UNRWA report details harrowing torture of Palestinians detained by Israeli forces in Gaza

UNRWA report details harrowing torture of Palestinians detained by Israeli forces in Gaza
A new report by UNRWA has detailed torture and sexual violence inflicted upon Palestinians detained in Gaza by Israeli forces.
4 min read
17 April, 2024
Israel has detained thousands of Gazans during its war, subjecting them to torture, beatings, and humiliation [Getty]

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) published a report on Tuesday saying it had documented the release of 1,506 Palestinian detainees via the Karam Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing on 4 April, many of whom had suffered torture, ill-treatment, and sexual violence at the hands of Israeli forces.

UNRWA staff members were among the released detainees and the report said they were forced to confess to actions they were innocent of.

UNRWA said that the released detainees had described being transported in trucks to "military barracks" in southern Israel and were completely cut off from the outside world for several weeks. Most of them were then transferred to various prisons in Israel.

UNRWA said that ambulances were needed at Karam Abu Salem to transfer prisoners who sustained injuries from torture in Israeli detention.

"I saw people [in detention] 70 years old, very old. There were people with Alzheimer’s, old people who were blind, people with disabilities who couldn’t walk, people who had shrapnel in their backs and couldn’t stand up, people with epilepsy… and torture was for everyone," the UNRWA report quoted a 46-year-old detainee as saying.

The UNRWA report also said that detainees were beaten as they were lying on top of thin mattresses placed on rubble while they were being denied food, water, or toilet access. Their hands and feet were bound with plastic ties.

Some were made to sit on their knees for 12-16 hours a day with their hands tied.

Dogs were also used to attack the detainees, with some of those released, including children, having dog bite wounds on their bodies.

The detainees’ families were threatened, with one woman detainee saying that officers from the Shin Bet Israeli security agency showed her pictures of her neighbourhood and ordered her to identify people in it.

They said they would bomb her home and kill her whole family if she refused to cooperate.

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Sexual violence and torture

The detainees – including children - were also forced to strip either naked or down to their underwear.

Men were beaten on their genitals while one detainee said he was forced to sit on a hot metal stick and suffered burn injuries to his rectum as a result.

Women were verbally harassed and touched inappropriately by soldiers and were forced to strip naked in front of male soldiers. Some were photographed and filmed naked.

“A male soldier took off our hijabs and they pinched us and touched our bodies, including our breasts. We were blindfolded and we were feeling them touching us, pushing our heads to the bus. We started to squeeze together to try to protect ourselves from the touching. They said ‘b****, b****.’ They told the soldiers to take off their shoes and slap our faces with them,” one woman detainee said.

Violence against UNRWA staff

UNRWA also said that its staff had been detained while carrying out their duties in Gaza, being held in the same conditions as the other detainees.

They were interrogated about their work and threatened to make false confessions about the UN agency, including that it had links with Hamas.

Among the forms of torture the UNRWA staff were subjected to were severe beatings, being forced to strip naked, threats of rape and electrocution, threats of violence and murder at gunpoint, attacks by dogs, and threats against the lives of their families.

UNRWA said it had lodged an official protest to Israel about the violent and degrading treatment of its staff.

Israel has long campaigned against UNRWA and has stepped this up since its indiscriminate war on Gaza, which has killed at least 33,899 people, started. The UN agency has suffered from underfunding for years and Israel has refused to cooperate with it amid the Gaza war.

Israel has accused UNRWA staff, without evidence, of taking part in Hamas’s surprise October 7 attack on Israel and some of Israel’s Western allies have halted funding to the agency as a result.