Thousands of Palestinian workers trapped in Israel and the West Bank were transferred across the border into Gaza by the Israeli army yesterday. The workers were unable to return home when the Gaza Strip was completely closed off. They have been locked up for weeks in appalling conditions.
They were abused and humiliated in captivity, two Palestinians told NOS, just after they were sent into Gaza. “We were tied up and beaten. They spat on us and we were only given dirty water to drink,” said a worker who identifies himself as Abu Tamer. Out of fear, he does not want to share his full name.
He was locked up for more than three weeks. “All that time I didn’t shower and had to wear the same clothes,” he says. Another worker, Abu Khaled, also speaks of inhumane conditions. “There were tortures. We were not allowed to sleep at night.” He says he was first held in Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank and later in another detention center.
Illegal in Israel
The stories confirm the image that human rights organizations also have of the treatment of detainees. A group of Palestinian and Israeli organizations last week sent a request to Israel’s Supreme Court to release the location and names of the detainees. They stated that the detentions violate international law.
It is estimated that around 4,000 workers have been detained. Shortly after the Hamas attack, Israel imposed a complete blockade and all work permits were revoked, leaving the workers suddenly living illegally in Israel with nowhere to go. It is not known how many of the approximately 18,000 Gazans with a work permit were in Israel at the time. Thousands of residents are still missing.
Reporter Ties Brock spoke to Gazans stuck in Israel since the war:
The workers who were deported across the border will now have to search for their families in Gaza, in the hope that they are still alive and in the south. The north cannot be reached due to the Israeli ground offensive. “I don’t know where my family is,” says Abu Khaled. “I’m trying to call them, but I can’t reach them. All I know is that they’re being bombed here.”
In the cell without trial
The number of Palestinians in custody has increased significantly since the start of the war in Gaza. The Israeli army has arrested more than 2,000 Palestinians in the West Bank, according to figures from the Palestinian Prisoners Society. According to the army, some of them are affiliated with Hamas. About half of those arrested are in so-called administrative detention, which means they are held without trial.
This measure in Israeli law makes it possible to arrest someone who is seen as a threat to security, for example on suspicion of terrorism. “Administrative detention is intended for emergency situations,” says Erella Grassiani, a researcher at the University of Amsterdam and Israel expert. “But in practice the law is abused.”
Before the war, Israel already had 5,200 prisoners of Palestinian origin in detention, reported the Palestinian organization Addameer, which promotes the rights of prisoners. Some of them are stuck for months or even years without knowing why, including children. If they are given a trial, they will be tried in a military court.
Reporter Mitra Nazar interviewed the family of Mohammed, who was arrested at home, in the West Bank:
A critical post on Facebook about the bombing of Gaza or following Telegram channels can be enough to get arrested, says Basil Farraj, a researcher at Birzeit University on political prisoners. “It is a strategy of intimidation to instill fear in Palestinians.” For example, people are forced to have their phones read at checkpoints.
Dozens of Palestinians have been arrested every day since the start of the war. “There is now an atmosphere that all Palestinians are suspect, both in the West Bank and in Israel,” Grassiani said. Just as with the workers from Gaza, it is often not clear to residents of the West Bank where they are and what their legal position is.
The conditions in the detention centers are inhumane, says Faraj. “Prisoners are deprived of food and medicine. Electricity and water are cut off. They are also not allowed to leave their cells and family are not allowed to visit them.”