Gaza prisoners held in harsh and humiliating conditions

This morning seven Israeli human rights organizations appealed to the Military Judge Advocate General, Brigadier General Avichai Mandelblit, and to Attorney General Meni Mazuz concerning the appalling conditions in which Palestinians arrested during the fighting in Gaza were held, and the humiliating and inhuman treatment to which they were subjected from the time of their arrest until their transfer to the custody of the Israel Prison Service.

The complaint, written by Attorneys Bana Shoughry-Badarne, from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Lila Margalit, from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Abeer Jubran-Dakuar, from Hamoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, was submitted on behalf of those organizations and on behalf of Physicians for Human Rights - Israel, B’Tselem, Yesh Din and Adalah. It is based on statements collected from detainees by lawyers from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, as well as on testimony given to Hamoked: the Center for the Defense of the Individual.

The evidence described in the letter provides a shocking portrayal of the harsh, inhuman and degrading conditions in which Palestinian prisoners were held during the initial days of their incarceration. The reports indicate, among other things, that many detainees — minors as well as adults — were held for many hours — sometimes for days — in pits dug in the ground, exposed to bitter cold and harsh weather, handcuffed and blindfolded. These pits lacked basic sanitary facilities which would have allowed the detainees appropriate toilet facilities, while food and shelter, when provided, were limited, and the detainees went hungry. More seriously, some of the detainees were held near tanks and in combat areas, in gross violation of international humanitarian law which prohibits holding prisoners and captives in areas exposed to danger.

Inappropriate treatment of the detainees continued after they were removed from the pits in which they had been held. For example, some were held overnight in a truck, handcuffed, with one blanket for every two people; some were held for a long time in the rain; there was a lack of blankets, food and water; and there were also incidents involving extreme violence and humiliation by soldiers and interrogators, regarding which complaints will be submitted separately. Detainees continued to be held in humiliating conditions even after being transferred to an [Israeli army] prison facility (located, apparently, at the Sdeh Tayman base) where, for example, they were not provided with toilets or showers.

In view of these harsh accounts, the organizations demand an independent, comprehensive investigation to insure that such treatment of detainees is not repeated. The organizations also request that a number of additional steps be taken to preserve these detainees’ rights and insure appropriate conditions of incarceration wherever the army may hold prisoners in the future.

According to Attorney Bana Shoughry-Badarne, Director of the Legal Department of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI): “Israel’s indifference to its moral and legal obligations to detainees is particularly objectionable in view of the fact that official spokesmen have repeatedly declared that the [Israeli army] prepared at length for the Gaza operation. It seems that, during these lengthy preparations, the basic rights of the detainees and captives were completely forgotten, rights that must be protected regardless of the detainees’ legal status and whether or not their incarceration is justified.”

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