Israel/OPT: Israeli authorities must account for secretly-detained Palestinians

Mounting number of Palestinians being held in circumstances amounting to enforced disappearance

Sickening images of humiliated detainees in underwear condemned as war crimes

‘We are currently investigating the reports of mass enforced disappearances of Palestinian detainees by Israeli forces’ - Heba Morayef

Amnesty International is deeply concerned for the fate of Palestinians from Gaza who’ve been detained by Israeli forces amid reports of mass enforced disappearances.

On 16 December, the UN said it had received “numerous disturbing reports” from northern Gaza “of mass detentions, ill-treatment and enforced disappearances of possibly thousands of Palestinians”, including children.

Recent photos and video footage - which have been verified by Amnesty - has shown Israeli forces meting out inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees in Beit Lahia, a city in northern Gaza. The fate and whereabouts of many of these detainees remains unknown. Other Palestinians from Gaza - including workers or others with permits to enter Israel - also remain forcibly disappeared. The Israeli authorities have confirmed the deaths in custody of at least six Palestinians, including two workers from Gaza in October and November.
 
Nidal al-Waheidi and Haitham Abdelwahed, two journalists from Gaza, were detained by Israeli forces on 7 October while reporting on the Hamas-led attacks in Israel by the perimeter with Gaza. They were last seen at the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel. Since then, the Israeli authorities - namely the Israeli army, police and prison services - have refused to disclose the men’s whereabouts or the legal grounds for their arrest, conduct which amounts to enforced disappearance.
  
Amnesty reiterates its call on Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza to immediately and unconditionally release all civilian hostages, treat all captives humanely, and to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross access to hostages and captives. Hostage-taking and the abduction of civilians are war crimes. Recording and publicly sharing testimonies from hostages, like the video released by the armed wing of Hamas on 18 December of three hostages - all older civilian men -  amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said: 

“We are currently investigating the reports of mass enforced disappearances of Palestinian detainees by Israeli forces. 

“The Israeli military must urgently disclose the fate and whereabouts of everyone that it has detained since 7 October, including Nidal al-Waheidi and Haitham Abdelwahed, two journalists from Gaza who have been forcibly disappeared for more than two months.

“Israeli forces must specify the grounds of arrest for those detained, and make every effort to provide families of those in its custody with information, particularly in light of the telecommunications blackouts that have cut off Gazans from each other and the rest of the world.
 
“All detainees must be treated humanely and guaranteed the right to a fair trial and due process. All those detained arbitrarily must be released. 

“Israel has an appalling track record of impunity for violations by its forces, underscoring the urgent need for an independent effective investigation into all deaths in custody, reports of enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment of Palestinians from Gaza.”

‘Blindfolded and handcuffed for most of the day’

Palestinians from Gaza who’ve been forcibly disappeared include Palestinians detained inside Gaza as well as Palestinians detained inside Israel. An unknown number of Palestinians from Gaza with permits to enter Israel, mostly workers, remain forcibly disappeared. They were among thousands arbitrarily arrested by Israeli forces, many of whom were later released. On 18 December, Haaretz reported that there have been several deaths in custody of detainees from Gaza held at the Beersheba Airfield military base, where at least three detention facilities - in addition to a newly-built one - can each hold up to 200 detainees. According to Haaretz, the detainees - who include children and older people - are kept “blindfolded and handcuffed for most of the day”.

Men stripped to their underwear

Amnesty’s concerns for the fate of detainees from Gaza are heightened by sickening images and videos that have emerged in recent weeks showing Palestinian men stripped of their clothes and forced to kneel on the floor in their underwear with their hands tied, while Israeli soldiers stand over them. Amnesty has geolocated three photos and one video posted to social media on 7 December showing dozens of men being detained by Israeli forces in the streets of Beit Lahia. The photos show detainees stripped to their underwear, some seemingly with identification documents laid out in front of them. One of the photos shows detainees being transported without being provided with clothing.

Heba Morayef said:

“These men were stripped of their dignity and dehumanised in violation of international law. Nothing can justify mocking or deliberately humiliating detainees. 

“The right of detainees not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way is absolute and applies to all people, regardless of whether or not they take part in the hostilities. 

“Torture, inhuman treatment, enforced disappearances and outrages upon personal dignity committed in situations of armed conflict and occupation are war crimes - when committed as part of a systematic or widespread attack against civilians they amount to crimes against humanity.
 
“The distressing scenes from Gaza should draw international condemnation and warrant urgent investigation and measures to prevent further torture, enforced disappearance and other crimes under international law. The world must ensure that such acts are not normalised but are recognised as an affront to humanity.”

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