Gazan prisoners describe abuse at secretive Israeli detention websites | EUROtoday

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JERUSALEM — Jihad Hammouda mentioned he spent 17 days blindfolded and handcuffed in an Israeli detention facility, made to kneel on the bottom for hours at a time. He didn’t know the place he was or when he can be launched.

Israeli troopers stormed his household residence in Gaza City on Dec. 8, the 20-year-old informed The Washington Post. He mentioned they shot useless his 78-year-old grandfather, who suffered from dementia, and rounded up his sister, cousins, uncles and grandmother.

Hammouda initially spent greater than a day in confinement at a neighbor’s residence in Gaza, the place he mentioned he was stripped to his underwear. Interrogators beat him when he denied being concerned with Hamas, he recounted; one soldier held a knife to his hand, threatening to chop off a finger except he admitted to possessing weapons.

“I assured them that I was a university student and had no connection to any military organizations,” Hammouda mentioned.

On the afternoon of Dec. 9, he mentioned, troopers drove him over the embattled border to what he assumed was an Israeli navy website. From beneath his blindfold, he glimpsed a big barracks surrounded by barbed wire. Soldiers took roll name each day for some 120 detainees in grey jumpsuits. Armed guards patrolled. He heard plane circling above. Each prisoner had a wristband with a quantity: His was 057906.

Israel is detaining civilians in Gaza. Many have disappeared, households say.

The Post couldn’t independently confirm Hammouda’s account, however it’s in step with these of six different not too long ago launched detainees interviewed for this story, in addition to testimonies collected by human rights teams and different media reviews.

Hundreds of Palestinians — each combatants and civilians — have been detained by Israeli forces in Gaza and incarcerated with out cost inside Israel below a secretive authorized framework that rights teams say has by no means been utilized at this scale. Advocates say the system is deliberately opaque and open to abuse, permitting detainees to successfully disappear right into a authorized grey zone.

Hammouda has no official file of his detention. All he has is a deposit slip, written in Hebrew, which he mentioned his jailers gave to him after they returned his Palestinian identification card. The undated doc, shared with The Post, lists his title, ID quantity and start date. It doesn’t say the place it was issued, or by whom.

The Israel Defense Forces didn’t reply to particular questions in regards to the arrest or detention of the Gazans interviewed for this story however supplied a common assertion saying: “During combat in the Gaza Strip, suspects of terrorist activities were arrested. The relevant suspects are brought to Israeli territory for further investigation.” The navy went on to say that suspects not concerned in terrorist exercise are despatched again to Gaza and those that stay in detention are handled in accordance with Israeli legislation.

Asked in regards to the alleged taking pictures of Hammouda’s grandfather, the IDF informed The Post that “questions of this kind will be looked into at a later stage.”

The former prisoners informed The Post they have been grilled in interrogations: Where have been you on Oct. 7? Do you’re employed with Hamas? Who else helps Hamas? Where are the tunnels? Where are the fighters?

Muhammad Abu Zour, 24, mentioned he was held for 20 days inside Israel, the place troopers withheld meals as punishment.

“They always insist on accusing us of belonging to Hamas,” he mentioned. When he denied it, he mentioned, troopers kicked and hit him. Abu Zour mentioned his interrogators made him signal a Hebrew doc he didn’t perceive. They provided him cash if he spied for Israel. He refused.

Sometimes, Hammouda remembered, a detainee does “not return until he is covered in blood or has traces of torture on him, or screams and cries from the intensity of pain.” Other instances, Gazans accused of Hamas connections are despatched to a different facility, he mentioned.

Hammouda feared that might be his destiny. Instead, on Dec. 26, troopers handed over his identification card, loaded him onto a bus and drove him again into the southern Gaza Strip by the Kerem Shalom crossing. When the blindfold was eliminated, he mentioned, the depth of the sunshine almost knocked him over. Soldiers informed him to stroll towards Rafah and never look again.

“Is there any track record of who has been arrested, who’s been released, who died, I can’t tell you — by law, the [Israeli authorities] don’t have to,” mentioned Tal Steiner, government director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. “Nobody sees where they are held and under what conditions. What’s the legality for holding them?”

Thousands of Hamas militants and allied fighters rampaged by southern Israel on Oct. 7 and, below the quilt of rockets, killed 1,200 folks and took round 240 hostages, based on Israeli authorities. As Israel fought to retake the south, it mentioned it recovered the our bodies of about 1,500 gunmen and detained an unspecified variety of Hamas fighters.

“Some detainees were arrested Oct. 7, so quite reasonably [they included] Hamas combatants involved in the atrocities,” Steiner mentioned. “But many, many others have been arrested in Gaza in the course of the operation, so they could be involved in Hamas. They could also be just citizens, innocent bystanders or people suspected of being involved.”

Israeli forces have swept up lots of of Gazans as they transfer by the ruined enclave in pursuit of Hamas. Some Palestinians have been taken from battlefields, others from hospitals, houses or whereas fleeing alongside Israeli-designated evacuation routes. Images leaked in December exhibiting plenty of detainees blindfolded and stripped to their underwear elicited worldwide outrage.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says Israel has barred its representatives from visiting Palestinian prisoners detained since Oct. 7.

Images of stripped and humiliated Palestinians draw condemnation

The IDF mentioned final month that “over 700 operatives from terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip have been taken for further questioning” in Israel. Some, the IDF mentioned, voluntarily “turned themselves in.”

“Detainees held by the IDF who are found not to be involved in terror activity following their initial screening and questioning are promptly released back to the Gaza Strip, generally through the Kerem Shalom crossing,” the IDF mentioned in a press release to The Post. “Those that must continue to be held are brought before a judicial review by a judge according to Israeli law.”

The IDF declined to touch upon what number of detainees have been held or launched, citing “security reasons.” The navy referred questions on alleged abuse throughout interrogations to Shin Bet, Israel’s home safety service, which didn’t reply to a number of requests for remark. The Israel Prison Service referred inquiries to the IDF and Shin Bet.

At least six Palestinians have died in Israeli prisons since Oct. 7, based on the Palestinian Prisoners Club, a Ramallah-based advocacy group. The IDF informed The Post that it was “aware of cases of deaths of detainees” however couldn’t elaborate because of ongoing investigations.

Israel’s air and floor warfare in Gaza has killed greater than 23,000 folks and injured some 59,000, based on the Gaza Health Ministry; the ministry says at the least 99 Gazan medical staff are in Israeli custody.

Since Oct. 7, Israel has additionally ramped up arrests within the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, the place Palestinians are topic to navy legislation. Israeli navy legislation has not been utilized in Gaza since 2005, when the nation withdrew its forces from the strip.

Gazans “involved in terrorist activity” could be detained below felony legislation or by the Unlawful Combatants Law, the IDF mentioned in a press release. Under the UCL, Palestinian prisoners are topic to a type of administrative detention, or incarceration with out cost or trial, mentioned Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s director for Israel and the Palestinian territories. They aren’t labeled as prisoners of warfare.

The IDF informed The Post that the UCL removes somebody “from the cycle of hostilities” and “grants several procedural safeguards and basic rights.”

Though enacted in 2002, the UCL has by no means been utilized to so many prisoners without delay, Steiner mentioned. Under wartime amendments, Israel can maintain somebody for 45 days earlier than issuing an indictment; a choose has 75 days to overview the detention. A detainee could be held for 180 days with out entry to a lawyer.

“You can compare [the UCL] to the Patriot Act,” mentioned Steiner, referring to the U.S. legislation handed after the Sept. 11, 2001, assaults. “We really fear that we are going to see another Guantánamo, or another Abu Ghraib.”

The Israel Prison Service informed Hamoked, an Israeli rights group, this month that 661 Gazans have been detained below the legislation as of Jan. 1, up from 260 in December, however didn’t disclose the place they’re being held.

The solely detention website to be publicly recognized by Israeli authorities is the Sede Teiman navy base, within the south, which the IDF mentioned was arrange as a “screening” and medical facility after the warfare started. Conditions “reflect the requirements of Israeli law and international law,” the assertion mentioned.

Detainees “receive three meals a day, access to water, clothing, mattresses, and blankets, as well as toilet-access,” the IDF mentioned, and are provided a day by day medical inspection.

On Thursday, the Palestinian Prisoners Club launched the names of 51 girls from Gaza it mentioned are detained at Damon jail in northern Israel — a threefold improve from November. Hammouda’s sister, 69-year-old grandmother and three feminine cousins are on the record.

Hammouda nonetheless doesn’t know the place he was imprisoned. He mentioned he was allowed to sleep a couple of hours at a time on a skinny mattress. He had three meals a day — bread with cheese, tuna, apple or tomato — and will use the lavatory and drink water about as soon as every day. A health care provider got here day by day, however checked solely detainees with crucial accidents, comparable to “amputation candidates,” Hammouda mentioned. Many detainees have been sick or wounded.

Hours after Abu Zour’s launch on Dec. 26, he spoke to The Post by cellphone from al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah, in southern Gaza, the place he mentioned he was being handled for heavy bruising.

Marwan al-Hams, the hospital’s director, mentioned different detainees have arrived residence with related accidents, in addition to contaminated wounds. In mid-December, the hospital obtained the physique of an unidentified man, dropped off by Israel at Kerem Shalom.

Asked in regards to the useless man, the IDF informed The Post: “An investigation is conducted for each death of a detainee. The reviews are still ongoing, so it is not possible to comment on the findings of these reviews.”

Saqr al-Jamal, 59, went to Najjar hospital for therapy on Dec. 22 after being launched from Israeli custody. A resident of Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, he mentioned he was captured by troopers in November whereas sheltering in an empty faculty.

In detention in Israel, Jamal mentioned he was typically chilly and urinated on himself. Soldiers tied his arms above his head to a fence as punishment for peeking from his blindfold, he mentioned.

“I was interrogated if I knew if any relatives belonged to Hamas,” Jamal informed The Post. “They asked me if I knew where the fighters’ explosive devices were.”

“I told them that I am old and sick and I do not know anything.”

Harb reported from London. Loay Ayyoub in Rafah, Gaza Strip, contributed to this report.