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Surge in abuse, torture against Palestinians in Israel jails

Surge in abuse, torture against Palestinians in Israeli jails
6 min read
03 January, 2024
Horrifying cases of torture and abuse of Palestinian detainees inside Israeli prisons since 7 October.

A wave of disturbing testimonies and reports of serious abuse and torture against Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons has recently emerged following the start of Israel's brutal military campaign on Gaza on 7 October.

Initial testimoies from some of the recently released Palestinian detainees – who were freed as part of a hostage exchange deal with Hamas last month – reveal that severe violence was used against them during their detention, which they said had increased after 7 October.

"I left little girls in my prison cell crying. Why? Because unspeakable things are happening to them there... Unimaginable things at the hands of the [Israeli] soldiers," former detainee Israa Ja'abis told reporters upon her release from an Israeli jail.

Some of the recently released Palestinian detainees said that guards carried out abuse and collective punishment in the weeks that followed the war on Gaza. They described being hit with sticks, having muzzled dogs set on them, and their clothes, food and blankets taken away.

The Palestinian Prisoners Society said some guards allegedly urinated on handcuffed prisoners.

Widespread abuse, signs of torture

At least six Palestinian detainees have died inside Israeli jails in the last eight weeks, including two who were in pre-trial detention. A report by Haaretz found that autopsies conducted on their corpses and testimonies by fellow detainees revealed rising widespread abuse in Israel's prison system.

According to the report by the Israeli daily, an autopsy of one of the victims who had died in Megiddo prison revealed a broken sternum and ribs with bruises on their head and neck.

The report also relayed the testimony of a Palestinian detainee who described "severe violence" directed at his cellmate, who later died, by 15 prison guards. It reported that one Palestinian detainee at the notorious Israeli-run Ofer prison outside Ramallah said that officers entered cells twice a week, handcuff inmates behind their backs and beat them.

While testimonies of violence towards Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails were not new, their severity and consistency are striking.

Amnesty International reported on 8 November that it had reviewed video footage and images showing torture and other abuse prisoners had been subjected to by Israeli forces since 7 October. These include severe beatings and humiliation of detainees, including by forcing them to keep their heads down, to kneel on the floor during inmate count, and to sing Israeli songs.

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Spike in administrative detentions

According to the Israeli human rights organisation HaMoked between 1 October and 1 November, the total number of Palestinians held in administrative detention, without charge or trial, rose from 1,319 to 2,070. 

By 9 December, that number went up to over 4,000, according to local NGOs, including the Palestinian Prisoners' Club and Addameer, both of which highlighted that the detainees included children, women and elderly people.

Amnesty International's regional director for the MENA, Heba Morayef, says a spike in arrests in administrative detention, which is the detention without a charge or trial which can be renewed indefinitely.

"[Since 7 October], we have witnessed a significant spike in Israel’s use of administrative detention, which was already at a 20-year high before the latest escalation in hostilities on 7 October," Morayef says.

"Administrative detention is one of the key tools through which Israel has enforced its system of apartheid against Palestinians. Testimonies and video evidence also point to numerous incidents of torture and other ill-treatment by Israeli forces including severe beatings and deliberate humiliation of Palestinians who are detained in dire conditions."

Systematic arrest campaigns

The New Arab exclusively interviewed the president of the Palestinian Prisoners' Club president, Abdallah Zughary, who relayed further horrifying accounts of abuse against Palestinian detainees inside Israeli jails.

Abuse against Palestinian detainees begins from the moment of their arrest, Zughary says.

"During these violent arrest campaigns, the detainees are beaten and members of their families are attacked," he tells The New Arab, adding that these arrest campaigns have become systematic and run every day and night.

"Doors of houses are blown off and Israeli forces break into them, raiding every room, and frightening the women and children," he says, adding that the violence used during these arrests displayed a vengeful approach.

"Every single arrest has been made with such level of violence and destruction, and has been very inhumane and degrading," Zughary says, highlighting that once arrested and handcuffed, the detainees are then blindfolded and forced to walk for hours to military bases before they are transferred to detention centres.

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A campaign of 'vengeance'

Since 7 October, Israel has suspended all visitors, including family members, lawyers and members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, according to local NGOs concerned with the issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Other punitive measures against Palestinian detainees included cutting off electricity and water, shutting down the canteen, providing poor quality and quantity of food, closing clinics in the prisons, and preventing the transfer of sick prisoners to external clinics and hospitals, according to Addameer

"Since 7 October, no Red Cross worker has visited any Palestinian detainee inside Israeli jail until today," Zughary confirms, adding that the detainees' personal possessions, including clothes, books, family photographs and medications, have been confiscated.

"There are special Israeli units inside these cells tasked to carry out daily attacks and abuse against the detainees," Zughary says. "There are hundreds of Palestinian detainees who have sustained broken bones and injuries on their bodies, including on their faces and hands. 

"Israeli authorities are carrying out grave violations and using brutal force against Palestinian detainees in a way that can only be described as a campaign of vengeance against all Palestinian prisoners," Zughary says, adding that the victims of these abuses include both those arrested recently after 7 October and the previous detainees who numbered at around 5,250, including 570 who are serving life sentences.

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Allegations of sexual assault

Newly freed Baraah Abo Ramouz, a Palestinian journalist told reporters: "The situation in the prisons is devastating. The prisoners are abused. They are being constantly beaten. They’re being sexually assaulted. They are being raped. I’m not exaggerating. The prisoners are being raped."

Freed prisoner Lama Khater also said that she was blindfolded and threatened with rape as a form of intimidation against her, and that guards twice tear-gassed inmates inside the cells.

Zughary confirms that the women's prison in Damon Prison witnessed a rise in systematic attacks since 7 October. These included the tear-gassing of the women prisoners in their cells and placing some of the detainees in isolation cells after they suffered injuries - without allowing them to receive proper medical attention.

On allegations of sexual assaults, Zughary notes that often victims and their families are reluctant to speak openly about sexual assault but it undoubtedly happened behind bars.

"Israel can get away with its crimes with impunity, and so we have no doubt sexual assault takes place inside prisons, and already some of the recently freed prisoners have spoken about this," he tells us, adding that Palestinian women detainees - most of whom observe the Islamic Hijab - are forced to undress in front of troops under the pretext that they need to be searched.

Inside the prisons, the women prisoners are forced to remove their clothes and forced to wear lighter clothes that do not conform to the Islamic dress code, he adds.

TNA approached Amnesty International about reports of sexual abuse inside Israeli jails. The UK-based NGO said that it was "investigating accounts of sexual violence against Palestinian detainees - women, men and children - in Israeli prisons and detention centres, including accounts of threats of sexual violence and threats of rape".

TNA reached out to two newly released prisoners who expressed fear of speaking to the press for fear of reprisal or rearrest.