Released Gaza detainees allege torture in Israeli facilities

Former inmates say they were subjected to electric shocks, deprived of bathroom access; Israel denies torture, but is probing detention facility

This video grab shows Mohammed Abu Selmia, former director of Shifa Hospital, who was detained by Israeli forces in November, sitting with his family after his release, along with other detainees, at a hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip on Monday, July 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammad Jahjouh)
This video grab shows Mohammed Abu Selmia, former director of Shifa Hospital, who was detained by Israeli forces in November, sitting with his family after his release, along with other detainees, at a hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip on Monday, July 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammad Jahjouh)

Gazans who were released from Israeli prisons in recent months alleged that they were tortured during their detention, after having been arrested in the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing war between Israel and the Hamas terror group.

AFP interviewed some of the 50 prisoners taken to Kamal Adwan Hospital in the Gaza Strip after their release by Israel on June 11.

“I was beaten day and night. Our eyes were blindfolded, our hands and feet shackled and they set dogs on us,” Mahmud al-Zaanin, 37, recounted from his hospital bed, adding that the beatings sometimes targeted his genitals.

“They asked me where [Hamas leader] Yahya Sinwar was, where Hamas was, where our prisoners were, and why I participated on October 7,” he said.

Zaanin denied that he was involved in Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, in which thousands of terrorists invaded the country from Gaza, killing 1,200 people and taking 251 hostages, sparking the ongoing war between Israel and the terror group.

He said he was deprived of sleep and bathroom access and denied medical treatment, telling AFP, “We urinated in our clothes.”

Shifa Hospital director Mohammed Abu Salmiya makes a statement after his release from Israeli prison alongside other detainees, at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, July 1, 2024. (Bashar TALEB / AFP)

Mohammed Abu Salmiya, the former director of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, is the latest to report mistreatment by Israel during the war, charging that “several inmates died in interrogation centers and were deprived of food and medicine.”

Salmiya was released on July 1 along with 54 other detainees, a move that sparked outrage in Israel, where Shifa is infamous for its use as a Hamas terror base.

Israel’s army and Shin Bet intelligence service have not responded to Salmiya’s account, though they have rejected past accusations of torture in detention facilities, while also launching an internal investigation into the conditions of Palestinian prisoners detained during the war.

In June, Israel’s High Court of Justice ordered the state to report on the prison conditions in the Sde Teiman detention facility, where much of the mistreatment is alleged to have occurred.

The order came in response to a petition by several human rights organizations demanding the closure of the facility, which Israel has since moved to shutter, transferring some detainees to other detention centers.

On Thursday, Israel’s attorney general told the prime minister that far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has fought against moves to improve prisoner conditions, was preventing the transfer of the remaining detainees.

In April, a doctor working at Sde Teiman wrote a letter to Israeli officials, alleging unethical practices that violated Israeli law.

In the letter, reported by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the doctor charged that “Prisoners from Gaza have had their legs amputated due to the effects of shackles, they defecate in diapers and are continuously restrained, which violates medical ethics and the law.”

This undated photo taken in the winter 2023 and provided by Breaking the Silence, a whistleblower group of former Israeli soldiers, shows blindfolded Palestinians captured in the Gaza Strip in a detention facility on the Sde Teiman military base in southern Israel. (Breaking The Silence via AP)

Released inmate Othman al-Kafarneh told AFP his “hands were injured from electric torture” and described prisoners being blindfolded and moved, never knowing their locations.

Kafarneh said he saw “more than 30 prisoners with amputated legs, some with both legs missing, and some with both eyes missing.”

The Israeli army has said it “rejects outright” allegations of stripping, sexually abusing and electrocuting detainees during interrogations.

In May, AFP questioned released prisoners at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Gaza, where Musa Yussef Mansur recounted, “We slept for two hours, then they brought dogs and set them on us at night”.

“Some young men died from excess beatings and dog attacks,” Mansur said, showing scars on his arms which he said were from dog bites.

The United Nations has called Israel’s treatment of prisoners “unacceptable.”

Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN human rights commissioner, told AFP: “We have received reports of torture, mistreatment, handcuffing, deprivation of food, of water of medication, and these are very worrying reports.

“We have raised them directly with the Israeli authorities and we have asked for a transparent investigation.”

Israel has acknowledged 36 deaths in custody, attributing them to detainees who were sick or had been wounded in the war.

It said the military adheres to Israeli and international law, emphasizing that detainees released to Gaza “are under the control of a terrorist organization that can force them to provide false information.”

Detainees suspected of ties to terror groups can be held for 45 days without an administrative process, following amendments to Israel’s Unlawful Combatants Law in the wake of the October 7 attack.

The rules had previously allowed such detention for only 96 hours.

Prisoners can also be held for 75 days without a court hearing, up from 14 days, and this can be extended to 180 days.

Judges can prevent a detainee from contacting a lawyer.

“Some detainees have not been visited by a lawyer for more than eight months and are being tried via Zoom without being brought to court and without lawyers,” said Tal Steiner, director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel.

Steiner said her group knows of three camps where detainees were shackled 24 hours a day in open cages.

“We believe in the law to help change these violations, so we have filed a petition,” said Steiner.

Israel is holding some 1,000 suspected terror operatives as “unlawful combatants,” captured in Israel on or after October 7 during the fight to clear southern Israel of invading forces, or in Gaza during the military’s ongoing campaign there.

More than 1,500 have been released and returned to Gaza.

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