when I was met by the Israeli occupation troops, who detained me aggressively,” explained Mohammed Abu Samra, from Sheikh Ridwan in Gaza City. He described the severe conditions of his detention. “We spent 40 days on our knees, blindfolded and surrounded by Israeli soldiers and dogs, and banned from raising our heads. One of the detainees asked for water, and the soldier asked him to open his mouth then spat on him and cursed us all with obscene words. We were asked to chant for Israel and curse the resistance in Gaza.”

Abu Samra added that the detainees were served sliced bread for 10 captives, one or two loaves for all of them. “The food was not enough, and the water was not clean, and they kept us handcuffed even if we wanted to go to the bathroom.”

On 18 December, Haaretz reported that there had been several deaths in custody of detainees from Gaza.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani pointed out that, “Concerns have been raised with the Israeli authorities about ill-treatment which would amount to torture of detainees in the occupied Palestinian territory repeatedly prior to 7 October and since then.”

The head of the UN Human Rights Office in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Ajith Sunghay, met some of the newly-released Palestinian detainees and said that they were clearly visibly shocked and even shaken when he met them. He wondered why there are reports of men who are subsequently released wearing only diapers and without any adequate clothing in the winter weather.

Detention seems to have been devised and used by the Israeli occupation forces as a means of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza.

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“After hitting me in the head with his gun, one of the Israeli soldiers said, ‘Why don’t you evacuate to the south? Now we will send you to where you wish to die’,” said Abu Samra. “They put us in an army truck and left us kilometres away from Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel to Gaza, without giving us our clothes, phones or money. We were forced to walk dozens of kilometres before we reached Rafah city in southern Gaza.”

The released detainees arrived in Rafah without knowing the whereabouts of their relatives. Some were ordered not to look back as they walked, and told that they would be shot if they did. Most detainees were captured in the north of the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli troops have banned people from travelling and ordered mandatory “evacuation”. Upon release, they face many difficulties when trying to find their families. Some find it difficult to even let their family know that they are alive. The telecommunications lines and Internet access are cut in most of north Gaza, which turns their mission to find their families into a difficult ordeal.

Francesca Albanese, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, said in October that designating civilians who did not evacuate as “accomplices to terrorism” was not only a threat of collective punishment, but could also constitute ethnic cleansing.

The Israeli occupation is trying to manufacture the impression of a total victory over the Palestinian resistance by showing Palestinian detainees undressed and held in humiliating circumstances. Several videos and images have been shared on social media, depicting hundreds of Palestinian men stripped to their underwear, handcuffed, sometimes blindfolded, and sitting outdoors in the cold. The videos were shared by Israeli soldiers, who described the captives as resistance fighters surrendering to the Israeli army. Yet, in reality, those people were just civilians captured from schools or supposed “safe” zones where they had sought shelter. The videos were taken at locations across Gaza, including Beit Lahiya, Shujaya and Jabaliya.

One video depicts a Palestinian man in his underwear being ordered to walk by Israeli soldiers while carrying a rifle. The edited video, which Israelis claim is of the man “surrendering,” shows him carrying the rifle first in his right hand, then later in his left. Neighbours of the man identified him as Moneer Almasri, a shop owner from Beit Lahiya, not a resistance fighter. Another similar picture shows journalist Diyaa Alkahlout among the bound and stripped men.

Freed detainees report that they were told repeatedly by Israeli soldiers that they would treat them “the same way that Hamas treated Israeli detainees.” The reality is that according to the testimonies of several freed Israeli captives, the Palestinian resistance groups, including Hamas, treated them well, took care of their health needs, and protected them from the Israeli bombardment.

Despite qualifying as crimes against humanity, the way that the Palestinian captives have been treated by the Israeli occupation forces receives little attention from the international community and media. This allows such degrading and inhumane treatment to continue with impunity, with the Israeli authorities relying on the pretext of “state security” and “self-defence”, a falsehood bolstered by the manufactured narrative of the so-called “war on terror”.

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