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Gaza doctor abducted from Al-Shifa feared tortured by Israel

Relatives fear Israel torturing Gaza doctor to fabricate Al Shifa hospital claims
5 min read
10 December, 2023
Dr Saleh Eleiwa was among dozens of medical staff from the Al-Shifa Hospital – including hospital director Mohammed Abu Salmiya – rounded up by Israeli soldiers and detained.
Saleh Elewa was abducted by Israeli forces as he fled south from the Al Shifa Hospital [Salim Elewa]

The family of a Gazan student doctor have expressed fears for his safety after he was abducted by Israeli forces and forcibly disappeared in November as Israel targeted the Al Shifa Hospital in central Gaza.

Dr Saleh Eleiwa was among dozens of medical staff – including hospital director Mohammed Abu Salmiya – rounded up by Israeli soldiers and detained from Al Shifa Hospital. Many are being held without charge.

Salim Eleiwa, a cousin of Saleh, told The New Arab that as Israeli forces entered the besieged hospital, his relative sought shelter in another ward as soldiers opened fire.

"Saleh called us as he was trying to escape with other health workers to South Gaza. Colleagues he was travelling with confirmed that he was targeted by Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint," Salim said, adding that his relative was taken into custody on November 18.

"We fear he is being tortured as we speak in an attempt to fabricate a confession about military activity in Shifa, of which he would not and could not know anything."

Israel claims that the hospital - Gaza's largest - was a major Hamas operations centre, but has failed to substantiate its claims even after besieging and invading the complex.

Ahead of the storming of the hospital, the army released a computer-generated video showing an elaborate system of tunnels and military bunkers under the hospital - none of which have been discovered.

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A recently-released detainee who spoke to the Eleiwa family, who wished to remain anonymous, reported seeing a doctor from Gaza being tortured in an Israeli prison.

The New Arab was unable to verify the report, however recently-released prisoners and rights groups have said that conditions have worsened for Palestinians – many held without charge – in Israeli detention since October 7, including allegations of beatings and sexual abuse.

At least six Palestinians have died in Israeli prisons during the course of the war, Haaretz reported on Saturday, including two who bore the marks of physical abuse.

'This has been such an atrocious time for my family both in Canada and in Gaza," said Salim. "We have not been able to sleep or go on with our daily lives since November 18th. We are worried sick about him knowing how Israel tortures their prisoners makes it more difficult to sleep at night thinking about what he is going through."

Left in the dark

In their quest to find information on Saleh's whereabouts, the Elewa family have contacted the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) in Palestine and Canada, though to no avail.

"We contacted the Red Cross in Canada and they took in a request, but after initially giving some hope they said we shouldn’t expect any type of information any time soon," Salim says.

The Elewa family say their requests for information from the Red Cross in Jerusalem have been ignored. 

Salim believes that the Red Cross has information on the detained Palestinians, and accuses the aid organisation of treating Palestinian and Israeli captives differently.

"We will never forget or forgive any of these organisations for not helping out when they have the ability to. Withholding information about Palestinian civilians and refusing to cooperate and allow us to know where our loved ones are," Salim said.

"They have been working their hardest for the Israeli hostages, but don’t give the same courtesy to Palestinian hostages. It’s more clear than ever, white lives matter more than Palestinians."

The New Arab contacted the ICRC for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

The Elewa family is not alone in feeling this way. Last month, Gaza residents who spoke to The New Arab accused the humanitarian group of "failing in its obligations" to protect civilians, saying that hundreds of calls to the group were ignored as Israel carried out its bombing campaign.

Since October, Israeli authorities barred the ICRC from carrying out visits to Palestinian prisoners, whose numbers have swelled since October.

The ICRC's website states that the "Geneva Conventions recognise the right of the ICRC to visit prisoners of war and civilian internees. Preventing our delegates from carrying out their mission is a violation of humanitarian law".

Red Cross sources who spoke to Spanish News Agency EFE in November said that the aid agency is privately negotiating with Israel to resume visits.

Forced disappearances, mass round ups

As Israel continues its assault on Gaza, many more families are being devastated by the loss of family members killed and disappeared by Israeli forces.

Shocking images have appeared in the media of Israeli troops rounding up Palestinian men – many of whom have been identified as civilians – and forcing them to strip in the street before being taken away.

Some have been released say they were beaten, branded and forced to walk home naked.

A correspondent for The New Arab's Arabic-language service, Al Araby Al Jadeed, Diaa Kahlout, was among those rounded up earlier this week in Beit Lahia. His whereabouts are still unknown.

Israel's army and media have have presented the detainees as being linked to Hamas, something the Eleiwa family fear is being done to Saleh – a doctor who they say was simply serving his people at their time of need.

"Saleh has always harboured a deep passion for helping others, a driving force that led him to become a doctor," Salim says. "Saleh's care goes beyond mere medical expertise; it comes from a genuine and selfless commitment to the well-being of others."