Israelis’ lawsuit says UN agency helps Hamas by paying Gaza staff in dollars

What about the “other hostages” in Gaza – the thousands of Palestinians held in Israel without charge?

LONDON: A disturbing video of a Palestinian identified as 29-year-old Badr Dahlan surfaced on social media last week.

Wide-eyed and swaying as he spoke, Dahlan appeared to be in a state of shock as he answered questions at Shuhada Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza, shortly after his release from Israeli custody.

Dahlan, described by those who knew him as a “socially active and well-loved young man”, has completely changed in the month he has spent in Israeli custody since he was detained in Khan Younis.

He described a pattern of beatings, torture and abuse known to NGOs monitoring a dramatic rise in the number of Palestinians imprisoned without charge or trial since the Gaza conflict began last October.

Badr Dahlan (L) and other detainees were emaciated and scarred after being released on June 20. (Getty Images)

As the world’s attention continues to focus on the remaining hostages taken by Hamas on October 7, the plight of the “other hostages” — the thousands of innocent Palestinians, adults and children seized and held by Israel without charge — is largely ignored.

“There are currently about 9,200 prisoners in total from the West Bank and the occupied territories,” said Jenna Abu Hsana, international advocacy representative at the Palestinian NGO Addameer – Association for Prisoners’ Support and Human Rights.

“We believe about 3,200 of them are administrative prisoners.”

Administrative detention “is essentially a tool used by the occupation to detain Palestinians indefinitely” in prisons run by the Israeli Prison Service, she said.

Detainees are charged and “tried” by military courts, but this process circumvents all norms of internationally accepted judicial procedure.

“In reality, there is no ‘charge’ because no evidence is presented against the detainee,” Abu Hsana said. “All so-called evidence is kept in a secret file to which neither the detainee nor his lawyer have access.”

Israeli soldiers stand by a truck filled with bound and blindfolded Palestinian prisoners in Gaza on Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. (AP)

Imprisonment can last up to six months at a time and can then be extended by another six months at the discretion of the military.

Initially, the case against the persons prosecuted under this law was supposed to be judicially reviewed within 14 days, but this was extended to 75 days in December. At the same time, the period during which a prisoner could be denied a meeting with a legal representative was increased from 10 days to 75 or, with the court’s approval, up to 180 days.

This is an unpleasant situation, says B’Tselem, Israel’s Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which “leaves detainees helpless – facing unknown charges, with no way to refute them, not knowing when they will be released and without. to be accused, tried or convicted’.

Israel “routinely uses administrative detention and over the years has put thousands of Palestinians behind bars for periods ranging from months to years without charging them, without telling them what they are accused of, and without disclosing the alleged evidence . or their lawyers.”

The situation in Gaza is somewhat different in that detainees held there since October have been arrested and held in solitary confinement in military camps under Israel’s 2002 Detention of Unlawful Combatants law.

However, the effect is the same as in the case of persons detained in administrative custody. “Detainees can be held in these military camps for long periods of time without charge or evidence,” Abu Hsana said.

Before October 7, Israel held about 5,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and occupied territories in its prisons, of whom about 1,000 were being held in administrative detention.

But since October 7, “the numbers have escalated,” Abu Hsana said. “Currently, there are more than 9,200 prisoners in prisons, of which 3,200 are held in administrative custody.”

However, NGOs are struggling to determine exactly how many people have been captured in Gaza.

“We don’t have any exact numbers because the occupation refuses to release any information, but we’ve been told that there are currently around 3,000 to 5,000 detainees.”

Most of them are held at one of two military sites – Camp Anatot, near Jerusalem, and Sde Teman, near Beersheba in the northern Negev.

Prisoners in the Sde Teiman detention facility. NGOs are trying to determine exactly how many people have been captured in Gaza since October 7. (X)

While prisoners are held in these camps, access to families and even lawyers is prohibited. But as some have been released over the past few months, shocking details have begun to emerge.

“It is particularly difficult for Gaza detainees because they are handcuffed and blindfolded throughout their detention, from the moment they are arrested until they are released, and the plastic zips used are very tight and have caused many serious injuries. Abu Hasana said.

In April, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz obtained a copy of a letter an Israeli doctor in Sde Teman sent in distress to Israel’s attorney general and the ministers of defense and health.

“Just this week,” the doctor wrote, “two prisoners had their legs amputated due to handcuff injuries, which is unfortunately a routine occurrence.”

He added: “I faced serious ethical dilemmas. Furthermore, I am writing to warn you that the operation of the facilities does not comply with the only section of the Unlawful Combatants Imprisonment Act that deals with health.”

He added that none of the detainees received adequate medical care.

All of this, he added, “makes all of us — the medical teams and you, those in charge of us in the health and defense ministries — complicit in breaking Israeli law, and worse for me as a doctor, breaking it. of my fundamental commitment to patients wherever they are, as I swore when I graduated 20 years ago.”

A member of the Israeli security forces stands next to a blindfolded Palestinian prisoner on the border with Gaza near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on October 8, 2023. (AFP)

UNRWA, the United Nations relief and labor agency for Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, recently published a scathing report condemning the treatment of Palestinians who were detained without charge or trial and later released.

The report was based on information obtained through UNRWA’s role in coordinating humanitarian assistance at the Karem Abu Salem border crossing between Gaza and Israel, where Israeli security forces have been regularly releasing detainees since early November 2023.

By 4 April, UNRWA had documented the release of 1,506 detainees, including 43 children and 84 women. Detainees said they were sent for questioning several times and were subjected to widespread ill-treatment.

This included “being subjected to beatings, having to lie for hours on a thin mattress in the rubble without food, water or access to a toilet, with their legs and hands bound with plastic ties”.

Several detainees, UNRWA said, “reported being forced into cages and attacked by dogs. Some of the released detainees, including a child, had wounds on their bodies after being bitten by dogs.

Israeli soldiers detained blindfolded Palestinian men in a military truck on November 19, 2023. (AFP)

Other reported forms of ill-treatment included “physical beatings, threats of physical harm, insults and humiliation, such as being forced to act like animals or to urinate, using loud music and noise, being denied water, food, sleep and toilets, being denied the right to pray and long-term using tightly locked handcuffs that cause open wounds and chafing injuries.

In a statement provided to the BBC in response to UNRWA’s findings, the Israel Defense Forces said: “Mistreatment of detainees during their detention or during interrogation violates IDF values ​​and is contrary to the IDF and is therefore absolutely prohibited.”

She denied specific allegations, including being denied access to water, medical care and bedding. The IDF also said the allegations of sexual abuse were “another cynical attempt to create a false equivalence with Hamas’ systematic use of rape as a weapon of war”.

Israeli peace activists protested outside the camp, holding placards reading “Sde Teman torture camp” and “Israel forces people to disappear.” In an apparent attempt to ease growing concern over its treatment of detainees, earlier this month (June) Israel invited The New York Times to “briefly see part” of the facility.

If the authorities were hoping for a stamp of approval, they were bound to be disappointed.

Israelis protest at the Sde Teman “Torture Camp” where Palestinians are held. (X)

On June 6, the newspaper described “the scene one afternoon in late May in a military hangar in Sde Teman.” In barbed-wire cages, the newspaper reported, “the men sat in rows, handcuffed and blindfolded … forbidden to speak louder than a murmur and forbidden to stand or sleep unless permitted.”

All were “cut off from the outside world, prevented from contacting lawyers or relatives for weeks.”

In late May, the NYT was told that some 4,000 Gaza detainees had spent up to three months in limbo in Sde Teman, including “several dozen” captured during the October 7 Hamas-led offensive.

After interrogation, “approximately 70 percent of those detained were sent to special purpose prisons for further investigation and prosecution.

“The rest, at least 1,200 people, were found to be civilians and returned to Gaza without charge, apology or compensation.”

On May 23, a group of Israeli human rights organizations petitioned the Supreme Court to close the camp. The government agreed to limit activities there, and the court ordered the state to report on conditions at the facility by June 30.

But protesters and NGOs say the Sde Teman scandal is just the tip of the iceberg.

Israeli security forces detained a Palestinian trying to attend the first Friday noon prayer of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on March 15, 2024. (AFP)

“Abundant testimonies reveal the pervasive torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners, with many reports of deaths in Israeli prisons and military camps, in clear violation of the absolute prohibition of torture under international law,” said Miriam Azem, Adalah’s International Advocacy and Communications Partner. — Legal Center for the Rights of Arab Minorities in Israel.

“Thousands of Palestinians are being held in administrative detention without charge or trial based on secret evidence in deplorable and life-threatening conditions.

“Hundreds of Palestinians from Gaza remain in isolation, without access to lawyers or family, with their whereabouts unknown, under a legal framework that allows for enforced disappearances, a serious violation of international law.

“The urgency of the present moment requires immediate and decisive intervention by the international community. Failure to act is a threat to Palestinian lives.”

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