Inhumane treatment and enforced disappearance of Palestinian detainees

A person holds a sign calling for the protection of civilians in Israel and Gaza

Urgently investigate inhumane treatment and enforced disappearance of Palestinian detainees from Gaza

PRESS RELEASE

20 December 2023

Amnesty International is deeply concerned for the fate and whereabouts of Palestinians from the occupied Gaza Strip detained by Israeli forces amid reports of mass enforced disappearances.

On 16 December the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) declared it had received from northern Gaza “of mass detentions, ill-treatment and enforced disappearances of possibly thousands of Palestinians,” including children.

Photos and video footage verified by Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab show Israeli forces’ 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 the Gaza Strip, including workers or others with permits to enter Israel, also remain forcibly disappeared. Israeli authorities have confirmed , including two workers from Gaza in October and November.

“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,” said Heba Morayef, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“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.”

Nidal al-Waheidi and Haitham Abdelwahed, two journalists from the occupied Gaza Strip, were detained by Israeli forces on 7 October while they were reporting on the Hamas-led attacks in Israel by the perimeter of the Gaza Strip. They were last seen at the Erez crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Since then, Israeli authorities, namely the Israeli army, police and Prison Services, have refused to disclose their whereabouts or the legal grounds for their arrest - conduct which amounts to enforced disappearance.

The organization’s concerns for the fate of detainees from Gaza are heightened by the sickening images and videos verified by Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab 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, with Israeli soldiers standing over them.

Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab geolocated three  and one  that were posted to social media on 7 December showing dozens of men being detained by Israeli forces in the streets of Beit Lahia, a city in northern Gaza.  show detainees stripped to their underwear, some with likely identification documents laid in front of them. One of these photos shows detainees being transported with their hands bound to another location without being provided clothing.

“These men were stripped of their dignity and dehumanized 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,” said Heba Morayef.

“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 normalized but are recognized as an affront to humanity.”

Amnesty International reiterates its call on Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza to immediately and unconditionally release all civilian hostages, treat all captives humanely and grant 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  released by the armed wing of Hamas on 18 December of three hostages - all older civilian men - amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.

Background

Palestinians from Gaza who have 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 reported that there have been several deaths in custody of detainees from Gaza held at Beersheba Airfield military base, where at least three detention facilities, in addition to a newly built one, can hold up to 200 detainees each. According to the Haaretz report, the detainees, who include children and older people, are kept “blindfolded and handcuffed for most of the day”.