Israel denies what it calls general, unsubstantiated claims

UN torture expert probing alleged Israeli mistreatment of Palestinian detainees

Dr. Alice Jill Edwards says she also raised Hamas atrocities with the Palestinian mission in Geneva and received a ‘disappointing’ reply that showed no empathy for the victims

A Palestinian security prisoner gestures among supporters and relatives after being released from an Israeli jail in exchange for Israeli hostages freed by Hamas from the Gaza Strip, in Ramallah, the West Bank on November 28, 2023. (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)
A Palestinian security prisoner gestures among supporters and relatives after being released from an Israeli jail in exchange for Israeli hostages freed by Hamas from the Gaza Strip, in Ramallah, the West Bank on November 28, 2023. (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

The United Nations expert on torture said on Friday she was investigating allegations of torture and mistreatment of Palestinian detainees in Israel and was in talks to visit the country.

Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Dr. Alice Jill Edwards said she had recently received allegations of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinians being detained in the West Bank or as a result of the conflict in Gaza, where Israel is fighting the ruling Palestinian Hamas terrorist organization.

“I’m looking into that as we speak and carrying out a fact-finding investigation,” said Edwards, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

“I’m calling on … Hamas, the state of Palestine, Israel to put their torture tools down, to really have a focus on peace and a prospect of living side-by-side as neighbors in the future.”

The Israeli diplomatic mission in Geneva confirmed that it had received Edwards’ request to visit Israel, which was passed on to Jerusalem for further consideration.

The UN human rights office says it has received numerous reports of mass detention, ill-treatment, and enforced disappearance of Palestinians in northern Gaza by the Israeli military, and has recorded the arrests of thousands in the West Bank.

Dr. Alice Jill Edwards speaks at a press conference in the UN. (Youtube, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Israeli military has said its operation in Gaza is designed to “dismantle Hamas’s military capabilities” and rescue hostages captured by Hamas in the attack on southern Israel on October 7 that triggered the conflict.

“Israel denies general and unsubstantiated claims regarding abuse of detainees in the IDF’s detention facilities. The mistreatment of detainees during their time in detention or whilst under interrogation violates IDF values and contravenes IDF orders and is therefore absolutely prohibited,” the Israeli diplomatic mission in Geneva said in a statement to Reuters.

Edwards said she had also raised allegations of mass murders and mutilations of hostages and sexual violence against them with Palestinian authorities through the Palestinian Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva.

She said she had, however, received “a disappointing reply” that “showed no empathy for those individuals who were subject to terrible atrocities on October 7.”

The Palestinian mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, The New York Times reported that an unpublished UNRWA report accused the IDF of mistreating Palestinian detainees. The report from the UN Palestinian aid organization alleges that detainees were “beaten, stripped, robbed, blindfolded, sexually abused and denied access to lawyers and doctors, often for more than a month.”

The IDF has denied the accusations, saying that mistreatment of detainees was strictly prohibited and that the army was investigating any reports of abuse.

People walk past the damaged Gaza City headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on February 15, 2024. (AFP)

Hamas terrorists murdered around 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, and abducted 253 on October 7.

It is believed that 130 hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and three were rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

On Monday, Pramila Patten, the UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, said that the hostages still held in Gaza were likely subject to “sexual violence including rape, sexualized torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” and that her office believes such treatment may be ongoing.

Hostages who were released in November have said they witnessed or were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Hamas terrorists.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claims that almost 31,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel in the war, but the number cannot be independently verified as it is believed to include both Hamas terrorists and civilians, some of whom were killed as a consequence of the terror group’s own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 terrorists in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 who were killed inside Israel on and immediately following October 7.

Amy Spiro contributed to this report.

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