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  • Human Rights Research Center

Palestinian Prisoners: Generations of Suffering and Resistance

July 3, 2024


Trigger Warning: The following report contains images and descriptions of extreme violence.


For the safety of the author, this article is being published anonymously.



“We were blindfolded and handcuffed as the soldiers let loose dogs on us and proceeded to beat us all over the body, with particular emphasis on the stomach and other sensitive areas… the soldiers took turns beating us severely and insulting and threatening us. Due to the severe beatings, the other prisoners and I were covered in blood to the point that we had to urinate and pass blood."[1]


This is part of the testimony of 35-year-old attorney Mohammed Khairy Dalloul, from Gaza City, who was taken into custody on November 19, 2023 when he tried to escape to the center of the Gaza Strip and was arbitrarily held for 56 days. As reported by the United Nations (UN) and Euro Med[2], Palestinian prisoners are currently being subjected to extreme forms of torture and mass field extrajudicial executions. The documented torture techniques employed by Israeli armed forces in detention centers throughout occupied Palestine (Gaza, the West Bank and 1948 Occupied Palestine) include: electrocution, blindfolding, sleep deprivation, long-term hand and food shackling, denial of access to food and medical care, death threats, mock executions and humiliating treatment such as being spat and urinated on. There are also different types of sexual violence including reported cases of rape of detained Palestinian women by Israeli soldiers according to a UN report[3].


On at least one occasion, Palestinian women detained in Gaza were allegedly kept in a cage in the rain and cold without food[4]. Some prisoners are being blackmailed into cooperating with the army or Israeli intelligence, and forced confessions are being extracted through torture[5]. These numerous reports are based on witness accounts and forensic evidence and are confirmed by Israeli whistleblowers and footage released by Israeli soldiers themselves that proudly publish their crimes. The complete impunity by Israeli soldiers further encourages this behavior. According to a spokesperson of Breaking the Silence, an organization for former and serving Israeli whistleblower soldiers: “There are no repercussions. They [Israeli soldiers] get encouraged and supported by the highest ministers of the government… The culture in the military, when it comes to Palestinians, is that they are only targets. They are not human beings. This is how the military teaches you to behave"[6].


By the account of another Israeli soldier who served in Sde Teiman, one of the detention centers on the Naqab desert in 1948 occupied Palestine, prisoners have their limbs amputated due to injuries sustained from constant handcuffing. He also stated that: “[The beatings] were not done to gather intelligence. They were done out of revenge”[7]. So, it is unsurprising that, according to one report, at least 48 prisoners have died in Israeli custody since October 7th[8], including a 49-year-old renowned Gaza surgeon named Adnan Al-Bursh, who was kidnapped in December 2023 by Israeli forces while working at the Al-Awda Hospital[9].


But perhaps most disturbing of all are the widespread extrajudicial executions of prisoners carried out by Israeli soldiers, which are not limited to Palestinian fighters but also include civilians; even boys and girls often executed together with their families[10]. As of April 25th, roughly 140 mass graves had been found in Gaza, some containing hundreds of bodies[11]. Some of the victims have already been identified as civilians, some are evidently children. Bodies have been found blindfolded with legs and hands tied, inside bags with Hebrew writing[12]. Many of the bodies discovered in mass graves next to hospitals, after the Israeli army had withdrawn, were found with urinary catheters or splints still attached to them. All of this evidence demonstrates that these people were not combatants killed during confrontations, but rather were people who had been detained by Israeli forces and were subsequently executed while in custody.


Long Standing Policies


The abuses and violation of rights suffered by Palestinian prisoners are not at all only confined to the context of the unfolding genocide in the Gaza strip; this has been an issue since the inception of the Israeli state. In 1948, when half of the native population of Palestine was ethnically cleansed by Israeli armed forces and roughly 15,000 Palestinians were killed[13], some 9,000 Palestinians were imprisoned in forced labor camps before they were deported as well[14].


In the following decades and up to the present day, the Israeli authorities have pursued policies of mass imprisonment of Palestinians. In 1967 occupied Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank), 20% of all Palestinians, and 40% of all Palestinian men have been arrested and charged at some point in their lives[15]. It would be virtually impossible to find a Palestinian family who hasn’t been touched by the torment of Israeli prisons. For Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, imprisonment is part of their condition and has sadly become part of their shared identity throughout the decades. Gaza has been described as the biggest open-air prison in the world due to the ongoing Israeli-Egyptian blockade that begun on 2007[16], while Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem are presently confined to ghettos by a seven-meter wall and military checkpoints[17]. Imprisonment is one of the most distinct faces of the Israeli apartheid regime, and is why Palestinians commemorate a Prisoners Day[18], with the issue always central when negotiations take place with Israeli authorities. Some of the biggest achievements of Palestinian armed resistance throughout the decades are the numerous prisoners exchanges they have secured[19].


As June 2024, there are about 9,500 Palestinian prisoners[20]. Roughly 3,360 are being held without any charges and under supposedly secret evidence that is not revealed to them or their attorneys. Some have been in this situation for years. This is a widely used Israeli policy called administrative detention, 99% of whose victims are Palestinians[21].


There are around 200 Palestinian children in Israeli prisons[22]. Even before the war, minors were only allowed a 10-minute phone call to their families every two weeks[23]. Palestinian families are often left in the dark regarding the fate of their loved ones who disappear into army trucks during the almost daily raids in the West Bank. According to Euro Med, Israel is also committing the crime of enforced disappearance in Gaza, by which people are detained or abducted and afterwards the authorities conceal the whereabouts or fate of the disappeared person. Since October 2023, Israel hasn’t allowed any independent humanitarian organizations to visit Israeli prisons, including the International Committee of the Red Cross[24].


Palestinians in the West Bank are also tried in military courts, not civilian courts[25]. This is despite the fact that Israeli settlers who live in the same territory, even next door, are subject to Israeli civilian law. There are two separate legal systems on the same territory applied to two separate groups of people according to their ethnicity. This is one of the factors that explains how Palestinians are massively subjected to imprisonment while Israeli settlers that carry out hundreds of attacks per year enjoy virtually total impunity[26]. At the same time, Palestinians in the West Bank and Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship are being arrested, in many cases for only posting on social media showing empathy towards the Palestinian civilian victims of the war[27]. Others who have attended small Palestinian protests calling for an end to the war are brutally dispersed by police who are making massive arrests[28]. This type of omnipresent Orwellian control with the threat of imprisonment has been effective in deterring, to a certain extent, the Palestinian public, and perhaps is one of the factors that has prevented a general uprising of the civilian population in face of the Gaza genocide, especially among Palestinians that hold Israeli citizenship.


The scale and form of Israeli imprisonment policies indicates that the motivation behind them is not the tackling of criminal behavior by the legitimate use of force, but is actually the denial of the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people, which enables the ethnic cleansing of the country from its Palestinian population. Any legitimate security concerns that the Israeli government has, could and must be dealt with within the boundaries of the law; without using torture and extrajudicial executions of detainees, avoiding a racial bias, and guaranteeing the full legal rights granted to prisoners even during times of war.


 

Glossary


  • 1948 Palestine: 78% of the territory of Palestine (excluding the West Bank and Gaza) which was seized by the Zionist movement in 1948 for the establishment of a Jewish state through armed conflict and is regarded by part of the international community as the legitimate boundaries of the State of Israel.

  • Accountability: The state’s responsibility to prevent, investigate, and prosecute crimes, ensuring justice for victims and reducing impunity.

  • Apartheid: A crime against humanity defined as racial domination enforced by a system of segregation and oppression.

  • Arbitrary arrest: An arbitrary arrest is when someone is arrested without a legal basis or justification, often violating their right to due process.

  • Extrajudicial executions: Extrajudicial killings, or extrajudicial executions, happen when someone in an official position deliberately kills a person without any legal process. Such arbitrary deprivations of life, which can also be carried out by militias, death squads or other non-State actors, often target political opponents, activists, or marginalized groups.

  • Genocide: In its legal definition, it is the intentional destruction of a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, committed through specific acts like killings or preventing births.

  • Impunity: the complete exemption from legal proceedings, prosecution, or sanctions for individuals or states who have committed human rights abuses. This encompasses severe violations like torture, arbitrary detention, and unlawful killings.

  • Right of self-determination: Enshrined in the United Nations Charter, it is right of a people (a group with a shared national identity or cultural heritage) to decide their own political future.

  • Whistleblower: An individual who discloses information about serious misconduct, like fraud, safety hazards, or environmental damage, within an organization to a higher authority or to external entities like regulators or the press.


 

Footnotes/References


  1. https://reliefweb.int/report/occupied-palestinian-territory/palestinian-prisoners-are-victims-torture-and-systematic-executions-international-organisations-are-silent-enar

  2. https://euromedmonitor.org/en/article/6342/Hostages-of-Israeli-revenge-in-the-Gaza-Strip:-Testimonies-of-100-released-Palestinian-detainees-reveal-crimes-of-torture,-cruel-treatment and https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2024/02/israelopt-un-experts-appalled-reported-human-rights-violations-against and https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2024/05/israel-un-expert-calls-probe-allegations-torture-and-mistreatment-against

  3. https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2024/02/israelopt-un-experts-appalled-reported-human-rights-violations-against

  4. https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2024/02/israelopt-un-experts-appalled-reported-human-rights-violations-against

  5. https://reliefweb.int/report/occupied-palestinian-territory/palestinian-prisoners-are-victims-torture-and-systematic-executions-international-organisations-are-silent-enar

  6. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-69020237

  7. https://edition.cnn.com/2024/05/10/middleeast/israel-sde-teiman-detention-whistleblowers-intl-cmd/index.html

  8. https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2024-06-03/ty-article/.premium/idf-conducts-criminal-investigation-into-48-deaths-of-gazans-in-the-war-mostly-detainees/0000018f-dd46-db0d-a98f-dd4f27950000

  9. https://edition.cnn.com/2024/05/03/middleeast/gaza-surgeon-adnan-al-bursh-israeli-prison-intl-hnk/index.html and https://www.democracynow.org/es/2024/5/3/titulares/palestinian_dr_adnan_al_bursh_dies_in_israeli_prison_released_detainee_describes_horror_of_arrest

  10. https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2024/02/israelopt-un-experts-appalled-reported-human-rights-violations-against

  11. https://reliefweb.int/report/occupied-palestinian-territory/gaza-international-investigation-committee-should-be-formed-mass-graves-examine-and-identify-victims

  12. https://www.commondreams.org/news/israel-executions

  13. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/5/15/nakba-mapping-palestinian-villages-destroyed-by-israel-in-194

  14. https://www.zochrot.org/writable/uploads/Remembering%20the%20Prisoners%20of%20War%20Camps.pdf. See also: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/jps.2014.43.4.11

  15. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/4/17/palestinian-prisoners-day-how-many-palestinians-are-in-israeli-jails

  16. https://www.unicef.org/mena/documents/gaza-strip-humanitarian-impact-15-years-blockade-june-2022

  17. https://www.haaretz.com/2013-01-20/ty-article/.premium/palestinian-ghettos-the-plan-all-along/0000017f-f82b-d044-adff-fbfbb0e80000

  18. https://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/6538.html

  19. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2011/10/18/timeline-past-prisoner-swap

  20. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/4/17/palestinian-prisoners-day-how-many-palestinians-are-in-israeli-jails

  21. https://apnews.com/article/israel-detention-jails-palestinians-west-bank-793a3b2a1ce8439d08756da8c63e5435

  22. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/4/17/palestinian-prisoners-day-how-many-palestinians-are-in-israeli-jails

  23. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/4/17/palestinian-prisoners-day-how-many-palestinians-are-in-israeli-jails

  24. https://reliefweb.int/report/occupied-palestinian-territory/palestinian-prisoners-are-victims-torture-and-systematic-executions-international-organisations-are-silent-enar

  25. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/4/17/palestinian-prisoners-day-how-many-palestinians-are-in-israeli-jails

  26. https://www.icj.org/israel-palestine-authorities-must-end-impunity-for-israeli-settler-violence/

  27. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSBlbHrDDIU

  28. https://english.wafa.ps/Pages/Details/94129. S ee also: https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/editorial/2024-06-09/ty-article-opinion/.premium/haifa-mayor-joins-party-line/0000018f-f97e-d084-abef-ff7f655b0000

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