Palestinian prisoners starved, abused and mistreated

Jun 12, 2024
Flags of Israel and Palestine behind the barbed wire.

Since October 7th last year more than 9,500 Palestinians including 635 minors from the West Bank and Occupied Jerusalem have been held in Israeli jails. More than 3,400 Palestinian detainees, including women and children, have also been placed in administrative detention under the pretext of secret evidence. All prisoners and detainees have been subjected to systematic physical and psychological torture, deprivation of basic needs of human life and minimum levels of treatment.

As reported by numerous human rights organisations, they are being deliberately starved, abused and subjected to severe physical mistreatment including sexual abuse. 18 detainees in the West Bank have died due to torture, medical negligence or deprivation of basic necessities, while 37 prisoners from the Gaza Strip have died been killed through torture in Israeli detention camps. These are all serious war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Hamas is holding around 100 hostages in Gaza following its incursion into Israel last October. While they may be subject to limited food, as is much of Gaza due to Israeli blockades of the aid corridors, to our knowledge based on reports from earlier hostage releases they have not been tortured, nor subject to severe physical mistreatment. That is not to underestimate the psychological harm to them and they families that their time as hostages in Gaza would have caused. These abductions and hostage taking are still serious war crimes and three Hamas leaders have been cited by the ICC.

In contrast we know from images widely circulated on social media that the hundreds of abducted Palestinians from Gaza have been forced to strip to underclothing, to kneel for hours, shackled and blindfolded and left in the boiling sun in summer and the freezing cold in winter. They have then been taken to an Israeli military base in the middle of the Negev desert in southern Israel called Sde Teiman. No outside observers have been allowed in to monitor what is happening in the detention centre, neither has the International Committee of the Red Cross had access to this or other Israeli prisons since October 7th.

An Israeli health worker who was onsite at the centres field hospital reported that he witnessed ‘human rights violations’ and those prisoners who have been released tell stories of torture, sexual violence and humiliation. According to the UN Human Rights Commission commenting on a report published in February, “Palestinian women and girls in detention are being subjected to multiple forms of sexual assault, such as being stripped naked and searched by male Israeli army officers. At least two female Palestinian detainees were reportedly raped while others threatened with rape and sexual violence. And many have reportedly been subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment, denied menstruation pads, food and medicine, and severely beaten. They also noted that photos of female detainees in degrading circumstances were also reportedly taken by the Israeli army and uploaded online.” And this is the self proclaimed, “most moral army in the world”.

Following petitions submitted by human rights organisations and a widely distributed CNN investigation into the horrific abuses suffered by prisoners at the Sde Teiman centre, Israel’s Office of the State Attorney issued a statement in early June that 700 prisoners have been transferred to other detention centres, with 500 more to follow in the weeks to come. Some 200 prisoners are to initially remain in Sde Teiman. According to information provided by Israel, 4,000 prisoners from Gaza have been detained in Israel, with around 1,500 of them already released. UNRWA began receiving prisoners that had been released on the borders of Gaza in October and a spokesperson reported that up to May 3, both UNRWA and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had provided care to a total of 1,731 released prisoners, including 91 women, 46 minors and 118 people who were over the age of 60.

While there has been much coverage and investigation into the conditions of prisoners from Gaza, the situation in the West Bank is also very dire. Three organisations tracking the detention of children in the occupied Palestinian territory said they have gathered child testimonies showing that levels of violence have increased since stricter rules were introduced in October 2023 blocking visits from parents or lawyers. Some children have reported broken bones and beatings.

A Save the Children’s July 2023 report showed that even prior to October 7, Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces faced immense emotional and physical abuse, with four out of five around 86% of them being beaten, and 69% strip-searched. It is for these reasons, and the appalling loss of children’s lives in Gaza, that Israel’s military has been added to the list of offenders who have committed violations against children by the UN as a United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Among Israel’s prisoners is the high profile Marwan Barghouti long touted as a potential Palestinian leader and compared by some to Nelson Mandela. Since October 2023 Marwan has been held in solitary confinement and according to his lawyer, denied medical treatment for injuries sustained during beatings. An Israeli human rights organisation has described the conditions under which he lives as ‘torture’.

From his mid teens Barghouti was politically active when he co-founded the Fatah Youth Movement on the West Bank. Mustafa Barghouti, a well know fellow Palestinian political figure, is a distant cousin. Marwan was only 18 when he as arrested in 1976 and served a four year prison term for his involvement with Palestinian militant groups. While there he completed his secondary education and gained fluency in Hebrew. Once out of prison he became a prominent leader in the two Intifadas, or uprisings, the first in 1987 and the second in 1993. In 2002, he was arrested and held in detention until 2004 when he was convicted by an Israeli court on five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organisation and sentenced to life in prison. Barghouti offered no defence, refusing to recognise the authority of the Israeli court, saying only that he supported the armed resistance but opposed the targeting of civilians. Under international law Palestinians and any other person under occupation has the right to resist the occupation. We celebrated the French resistance but deplore the Palestinian resistance.

Barghouti was one of the authors of the 2006 Palestinian Prisoners’ Document. The document called for the establishment of two states with resistance to Israeli occupation limited to military targets within the territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war. It was significant in that it recognised Israel and had broad political support among the various Palestinian factions. Should the time come and he were released Marwan Barghouti could well be the Palestinian leader needed to be a partner for a much needed peace in Palestine and Israel.

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