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Deep concerns over ‘inhuman’ detention of Gazans by Israeli authorities

Much of Khan Younis in Gaza lies in ruins. (file)
© UNOCHA/Themba Linden
Much of Khan Younis in Gaza lies in ruins. (file)

Deep concerns over ‘inhuman’ detention of Gazans by Israeli authorities

Peace and Security

Amid further reported bombardment of Gaza overnight into Tuesday, UN and partner organizations have expressed deep concern over the “inhuman” detention of suspected Palestinian fighters in the enclave by Israeli authorities, alleging treatment so poor that some had to have limbs amputated “due to prolonged shackling”.

In a new report on the situation in Gaza for May 2024, the authors cited testimonies “from medics and whistleblowers” that injured detainees have been held at a field hospital with “shackled hands and feet and blindfolded 24/7 to their beds”.

Hostage fears

In addition, as of 19 May, 128 of the 253 people captured during Hamas-led terror attacks in southern Israel on 7 October still remain in Gaza, the report’s authors said, underscoring that the taking of hostages is a “grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and a war crime”. More than 35 of the hostages have been declared dead and those still alive likely face “the direst of conditions”, with accounts from those released indicating “multiple reports of sexual abuse in captivity”. 

Desert camp

Returning to the Palestinian detainees, testimonies indicated that prisoners are “fed through a straw, with several cases of detainees having their limbs amputated due to prolonged shackling”, according to the update from the Global Protection Cluster, which brings together UN agencies and other international and non-governmental organizations.

It echoes earlier concerns about alleged mistreatment of detainees from the UN human rights office, OHCHR and independent rights experts. The Israeli army has previously denied these claims.

At least 27 detainees from Gaza likely died while in custody at an Israeli military base including at Sde Teiman in Israel’s Negev desert, it is believed, while “at least four” others from the enclave died in Israel Prison Service (IPS) facilities either because of alleged beatings or a lack of medical assistance.


Blindfolded and handcuffed

“Whether detained at IPS or army facilities, detainees are reported to face extremely harsh conditions of detention, including overcrowding and some detained in cage-like facilities, being constantly blindfolded and handcuffed, lack of access to toilet, exposure to the elements, provision of food and water in quantities barely sufficient to survive.”

Women and children are among those held during “mass detentions” carried out by the Israeli Defence Force, the report maintained, adding that many families “have no information about their loved ones”, while Israel “fails or refuses to provide information on the whereabouts or fate of many of those detained…Boys 14+ are usually detained with adult men. Younger children are detained with women and elderly family members, usually for a shorter time.”

Mass arrests

The Israeli army recently claimed to have detained 2,300 Palestinians from Gaza during ground operations in Gaza, the report’s authors said, adding that the true number was likely much higher. 

At the end of April, some 865 detainees were held as “unlawful combatants”, a category unknown under international law. “Numerous” further disturbing testimonies indicate that detainees are subjected to “forced nudity, sexual harassment, threats of rape, as well as torture through severe beatings, dog attacks, strip searches, waterboarding, and denial of food, sleep, and bathroom access, among other cruel practices”. 

According to accounts from released detainees and medics with access to those being held, the aim of this treatment is to elicit forced confessions and screen for alleged members of Palestinian armed groups.