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Released Gaza prisoners retell torture in Israeli prison

Released Palestinian prisoners from Gaza retell 'hellish' torture in Israeli prison
6 min read
22 December, 2023
"I was screaming the whole time from the severity of the torture. They made me beg them to kill me, but they did not."
A group of Palestinians who were arrested by Israeli soldiers in the Shujaiya district in the east of Gaza were treated at the Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, Palestine, after their release on 10 December 2023. [Getty]

Israeli authorities recently released dozens of Palestinians from Gaza City and other parts of the northern Gaza Strip, who were taken by Israeli forces and blindfolded, stripped and abused under the pretext that they belonged to the Islamic armed resistance movement, Hamas.

In separate interviews with The New Arab, several Palestinians described how they lived through "days of hell" in the interrogation rooms during their weeks-long arrests, including experiencing torture. They were deprived of the most basic human rights and without access to lawyers or human rights organisations.

"The Israeli investigators, who gave themselves Arab names, subjected us to systematic physical and psychological torture to obtain from them information related to Hamas and the Palestinian resistance," said a recently released Palestinian prisoner to TNA.

At various moments, Avichai Adraee, the Arabic-language spokesperson of the Israeli army, published on his X account short videos documenting the arrests of several Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip, depicting clearly inhumane scenes in which they were stripped of their clothing and forced to pose with weapons.

Among the detainees identified in the footage was TNA's Arabic reporter, Diaa Al-Kahlout.

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The process of arrest

Mohammed, a Palestinian man displaced from Beit Lahia, was among those who appeared in the videos shared by Adraee. He noted how he and others were forced by the Israeli army to take off their clothes, carry weapons and walk barefoot before being transported in large military trucks into Israel.

"They covered our eyes with pieces of cloth, tied our hands with plastic ties and made us keep our heads down all the time during our transfer to the interrogation centres," Mohammed, who preferred to keep his family name anonymously for security issues, describes to TNA. 

While being processed, Mohammed says, "We were severely beaten all over our bodies. They (the Israeli soldiers) spat on us and cursed us with obscene words. They were fluent in the Arabic language and deliberately insulted our mothers and fathers."

"I was afraid since the soldiers were threatening to execute us all after obtaining information related to Hamas and its military strength," he added.

However, it was going to get worse for Mohammed after he was transferred to an Israeli prison. There, he described how the Israeli army gathered the detainees in one yard after stripping them of all their clothes and beating them all without exception. 

"They (Israeli soldiers) left us in the cold without food or water and without even being able to raise our heads. They treated us as if we were animals. They told us that we are animals and pigs and do not deserve to live," he said, his voice breaking with emotion.

What was most horrifying for Mohammed was that the Israeli investigators deliberately forced detainees, including himself, to stand outside the doors of the interrogation rooms to hear the screams and pain of the men and women being interrogated inside.

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'Hellish' torture

Inside the room, Mohammed recalls a "hellish" experience. "In the first days, four interrogators took turns physically torturing me throughout the day and night. They spat on my face and insulted me without asking me anything," he said.

"I was screaming the whole time from the severity of the torture. They made me beg them to kill me, but they did not. They told me that they would not let us die easily, as we did not deserve euthanasia," he added.

After days of continuous torture, investigators took Mohammed blindfolded to an open square where other detainees who had been tortured were gathered.

"We did not dare to speak. I could only hear the sounds of their breathing, which moaned in pain as I do," he said, noting that they remained in that square for two days without food, drink or even able to use the toilet.

After, he continued, "The investigators returned me to the investigation room again, blindfolded and handcuffed. There, the hood was removed from my eyes for the first time, and an investigator named Abu Dawood and another who did not mention his name met me, while a third stood behind me without me daring to look at him or even know him or his facial features."

According to Mohammed, the investigators asked him about his name, age, and personal details. Then they took turns asking him about the names of Hamas leaders, their families and relatives, as well as their neighbours, in addition to Hamas leaders who died in previous wars and the sources of their wealth and money.

"They know very well that I do not belong to Hamas. They were collecting additional information to what they knew. I answered them, but with every answer, one of them beat me without any justification," Mohammed stressed.

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Similarly, Abdul Salam, another Palestinian who was taken in northern Gaza, describes the exact circumstances when he and his brother were arrested and interrogated by the Israelis. 

Abdul Salam, who is in his 30s, lost his brother in that process; he died while being tortured by Israeli investigators. 

"I will never forget the voice of my brother as he screamed loudly for help during the first days of torture. But after that, my brother started asking for death (...) He wanted to escape torture through death," Abdul Salam said. 

"Often, we were tortured in the same room, but when it came to investigating Hamas and its military strength, we were separated," he added.

The cruellest moment for Abdul Salam was when the investigators broke the news to him about his brother's death.

"The investigator came to me with an angry expression on his face. He hit the table and told me that my brother had died, but before his death, he admitted that I belonged to Hamas. At that moment, my feelings were mixed between sadness over my brother's death and defending myself that I was just a civil servant working as a government teacher to support my family," he said. 

Abdul Salam then experienced further days of torture. 

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Unknown fate of hundreds

Both Mohammed and Abdul Salam could not believe themselves when an Israeli investigator told them that they would be released and return to Gaza again.

"I thought that the Israeli investigator's words were nothing but a cover-up for our execution, especially since they were taken with dozens of prisoners in a military truck and left us kilometres away from Kerem Shalom without giving us our phones or our money," one of them remarked to TNA.

They, with dozens of other released prisoners, were forced to walk tens of kilometres before they reached the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, without knowing the whereabouts of their relatives, whether they were still alive or had been killed in Israel's indiscriminate airstrikes and attacks.

Until now, there are no accurate numbers of Palestinians in Gaza taken by the Israeli army, but according to Palestinian human rights organisations, more than 1,000 Palestinians have been abducted by the Israeli military and taken to unknown locations.

Meanwhile, Israel also continues to hold 7,000 Palestinians from Gaza and the occupied West Bank in its jails, including 200 children and 62 women, according to human rights groups.