UNRWA report accuses Israeli forces of abusing staffers detained in Gaza

US says ‘deeply concerned’ by allegations, will ask Israel to investigate; Israeli envoy calls ‘to defund’ agency: It aims to indoctrinate kids ‘to idea of destroying Israel’

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)
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)

The UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) alleged some of its staff members and other people detained by Israeli forces in Gaza were subjected to ill-treatment, including severe beatings and being forced to strip naked.

In a report published on Tuesday, UNRWA said that staff that were detained, in some cases while performing official duties, were “held incommunicado and subjected to the same conditions and ill-treatment as other detainees,” which it said included several different forms of abuse.

The agency said staff members reported they were subjected to beatings and treatment akin to waterboarding, threats of rape and electrocution, and were forced to strip naked, among other forms of ill-treatment.

“UNRWA has made official protests to the Israeli authorities about the reported treatment of agency staff members while they were in Israeli detention centers,” it said. “UNRWA has not received any response to these protests to date.”

The Israeli military has said it acts according to Israeli and international law and those it arrests get access to food, water, medication and proper clothing. The military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the claims in the UNRWA report.

The United States was “deeply concerned” and would press Israel for a full investigation on the allegations and accountability for any perpetrators, State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said when asked about the report on Wednesday.

UNRWA has documented the release of 1,506 detainees from Gaza, including 43 children and 84 women, by the Israeli authorities through the Kerem Shalom crossing as of April 4.

A United Nations car drives past trucks delivering humanitarian aid that entered Gaza by truck through the Kerem Shalom border crossing in the southern part of the Strip on February 17, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The freed detainees were subjected to “insults and humiliation such as being made to act like animals or getting urinated on, use of loud music and noise, deprivation of water, food, sleep and toilets, denial of the right to pray and prolonged use of tightly locked handcuffs causing open wounds and friction injuries,” according to UNRWA.

“Detainees were threatened with prolonged detention, injury or the killing of family members if they did not provide requested information,” UNRWA said.

“In most reported detention incidents, the IDF forced males, including children, to strip down to their underwear. UNRWA also documented at least one occasion where males sheltering in an UNRWA installation were forced to strip naked and were detained while naked.”

Israel’s military operation in Gaza was triggered by Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, during which Palestinian terrorists killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 253 hostages.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 33,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting so far, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas gunmen Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Two hundred and sixty IDF soldiers have been killed since Israel launched the ground offensive to destroy Hamas and get back the hostages, of whom 129 remain in Gaza, not all of them alive.

Israel has alleged that 12 of UNRWA’s thousands of workers participated in the October 7 Hamas-led attack and that many more of its Gaza-based workers have ties to terror groups. UNRWA said it fired the employees accused of taking part in massacres and is now the subject of an internal UN investigation.

An outside probe of whether UNRWA is neutral was also undertaken and its final report is scheduled for releasee Monday.

The 12 staffers at UNRWA alleged to have been involved in the October 7 onslaught. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

At a UN Security Council meeting Wednesday, Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan charged that “one of UNRWA’s primary goals is to indoctrinate Palestinian children to the idea of destroying Israel.”

“The time has come to defund UNRWA,” Erdan added.

Addressing the same Security Council session, the head of UNRWA accused Israel of trying to end its operations in Gaza and the West Bank.

Referring to Israel, Philippe Lazzarini said there is an “insidious campaign” under way to dismantle UNRWA, which he warned would have lasting consequences.

“In the short-term, it will deepen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and accelerate the onset of famine,” Lazzarini said.

“In the longer-term, it will jeopardize the transition from ceasefire to ‘day after’ by depriving a traumatized population of essential services,” he added.

UNRWA was established in 1949 following the war surrounding the founding of Israel, when 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes.

It employs 30,000 Palestinians to serve the civic and humanitarian needs of 5.9 million descendants of those refugees — in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and vast camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. In Gaza, it is providing shelter for some one million people newly displaced by the war between Israel and Hamas.

Israel has long pushed for UNRWA’s closure, arguing that it helps perpetuate the conflict with the Palestinians since it confers refugee status upon descendants of those originally displaced around the time of Israel’s War of Independence, unlike other refugee groups around the world.

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