UNRWA said to accuse Israel of abusing Gazan detainees

UN agency, whose employees are accused of taking part in October 7 onslaught, reportedly alleges suspects ‘beaten, stripped, robbed, blindfolded, sexually abused’

Palestinian security prisoner Omar Atshan hugs his mother after being released from an Israeli prison, in Ramallah on November 26, 2023. (FADEL SENNA / AFP)
Palestinian security prisoner Omar Atshan hugs his mother after being released from an Israeli prison, in Ramallah on November 26, 2023. (FADEL SENNA / AFP)

An unpublished report by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, accuses Israeli troops of abusing hundreds of Palestinians detained in Gaza and brought to Israel for questioning, according to a Sunday report.

The New York Times said the UNRWA report alleges that some detainees were “beaten, stripped, robbed, blindfolded, sexually abused, and denied access to lawyers and doctors, often for more than a month.”

The report, based on interviews with over 100 of the 1,002 detainees released back to Gaza by February, claimed that the alleged abuse was “used to extract information or confessions, to intimidate and humiliate, and to punish.” All the interviewed Palestinians were released without charge.

The Israel Defense Forces said that any mistreatment was “absolutely prohibited,” denied all allegations of sexual abuse, and said it was investigating any complaints of inappropriate behavior, the report said.

The Times said that its investigators could not corroborate all the details of the allegations but that some accounts correlated with other interviews the newspaper had conducted with former Gazan detainees.

It noted that the detainees held by Israel were aged from 6 to 82 and said the UNRWA report says some of them died in detention.

UNRWA, the UN body that provides welfare and humanitarian services for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars and their descendants, is itself currently under investigation after Israel accused several of its members of taking part in Hamas’s October 7 onslaught on southern Israel, in which some 1,200 people were killed and 253 were taken hostage.

An electrical room serving an underground Hamas data center, beneath the UNRWA headquarters, uncovered by the IDF in Gaza City, February 8, 2024. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

As a result of Israel’s accusation, multiple countries, including the US, UK, and Germany, froze funding for the organization. The investigation’s findings are expected to be published in late April, according to a Thursday update.

UNRWA also claimed Monday that  Israeli authorities had “detained several of its staff from the Gaza Strip” who later described abuses carried out while they were in custody.

“Our staff have reported atrocious events while they were detained and during interrogations by the Israeli authorities. These reports included torture, severe ill-treatment, abuse and sexual exploitation,” UNRWA said in a statement to AFP.

“Some of our staff have conveyed to UNRWA teams that they were forced to confessions under torture and ill-treatment” while being asked about the October 7 onslaught.

“These forced confessions as a result of torture are being used by the Israeli authorities to further spread misinformation about the agency as part of attempts to dismantle UNRWA,” the agency said.

“This is putting our staff in Gaza at risk and has serious implications on our operations in Gaza and around the region.”

UNRWA said it had submitted a written protest to Israel about the detentions but had not received a response.

Israel told AFP on Monday the UNRWA allegations were “baseless.”

Some hostages who were released from Gaza during a weeklong truce in November also claimed they had been held in the homes of UNRWA members. In addition, throughout the war, the IDF has uncovered instances of the organization being used as a cover for Hamas.

For example, Israel’s military revealed in February that Hamas hid a large subterranean data center directly under the UNRWA Gaza headquarters building in Gaza City. An entrance to the stronghold was found underneath a nearby UNRWA school.

Israel has been repeatedly accused of mistreating Palestinian prisoners since its war with Hamas broke out in October.

Israeli soldiers stand by a truck packed with bound and blindfolded Palestinian detainees, in Gaza, Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Moti Milrod, Haaretz, File)

Human rights group Amnesty International claimed that Palestinians detained in the West Bank in the first month of the war were subjected to “severe beatings, humiliation… forcing them to keep their heads down, to kneel on the floor during inmate count, and to sing Israeli songs.”

A January New York Times report cited a UN statement saying that Gazans held by Israeli authorities had been “subjected to ill-treatment, and to what may amount to torture.”

Israel insisted in response that all the detainees were suspected of terror activities and were being “treated in accordance with international law.”

Agencies and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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