IDF sets up committee to probe alleged torture of Palestinian terror suspects

Admitting logistic issues in processing captives from Gaza, military says panel will examine conditions of detainees at facilities to determine compliance with international law

Hamas terror suspects, caught during Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 and during the ongoing IDF operations in Gaza, seen at a courtyard in a prison in southern Israel, February 14, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Hamas terror suspects, caught during Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 and during the ongoing IDF operations in Gaza, seen at a courtyard in a prison in southern Israel, February 14, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi has appointed an “advisory committee” to examine the conditions of Palestinian prisoners detained amid the war in the Gaza Strip, following allegations of torture and mistreatment, the military said Tuesday.

Terror operatives and other suspects are initially held in detention facilities at the IDF’s Sde Teiman, Anatot and Ofer bases, before being handed over to the Israel Prison Service (IPS).

Earlier this month, a CNN report alleged widespread abuse of detainees, including extreme use of physical restraints, beatings, neglect of medical problems, arbitrary punishments and more, citing two Israeli whistleblowers and a Palestinian doctor who had been held in the Sde Teiman facility. Israeli rights groups subsequently filed a petition to the High Court of Justice demanding the closure of the site, which they described as a “lawless black hole.”

In announcing the committee, the IDF explained that because of the “unprecedented number of detainees” and a shortage of space in IPS jails, many prisoners are kept in IDF facilities for “longer periods than expected,” and as such “allegations were made regarding the conditions of detention in the prison facilities.”

The panel, headed by former military advocate general Maj. Gen. (res.) Ilan Schiff, will evaluate the detention conditions and “their compliance with the law and the rules of international law,” and submit its recommendations to Halevi within three weeks, the IDF said.

The development came a day after IDF Maj. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, the current military advocate general, said that probes of behavior at Sde Teiman were among dozens of Military Police investigations that have been opened “into incidents that have raised suspicion of criminal offenses.”

Tomer-Yerushalmi told a conference hosted by the Israel Bar Association that “these investigations also address allegations raised about the incarceration conditions at Sde Teiman detention center and the deaths of detainees in IDF custody. We are treating these allegations very seriously and are taking action to probe them.”

Chief Military Advocate Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi speaks at the Israel Bar Association annual conference of attorneys in Eilat in southern Israel, on May 27, 2024. (Flash90)

Last Thursday, the Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) in Israel filed a petition to the High Court of Justice requesting that it order the defense minister and military advocate general to shutter Sde Teiman due to what it alleged were multiple, severe human rights abuses at the facility.

“Surgeries without anesthesia, handcuffing leading to amputation, defecating while blindfolded and restrained — these are just some of the horrific testimonies from inside the Sde Teiman detention center,” the organization claimed in its petition.

“This facility has become a lawless black hole where detainees’ basic human rights are stripped away,” ACRI asserted in the suit, which it filed together with other human rights groups, including Physicians for Human Rights, HaMoked, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and Gisha.

There are currently some 1,000 suspected “unlawful combatants” being held in Sde Teiman, a term that refers to Hamas terrorists captured on and after October 7, according to ACRI.

The organizations said they had gathered testimony regarding “prolonged restraint in agonizing positions leading to amputation,” the blindfolding of detainees for days including during medical treatment and toilet use, detainees forced to wear diapers, as well as severe beatings and torture.

“By law, declaring Sde Teiman a ‘detention center’ under the Unlawful Combatants Law requires ensuring humane conditions that protect detainees’ dignity, health, and human rights under Israeli and international law,” ACRI said.

“However, the egregious violations at Sde Teiman make depriving these people of liberty blatantly unconstitutional.”

Hamas terrorists who were caught during the October 7 massacre and during the IDF operation in the Gaza Strip, seen at a courtyard in a prison in southern Israel, February 14, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Most of the detainees at the facility are suspected terror operatives arrested during the months-long Gaza war, including on or right after October 7, when the Palestinian terror group Hamas led a massive cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The attackers who burst into southern Israel massacred those they found, including 364 people at an outdoor music festival, and committed acts of torture, gang-rape and mutilation.

Israel responded with an offensive in the Gaza Strip to destroy Hamas and free 252 hostages who were abducted to Gaza during the devastating attack. The IDF has captured many Hamas operatives during its advance through Gaza, including some who have confessed to October 7 atrocities.

Suspected terror operatives are legally allowed to be held for 45 days before they must be either released or moved into the care of the Israel Prison Service.

Two Israeli sources told CNN that prisoners at Sde Teiman were forced to sit up straight for long hours, were blindfolded much of the time and were not allowed to speak. A common form of punishment for those who spoke or otherwise offended was to force them to hold their arms over their heads for an hour. Some had their arms zip-tied to a fence over their heads.

Palestinian men said to have surrendered to the IDF in the Jabaliya area of northern Gaza on December 7, 2023. (Social media: used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

The military denied widespread abuse, telling CNN: “The IDF ensures proper conduct toward the detainees in custody. Any allegation of misconduct by IDF soldiers is examined and dealt with accordingly. In appropriate cases, Military Police investigations are opened when there is suspicion of misconduct justifying such action.”

It added that “detainees are handcuffed based on their risk level and health status. Incidents of unlawful handcuffing are not known to the authorities.”

Some UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) staff released from Israeli prisons in the past months have reported ill-treatment during detention, including deprivation of food and sleep.

At least 18 prisoners have died since the start of the war, the prisoners’ associations said, urging Israel to disclose the number, location and fate of detainees from Gaza.

Gazan detainees found to have no links to the terror groups are routinely returned to the Strip.

Times of Israel staff and Agencies contributed to this report. 

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