Rights groups petition court to shutter Negev detention facility over torture claims

Organizations cite evidence detained Gazans had surgery without anesthesia, held in agonizing positions; state approves autopsy request for Gazan doctor who died in custody

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)

Israeli human rights groups on Thursday petitioned the High Court of Justice to close the detention center at the Sde Teiman military base in the Negev due to allegations of torture of Gazan detainees at the facility.

“Evidence has mounted on what is allegedly happening at the facility,” the petition read, “which reveals an unimaginable reality of surgeries performed without anesthesia, holding detainees in painful positions for days and handcuffing that leads to amputation, blindfolding for long periods, even when providing medical treatment and while [detainees were] defecating, holding detainees in diapers, beatings, and abuse.”

The petition was filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Physicians for Human Rights (PHR-I), HaMoked, and the Public Committee Against Torture (PCATI), among others.

Earlier this month, a CNN report detailed 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 was held in the Sde Teiman facility.

Most of the detainees at the facility are suspected terror operatives arrested during the months-long Gaza war, including during the atrocities of October 7.

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.

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)

The two Israeli sources said prisoners were forced to sit up straight for long hours, 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 head for an hour. Some had their arms zip-tied to the fence over their heads.

The military denied widespread abuse, telling CNN: “The IDF ensures proper conduct towards 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.”

Meanwhile, Israel Police informed the Jerusalem District Court on Thursday the state has agreed to hold an autopsy for senior Gazan doctor Adnan Al-Bursh, who died in custody at Ofer prison last month.

A professional source told the Haaretz daily that the fact that a month has lapsed since Bursh’s death may impair the findings of the procedure.

Bursh was in good health at the time of his arrest by Israeli forces in December while temporarily working at Al-Awda Hospital in north Gaza, and there was “heavy concern” that his death was caused by security forces, according to the petition submitted by PHRI-I on behalf of Bursh’s wife Yasmin.

Bursh was head of orthopedics at Shifa Hospital in Gaza, and his death was called an “assassination” by Palestinian prisoner associations.

A spokesperson for the IDF said that the prison service had declared Bursh dead on April 19, saying that he had been detained for national security reasons in Ofer prison. The IDF has offered no further information at this time.

Dr. Adnan Al-Bursh. (Courtesy)

Israel maintains that Hamas uses hospitals for military purposes and its operations against them have been justified by the presence of terrorists.

Shifa Hospital was the scene of two separate IDF raids as the military sought to capture terrorists who were using the hospital as a headquarters and a staging ground for attacks. Hostages seized by the invading terrorists on October 7 were also kept temporarily in the hospital.

In March, the military launched a second raid on the hospital after thousands of terrorists regrouped there after an initial IDF withdrawal.

During the raid, which began March 18, the IDF said troops captured some 900 suspects, of whom more than 500 were confirmed to be terror operatives, and killed more than 200 gunmen. Among those killed and detained were top commanders in Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Valuable intelligence was also seized, the IDF said.

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.

Palestinians inspect the damage outside Gaza’s Shifa hospital after the Israeli military withdrew from the complex housing the hospital on April 1, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

War erupted when Hamas launched its October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 252 hostages amid acts of brutality and sexual assault

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 35,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though only some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals. The toll, which cannot be verified, includes some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Two hundred and eighty-six soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in the Strip.

Jacob Magid and Reuters contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: