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Stranded Gaza workers held in horrific conditions by Israel

Blindfolded with no food or water: Stranded workers from Gaza being kept in horrific conditions by Israel
4 min read
25 October, 2023
Palestinian workers who were in Israel at the time the Gaza war are being held by Israeli forces in terrible conditions in the West Bank, released detainees have said.
Some 200,000 Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip usually work in the Israeli economy [Getty]

Israeli forces have kept workers from the Gaza Strip in extremely harsh conditions since the war with Hamas erupted, Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted detainees as saying.

These individuals have been kept in military bases in the occupied West Bank in places resembling chicken cages, under the sun and without food or water for long periods of time, workers who were detained told Haaretz.

Some 200,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip usually work in the Israeli economy, either within Israel's 1948 boundaries or at illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

They were reportedly present in Israel when Hamas carried out a large-scale attack in southern Israel on 7 October. 1,400 people were killed over 200 taken hostage, Israel says.

The ruthless and indiscriminate Israeli retaliation against Gaza has killed over 6,500 people and destroyed entire neighbourhoods.

Last week, The New Arab reported that thousands of Palestinian workers from the Gaza Strip have been trapped in the West Bank since 7 October, and that these workers were forced by Israeli authorities to leave Israel for the West Bank.

"The workers were detained in the sun and without food for two days, while their hands were tied and their eyes were covered," Haaretz quoted one former unnamed detainee as saying.

"After that, thousands of workers were transferred to facilities, similar to cages, where they are detained in large numbers, and most of them are not even suspects," they added.

Human rights groups submitted a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court on Sunday demanding that Israel hand over the names of the detainees and inform their families of their whereabouts.

Israel’s Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon last week warned the justice ministry about the workers' situation, before heading to a security official to intervene in the case, Haaretz reported.

The justice ministry says that dealing with the case falls within the security ministry and the army’s prerogatives, adding that it is waiting for them to decide on what to do.

A security source told Haaretz that the workers will remain in detention until they can be returned to the Gaza Strip.

One worker who was released after it appeared to Israeli authorities that he was not from Gaza also spoke of the harsh conditions the labourers are kept in.

The unnamed worker says the detainees cannot use their phones and have not been given the chance to meet with lawyers, nor have they been visited by the International Red Cross.

He explains that he was arrested at the Ni’lin checkpoint in the West Bank’s Ramallah district as he tried to return home. The worker says he was taken to a room with about 100 other workers and kept there for three hours, without water and barred from using the toilet.

He says that they were then handcuffed and loaded onto a bus and taken to a military base.

There were elderly people who were subjected to insults and beatings, the worker told Haaretz.

After two days, "the shackles of the detainees were removed, the blindfolds were removed from their eyes, and they were transferred to a compound resembling a cage or chicken coop with an area of ​​​​about 300 square meters (..) There they began to receive food," the worker said.

He continued that there were beds and mattresses placed on a sandy floor, and they were allowed to see a military doctor.

"After several days, an officer arrived and told them [the detainees] to inform their families of their whereabouts."

It was not clear whether all of them were allowed to contact their families and through which means.

The man told Haaretz that Israeli officers shouted at them: "Do not think that you will return to your homes. You will return when they return our hostages in Gaza."

Hamas has already released several hostages and said Israeli airstrikes on Gaza have killed a number of others.

The Centre for Individual Rights and Gisha – an Israeli non-profit organisation which aims to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians – told Haaretz that the families of these workers are worried about their fate and know nothing about their whereabouts.

This, the rights group said, was in violation of international law.

Israel’s Shin Bet security agency refused to disclose the number of workers being held captive, or those who Israel claims have cooperated with Hamas and have been subjected to investigation.

Since the 7 October attacks, Israel has arrested close to 1,350 Palestinians in the West Bank and killed over 100. It is widely believed Israel is carrying out arbitrary arrests in the territory to exert further pressure on Hamas to release the hostages, some of whom are of dual nationality.