Palestinian women detained by Israel allege abuse while in custody

Nabela, above, said she was shuttled between facilities inside Israel in a coed group before arriving at Damon Prison in the north, where she estimated there were at least 100 women. (AP)
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Updated 02 March 2024
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Palestinian women detained by Israel allege abuse while in custody

  • Six weeks in Israeli custody that included repeated beatings and interrogations
  • Rights groups accuse Israel of ‘disappearing’ Gaza Palestinians

JERUSALEM: Nabela thought the United Nations school in Gaza City was a safe haven. Then, the Israeli army arrived.
Soldiers stormed the place, ordering men to undress and hauling women to a mosque for strip searches, she said. So began six weeks in Israeli custody that she says included repeated beatings and interrogations.
“The soldiers were very harsh, they beat us and screamed at us in Hebrew,” said the 39-year-old from Gaza City, who spoke on condition that her last name not be used for fear of being arrested again. “If we raised our heads or uttered any words, they beat us on the head.”
Palestinians detained by Israeli forces in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war have alleged widespread physical abuse and neglect. It’s not known how many women or minors have been detained.
Nabela said she was shuttled between facilities inside Israel in a coed group before arriving at Damon Prison in the north, where she estimated there were at least 100 women.
Rights groups say Israel is “disappearing” Gaza Palestinians — detaining them without charge or trial and not disclosing to family or lawyers where they’re held. Israel’s prison service says all “basic rights required are fully applied by professionally trained prison guards.”
Israel declared war after Hamas-led militants killed about 1,200 people and took roughly 250 others hostage on Oct. 7.
Since then, ground troops have arrested hundreds of Palestinians to search for suspected militants and gather intelligence. Images of blindfolded men kneeling, heads bowed and hands bound, have sparked worldwide outrage. In northern Gaza and the southern city of Khan Younis, troops rounded up dozens at a time from UN schools and hospitals, including medical personnel.
The military said it makes detainees undress to search for explosives, bringing detainees into Israel before releasing them back into Gaza if they’re deemed innocent.
For Nabela, that process took 47 harrowing days.
Despite Israeli evacuation orders, Nabela and her family had decided not to leave Gaza City, believing nowhere in Gaza was safe. Troops entered the school where they sheltered on Dec. 24.
“I was terrified, imagining they wanted to execute us and bury us there,” she said.
Forces separated Nabela from her 13-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son and loaded her onto a truck bound for a facility in southern Israel. According to the Israeli group Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, or PHRI, all detainees in Gaza are first brought to the Sde Teiman military base.
“We were freezing and forced to remain on our knees on the ground,” Nabela told The Associated Press from a school-turned-shelter in Rafah where she’s staying with other recently released female detainees. “Loud music, shouting and intimidation — they wanted to humiliate us. We were handcuffed, blindfolded, and our feet were tied in chains.”
Moved between several prisons, Nabela said she was subjected to repeated strip searches and interrogations at gunpoint.
Asked about her connection to Hamas and knowledge of the militants’ extensive underground tunnel network, she maintained her innocence, telling interrogators she was a housewife and her husband worked for Hamas’ rival, the Palestinian Authority.
‘AN APPARATUS OF RETRIBUTION AND REVENGE’
One woman detained from Gaza, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of another arrest, told the AP that during a medical check before she was moved to Damon Prison, Israeli forces ordered her to kiss an Israeli flag. When she refused, a soldier grabbed her by the hair, smashing her face into a wall, she said.
In a report by PHRI, former detainees from Gaza alleged similar mistreatment.
One, whose name was redacted, said he was urinated on by guards at Ketziot Prison in southern Israel, and witnessed strip searches where guards forced naked detainees to stand close to each other and inserted search devices into their buttocks.
PHRI described Israel’s prisons, also housing Palestinians from the West Bank and east Jerusalem held on security-related charges, as “an apparatus of retribution and revenge.” It alleged the prison service and military “have been granted free rein to act however they see fit.”
At the beginning of the war, prisons entered “lockdown mode,” confining detainees to their cells for two weeks, the report said. Under wartime emergency measures, Israel’s parliament in October suspended normal cell capacity requirements. Since then, inmates have slept on mattresses in overcrowded cells.
Phone privileges have been completely suspended, the report said. At some facilities, security wings were disconnected from electricity and water, plunging detainees into darkness for most of the day and rendering showers and sinks unusable.
During eight days at an unknown facility in southern Israel, Nabela said she did not shower and had no access to menstrual pads or toiletries. Food was scarce. Once, Nabela said, guards threw down the detainees’ meals and told them to eat from the floor.
The military said each detainee receives clothing, blankets and a mattress. It denied that cells were overcrowded, saying detainees had sufficient access to toilets, food, water and medical care.
“The violent and antagonistic treatment of detainees described in the allegations is prohibited,” the military said in response to an AP request for comment. “Cases of inappropriate behavior will be dealt with.”
It referred questions about Ketziot and Damon prisons to the Israeli Prison Service, which did not comment on the allegations beyond saying it was uninvolved in the arrests and interrogation of Palestinians from Gaza.
‘UNLAWFUL COMBATANTS’
Nabela said she never spoke with a lawyer or a judge.
Under a wartime revision to Israeli law, all detainees from Gaza can be held for 45 days without charge or trial.
Designated “unlawful combatants,” they aren’t granted the same protections under international law as prisoners of war. Their appearance before a court can be delayed and access to an attorney withdrawn, according to PHRI. The Israeli rights group HaMoked said there are 600 people from Gaza held as unlawful combatants in Israeli prisons, and more could be held in military facilities.
Palestinian detainees told PHRI that adequate medical care was rare, even for those needing insulin or chemotherapy treatments.
An official document obtained by the AP, laying out operations at the Sde Teiman military medical facility, specified that unlawful combatants be treated handcuffed and blindfolded.
Medical staff’s names were kept anonymous “to maintain the safety, well-being and lives of the caregivers,” it said. It did not require patient consent for medical procedures and said confidential medical information could be passed to detention center staff.
The military said the handcuffing of detainees was “done in accordance with their assessed level of danger and medical state.” Israel’s Ministry of Health did not respond to requests for comment.
Eleven Palestinian detainees have died in Israeli custody since Oct. 7, according to the advocacy group the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, and the most recent was just this week. At least five had chronic health conditions, which PHRI says raises concerns that they died because of medical neglect.
The Israeli military said it would examine the deaths.
‘BETTER THAN GAZA’
Nabela’s fortunes improved when she arrived at Damon. There, she met Palestinian women detained from the West Bank.
She said the women were kind. She had electricity and warm showers. Her interrogator wondered aloud why Nabela was detained.
A month and a half after her arrest, a prison administrator announced Nabela would be released with about 20 other women. Israeli buses brought them to a Gaza crossing, where they made their way to UN shelters in the southern city of Rafah, full of displaced Palestinians. She cannot travel to Gaza City, where her family remains.
Nabela, her face bruised, recalled one of her final interrogations. She had begun to weep, and her interrogator told her:
“Don’t cry about it. You’re better living here than Gaza.”


Lebanon’s Hezbollah says fired ‘dozens’ of rockets at Israel

Updated 3 min 7 sec ago
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Lebanon’s Hezbollah says fired ‘dozens’ of rockets at Israel

  • Hezbollah has exchanged near-daily fire with the Israeli army
  • Israel says 11 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed on its side of the border

Beirut: Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement said it fired a fresh barrage of rockets across the border on Wednesday after a strike blamed on Israel killed two civilians.
The group had already fired rockets at northern Israel late on Tuesday “in response” to the civilian deaths.
Hezbollah has exchanged near-daily fire with the Israeli army since its ally Hamas carried out an unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, triggering war in Gaza.
It has stepped up its rocket fire on Israeli military bases in recent days.
Hezbollah fighters fired “dozens of Katyusha rockets” at a border village in northern Israel “as part of the response to the Israeli enemy’s attacks on... civilian homes,” the group said in a statement.
On Tuesday, rescue teams said an Israeli strike on a house in the southern village of Hanin killed a woman in her fifties and a girl from the same family.
Since October 7, at least 380 people have been killed in Lebanon, mostly Hezbollah fighters but also 72 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israel says 11 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed on its side of the border.


Germany to resume cooperation with Palestinian UNRWA agency

Updated 24 April 2024
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Germany to resume cooperation with Palestinian UNRWA agency

BERLIN: The German government plans to resume cooperation with the UN agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) in Gaza, the foreign and development ministries said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
The decision follows an investigation by the former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna into whether some UNRWA employees were involved in the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.
The Colonna-led review of the agency’s neutrality on Monday concluded Israel had yet to back up its accusations that hundreds of UNRWA staff were operatives in Gaza terrorist groups.
The German ministries urged UNRWA to swiftly implement the report’s recommendations, including strengthening its internal audit function and improving external oversight of project management.
“In support of these reforms, the German government will soon continue its cooperation with UNRWA in Gaza, as Australia, Canada, Sweden and Japan, among others, have already done,” said the ministries in the statement.


Rafah evacuations not ‘possible’ under current conditions: Red Cross

Updated 24 April 2024
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Rafah evacuations not ‘possible’ under current conditions: Red Cross

  • Israel’s has killed at least 34,183 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry
  • Israeli media predict offensive in Gaza’s Rafah soon

DUBAI: Humanitarian workers have no knowledge of plans to evacuate Palestinians from Gaza’s southernmost city ahead of an expected Israeli assault, but such a transfer would not be “possible” under current conditions, a Red Cross official told AFP on Tuesday.
“The rumor is that the probability of a major operation in Rafah is increasing,” Fabrizio Carboni, Middle East regional director for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said on the sidelines of an aid conference in the United Arab Emirates.
“When we see the level of destruction in the middle area (of Gaza) and in the north, it’s not clear to us where people will be moved to... where they can have decent shelter and essential services,” he added.
“So today, with the information we have and from where we stand, we don’t see this (massive evacuation) as possible.”

Israel is poised to send troops into Rafah, the Gazan city it sees as the last bastion of Hamas, Israeli media reported on Wednesday, saying preparations were under way to evacuate war-displaced Palestinian civilians who have been sheltering there.

The Rafah sweep, postponed for several weeks amid disputes with Washington, will happen “very soon,” the mass-circulation Israel Hayom newspaper said, citing a decision by the Israeli government after ceasefire talks with Hamas stalled.
Several other Israeli media outlets carried similar reports. Some noted footage on social media that appeared to show the erection of a tent city for Rafah evacuees.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office and the Israeli military spokesperson’s office had no immediate comment.
More than 1.5 million of Gaza’s population of 2.4 million had sheltered in Rafah, the last major population center in Gaza that Israeli ground troops have yet to enter, though thousands have been seen heading back north.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has for two months talked of sending troops into Rafah to go after Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that runs Gaza.
On Sunday, he said the Israeli military would increase pressure to “deliver additional and painful blows” to the group behind the October 7 attack on Israel which triggered the ongoing war.
But Israel’s allies including Washington have warned against a Rafah operation, fearing a worsening of Gaza’s already catastrophic humanitarian conditions.
“We don’t see for the time being any plans for civilian evacuations,” Carboni said during the interview on Tuesday at the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development Conference (DIHAD).
But “there is no condition for a military operation without devastating humanitarian consequences,” he added.
“Considering the level of destruction, considering that people are tired, some of them wounded and sick, and the limited access to food and essential services, I see (evacuations) as extremely challenging.”

The Israeli government said it was planning different evacuation scenarios, including the creation of tent cities that would be spared the fighting and would be set up with international support.
Citing Egyptian officials briefed on the Israeli plan, the Wall Street Journal reported that the evacuation operation would last two to three weeks and be carried out in coordination with the United States and Arab countries, including the UAE as well as Egypt.
But Carboni said an evacuation would be “difficult” to complete in that time frame.
Also speaking to AFP at DIHAD on Tuesday, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said that “everybody seems to be on a countdown to war across the largest displacement camp on earth, which is Rafah.”
Describing a Rafah onslaught as an “apocalyptic situation,” Jan Egeland said aid workers operating inside Gaza have not been briefed on plans to mitigate civilian suffering during a Rafah offensive.
“There is no information, no consultation with the humanitarians, no advice, no hope,” he said.
Humanitarians in Gaza are “not hearing from the donors. They’re not hearing from the Western sponsors of Israel, and nothing from Israel itself,” Egeland said.
“What they hear is that Netanyahu says that he will attack but not plans for where should the civilians go, how can aid be provided or how can access be secured.
“We are completely in the dark on how to mitigate this countdown to a catastrophe.”

The little aid that is entering Gaza is being distributed in real time leaving no buffer stock that could be used in the event of a massive population movement, Egeland said.
“There is no stocks, there is no fuel and more importantly, there is no liquidity. There is no money, we cannot pay our staff salaries. We cannot pay those who deliver the services,” the NRC chief added.
Egeland said some Palestinians had returned to areas in northern Gaza in recent weeks but that more than one million remained in Rafah.
For those who have left “what awaits them in the north is ruins, complete ruins and unexploded ordinance and, in many cases, more bombardment,” he said.
“There is no safe place in Gaza if people leave Rafah.”
The Gaza war began with the unprecedented Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,183 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
 

 


Hamas armed wing Al-Qassam Brigades calls for escalation across all fronts

Updated 24 April 2024
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Hamas armed wing Al-Qassam Brigades calls for escalation across all fronts

  • Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry

DUBAI: The spokesperson for Hamas’ armed Al-Qassam Brigades, Abu Ubaida, called on Tuesday for an escalation across all fronts in a televised speech marking 200 days since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7.
Israel says it is seeking to eradicate Hamas, which controls the enclave, in a war that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians thus far. The war started when the militant group attacked Israel, killing 1,200 and taking 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
In a video aired by Al Jazeera TV, Abu Ubaida praised Iran’s attack on Israel on April 13, saying the direct strikes with explosive drones and missiles “set new rules, drew important equations, and confused the enemy and those behind it.”
He also called for an escalation in the West Bank and Jordan calling it “one of the most important Arab fronts.”
Jordan, which lies between Iran and Israel, intercepted and shot down dozens of Iranian drones that entered its airspace and were heading to Israel, two regional security sources said on April 13.
“We call on the Jordanian people to step up their actions and raise their voices,” Abu Ubaida said.
He said Hamas was sticking to its demands at the ongoing ceasefire talks — that Israel ends its military offensive, pulls out forces from Gaza, allows the displaced to return to northern Gaza, and lifts the blockade.
“The government of the occupation is stalling in reaching a hostages-swap deal and is trying to obstruct efforts by the mediators to reach a ceasefire agreement,” Abu Ubaida said.
Qatar and Egypt have been trying to mediate a ceasefire, but Qatar foreign ministry’s spokesman said earlier on Tuesday all concerned parties should “show seriousness” in allowing such efforts to succeed.

 

 


‘We will leave no stone unturned to shield UNRWA from ferocious attacks,’ says agency chief

Updated 24 April 2024
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‘We will leave no stone unturned to shield UNRWA from ferocious attacks,’ says agency chief

  • Philippe Lazzarini says many supporters of each side in Israeli-Palestinian conflict fail to feel empathy for those on the other and so demonize them
  • ‘The peace process, per se, is not enough; what we need is healing,’ he tells Arab News

NEW YORK CITY: The head of the UN agency that helps to provide aid and development for Palestinian refugees told Arab News on Tuesday that no effort will be spared to protect it from “ferocious attacks” by its critics.

And as protests related to the war in Gaza continue to cause friction around the world, including growing rows on US college campuses, Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, said many of the supporters of each side in the conflict are unable to feel any empathy for those on the other, and so they demonize them.

“The peace process, per se, is not enough,” he added. “What we need is healing.”

Lazzarini said he has been struck by the fact that “empathy in this part of the world is most of the time unilateral. It’s either empathy only for the Palestinians, with no understanding where the Israelis are coming and the trauma that Oct. 7 has created in the country, or empathy only for Israelis, with absolutely no empathy for the Palestinians.”

He said his main message to US students is the need to show “compassion and empathy” for both peoples, “because ultimately, we expect that Israelis and Palestinians will live, and deserve to live, in peace and security.”

UNRWA has never been under attack to the extent it has been in recent months, Lazzarini said.

“It has never been in a situation where at same time 18 countries are reviewing or freezing their contributions,” he added. “It has never been the target of an open campaign for the total dismantlement of its activities in Gaza, and possibly beyond. What we are going through is quite unique in its ferocity.”

Agency staff and the communities they serve are “deeply anxious” about the possibility it might be weakened or even dismantled, he said, pointing to an opinion poll in which between 80 and 90 percent of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank expressed such fears.

“We will leave no stone unturned and we will bring the conversation where it needs to be to avoid the agency’s dismantlement,” said Lazzarini.

He added that this has been the mindset since the crisis the agency is facing was brought to the attention of the UN General Assembly in March, and was on display again last week during a meeting of the Security Council requested by Jordan in response to long-running attempts by Israeli authorities to force the agency out of Gaza.

“Now we are looking at the next, best avenue to shield the organization from these kind of attacks,” he added.

The agency, which provides aid and other services to millions of Palestinian refugees in Gaza and throughout the region, was thrown into crisis in January when Israel alleged that 12 UNRWA workers took part in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas against Israel.

In a report published on Monday, an independent team of investigators led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna, reported that Israeli authorities have yet to provide any evidence to back up their allegations, and had not previously expressed concerns about any individuals named on the lists of UNRWA staff they had been receiving since 2011.

In the immediate aftermath of the Israeli allegations, the US, the biggest single funder of the agency, and several other major donors immediately put their funding for the organization on hold. In all, 18 UN member states suspended or paused donations, while others imposed conditions, placing the very future of the agency in doubt. Many later resumed their donations.

Speaking to reporters at the end of an official visit to New York, Lazzarini once again said that he believes the attacks on UNRWA were not truly motivated by concerns about the neutrality of its staff, but rather the primary objective was to strip Palestinians of their refugee status.

Israel has long accused the agency of deliberately perpetuating the refugee status of millions of Palestinians, an allegation Lazzarini describes as “nonsense.”

“Basically, it is as if you would say that the humanitarian response in a conflict zone is perpetuating the conflict,” he said.

“The reality is that it is perpetuated because of the absence of a political solution. UNRWA was geared to be a temporary organization, hoping to end its activities the day there is a lasting and fair political solution. And here we are, 75 years later; it’s certainly not UNRWA perpetuating the status (but) our collective inability to promote a solution.

“If we have a genuine desire for a two-state solution, and we revitalize the implementation of such a solution, UNRWA’s temporary nature can be reinstated and hence UNRWA can pave the way for the future (Palestinian) state to provide the services the agency is providing.”

Since the beginning of the war in Gaza in October, 180 agency staff have been killed, more than 160 UN premises have been damaged or destroyed, and at least 400 people have been killed while seeking shelter under the flag of the UN.

Premises UNRWA staff were forced to abandon reportedly have been taken over and used for military purposes by the Israeli army, Hamas or other armed groups. Several agency workers have been arrested or mistreated, some have been tortured.

Lazzarini urged the Security Council to order an independent investigation into such incidents and for those responsible for the “blatant disregard” they have displayed toward UN premises, staff and operations in the Gaza Strip to be held accountable, so as to avoid setting “a new low standard in future conflict situations.”

The attacks on UNRWA and its work continue even as fears grow that warming weather will bring with it disease and other health risks. This is especially a concern in southern Gaza, which has become the last refuge for more than a million people forced by fighting to flee other parts of the territory, and where Lazzarini said “garbage collection has become a priority for our colleagues to prevent disease outbreak,” amid the “key anxiety” among people of a threatened, “possibly looming, upcoming military offensive” by Israel, “which seems to be back on the table.”

The report submitted by Colonna’s team after its investigation, which was ordered by the UN to assess whether UNRWA was doing all it could to ensure the neutrality of more than 32,000 workers, includes more than 50 recommendations, including improvements to internal oversight, enhanced in-person training, and additional support from donor nations.

Lazzarini welcomed the report and said he is committed to implementing its recommendations. It is clear from its findings, he said, that “the agency, in reality, has already a number of systems to deal with neutrality issues, far ahead of the average UN agencies or even (nongovernmental organizations), and because of the complexity of the environment we are operating in we need to be extremely vigilant, and we can always do more.”

He expressed his hope that as a result of the report and the measures that will be put in place, “the last group of donors will get the necessary confidence to come back” to the agency.

However, he noted that US will not provide any more donations until at least March 2025 because of a lack of political support for UNRWA in Washington, and added that “my task now is to try to bridge the gap” in financing that currently exists “and see that funding covered until the end of June.”