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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Palestinian Women Allege Abuse in Israeli Detention

Nabela believed the United Nations school in Gaza City provided safety until the arrival of the Israeli army. Subsequently, she endured a harrowing six weeks in Israeli custody, alleging mistreatment, beatings, and strip searches. Palestinians detained during the Israel-Hamas conflict have reported widespread abuse, although the exact number of women and minors in custody is unknown.

Nabela described being shuttled between Israeli facilities before ending up at Damon Prison, with an estimated 100 women there. Rights groups accuse Israel of “disappearing” Gaza Palestinians, detaining them without transparency. The military justifies undressing detainees as a security measure to search for explosives.

Despite evacuation orders, Nabela’s family stayed in Gaza City. When troops entered their shelter, she feared for her life. Separated from her children, she endured a 47-day ordeal, moved between prisons, and was subjected to strip searches and interrogations.

Her innocence was maintained during questioning about any connection to Hamas or knowledge of underground tunnels, asserting she was a housewife, and her husband worked for Hamas’ rival, the Palestinian Authority.

‘AN APPARATUS OF RETRIBUTION AND REVENGE’

An anonymous woman detained from Gaza shared with the AP that, fearing another arrest, Israeli forces subjected her to mistreatment during a medical check before her transfer to Damon Prison. She claimed that when ordered to kiss an Israeli flag, her refusal led to a soldier violently grabbing her by the hair, and slamming her face into a wall.

Similar allegations of abuse were detailed in a report by PHRI, with one redacted testimonial describing guards at Ketziot Prison in southern Israel urinating on a detainee. Additionally, strip searches were said to involve forcing naked detainees to stand closely together while guards inserted search devices into their buttocks.

Also Read: Israeli Forces Successfully Liberate Two Hostages Held by Hamas in Rafah

PHRI characterized Israel’s prisons as “an apparatus of retribution and revenge,” asserting that the prison service and military had unchecked authority. Wartime emergency measures suspended normal cell capacity requirements, leading to overcrowded cells with detainees sleeping on mattresses. Phone privileges were suspended, and some facilities experienced power and water disconnections, causing darkness and rendering showers and sinks unusable.

Nabela, during her detention in southern Israel, claimed she lacked access to menstrual pads, toiletries, and proper meals. She recounted guards throwing down meals, and instructing detainees to eat from the floor.

The military responded, denying overcrowded conditions and affirming that detainees received clothing, blankets, and mattresses. It stated that inappropriate behavior cases would be addressed and referred questions about specific prisons to the Israeli Prison Service, which did not comment on the allegations, asserting its non-involvement in the arrests and interrogation of Palestinians from Gaza.

‘UNLAWFUL COMBATANTS’

Nabela revealed that she never had the opportunity to speak with a lawyer or a judge during her detention. A wartime amendment to Israeli law allows the holding of detainees from Gaza for 45 days without charge or trial. Designated as “unlawful combatants,” they lack the same protections as prisoners of war under international law. PHRI highlighted that their court appearances can be delayed, and access to legal representation can be revoked.

According to HaMoked, an Israeli rights group, there are around 600 people from Gaza classified as unlawful combatants in Israeli prisons, with potentially more held in military facilities. Palestinian detainees reported limited access to medical care, even for those requiring essential treatments like insulin or chemotherapy.

An official document obtained by the AP outlined operations at the Sde Teiman military medical facility, specifying that unlawful combatants should be treated while handcuffed and blindfolded. The document did not mandate patient consent for medical procedures and allowed the sharing of confidential medical information with detention center staff, emphasizing the need for anonymity to protect caregivers.

The military defended the handcuffing practice, stating it aligned with the assessed danger level and medical condition of detainees. The Ministry of Health in Israel did not respond to requests for comment.

Since October 7, eleven Palestinian detainees have reportedly died in Israeli custody, as per the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club. The recent death occurred this week, raising concerns about medical neglect, especially for those with chronic health conditions. The Israeli military committed to investigating these deaths.

‘BETTER THAN GAZA’

Nabela’s situation took a positive turn upon reaching Damon Prison, where she encountered Palestinian women detained from the West Bank. The camaraderie among these women brought some relief, providing a supportive environment. At Damon, she enjoyed amenities like electricity and warm showers, which marked a significant improvement from her previous conditions. During interrogations, even her interrogator expressed confusion about why Nabela was being held.

Approximately a month and a half after her arrest, a prison administrator announced Nabela’s impending release along with about 20 other women. Israeli buses transported them to a Gaza crossing, from where they journeyed to U.N. shelters in the southern city of Rafah, already housing numerous displaced Palestinians. Unfortunately, due to restrictions, she cannot travel to Gaza City, where her family resides.

Recounting one of her final interrogations, Nabela, still bearing bruises on her face, remembered breaking down in tears. In response, her interrogator callously remarked, “Don’t cry about it. You’re better living here than Gaza.”

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