IDF to phase out southern detention site amid allegations of torture of terror suspects

Responding to High Court petition against Sde Teiman camp, state attorneys say 700 detainees have already been moved to Ofer Prison, 500 more will follow

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)
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)

The IDF is phasing out the use of a southern military-run detention camp for Palestinians captured during the Gaza war, where rights groups say there has been abuse of inmates, justice officials said on Wednesday.

State attorneys told the High Court of Justice that inmates held at the Sde Teiman site, which was opened after Palestinian terror group Hamas’s October 7 devastating assault on southern Israel that sparked the war in Gaza, would be gradually transported to permanent holding facilities.

The transfers have started and most prisoners will be relocated within a couple of weeks, they said.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), which filed a petition for the closure of the Sde Teiman site, was one of a number of groups demanding the closure of the detention facility at the former army base.

State Attorney Aner Helman, responding to the ACRI petition, told the court that 700 inmates had already been moved to Ofer, a military stockade in the West Bank. Another 500 were slated to be transferred in the coming weeks, leaving 200 at Sde Teiman whose future was yet to be decided.

To make room, some prisoners at Ofer have been moved to the Israel Prison Service’s Ketziot facility.

Attorneys noted that last month IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi appointed an “advisory committee” to examine the conditions of Palestinian prisoners held at Sde Teiman.

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 IPS.

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)

“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.

It came after 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 Sde Teiman.

Qadoura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs, said there had been “horrific testimony” from former detainees describing abuse at Sde Teiman and other sites and demanded an international inquiry.

“Israel should not investigate itself. An impartial international body should handle the investigation, with experts, judges and specialists conducting it,” he said.

Israel has come under increasing international pressure over its treatment of thousands of Palestinians detained in Gaza and the West Bank since the start of the war.

UNRWA, the main United Nations relief agency for the Palestinians, said in a report from April that it had received numerous reports from detainees of ill-treatment, including beatings, intimidation and harassment.

The Israeli military has opened investigations into allegations of abuse and into reports that as many as 27 prisoners have died in detention.

“The investigations are still ongoing, and as such we will not be commenting further at this point,” a military spokesperson said on Wednesday.

IDF Maj. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, the military advocate general, has 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.”

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)

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.

The military denied widespread abuse, telling CNN at the time: “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.”

In a statement in April, ACRI said detainees released from the Sde Teiman site described being held on their knees in crowded cages, handcuffed at all hours of the day, blindfolded and subjected to a variety of humiliating treatments in blatant violation of legal obligations towards detainees.

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 Hamas led a massive cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. However, CNN said many of those detained were eventually released back to Gaza after being cleared of terror activity.

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.

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