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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Freed hospital director says Palestinians endure ‘indescribable suffering’ in Israeli detention

The Sde Teiman base, which has become synonymous with the detention of Gazans, in the Negev desert of Israel, on May 31, 2024. (Avishag Shaar-Yashuv/The New York Times)

By Aaron Boxerman and Myra Noveck

When Israel released the director of the Gaza Strip’s largest hospital Monday after seven months in detention, he immediately called attention to the many other Palestinians who were still imprisoned.

“We left behind thousands who are enduring indescribable suffering,” the director of Shifa Hospital, Mohammed Abu Salmiya, told reporters at a news conference in southern Gaza.

More than 9,600 Palestinians detained under Israel’s military and national security laws are being held in Israeli prisons, the highest figure in more than a decade, according to HaMoked, an Israeli human rights group. It says many of the detainees are being held without charges and have been abused while in custody.

The number of Palestinians in Israeli prisons has swelled since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack and Israel’s subsequent invasion of Gaza. Israeli troops have arrested hundreds of people in Gaza as they search for fighters, the military says, while security forces in the occupied West Bank have conducted a crackdown that they say is intended to root out militants.

Rights groups say that the arrests are often arbitrary and that the conditions in which Palestinians are held can be inhumane. Israel says the imprisoned Palestinians — who include avowed senior militants convicted of brutal attacks — are treated in accordance with international standards.

Of about 4,000 people detained from Gaza since Oct. 7, 1,500 have been released back to the enclave, according to Tal Steiner, who directs the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, a rights group.

Most Palestinians in Gaza captured since the start of the war have been brought to Sde Teiman, an army base in southern Israel, for initial interrogation, according to the Israeli military. The military allowed The New York Times to briefly see part of the detention facility there in May. During that visit, reporters saw men sitting in rows inside a hangar, handcuffed and blindfolded, barred from talking more loudly than a murmur and forbidden to stand or sleep except when authorized.

An investigation by the Times found that at least 1,200 people in Gaza had been held at Sde Teiman in demeaning conditions, without the ability to plead their cases to a judge for up to 75 days. Eight former detainees, all of whom the military has confirmed were held at the site, variously said they had been punched, kicked and beaten with batons, rifle butts and a hand-held metal detector while in custody. Three said they had received electric shocks during their interrogations.

In a statement in May, the military denied that “systematic abuse” had taken place at Sde Teiman. Presented with individual allegations of abuse, the military said the claims were “evidently inaccurate or completely unfounded.”

In response to questions about Abu Salmiya’s claims Monday that he and others had been tortured, the Israeli Prison Service said in a statement that it was not aware of the claims, and that “all prisoners are detained according to the law.”

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