UN agency says staff, other Gaza detainees subjected to ill-treatment

By Thomson Reuters Apr 17, 2024 | 10:22 AM

GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) said some of its staff members and other people detained by Israeli forces in Gaza were subjected to ill-treatment, including severe beatings and being forced to strip naked.

In a report published on Tuesday, UNRWA said that staff that were detained, in some cases while performing official duties, were “held incommunicado and subjected to the same conditions and ill-treatment as other detainees,” which it said included several different forms of abuse.

The agency said staff members had said they were subjected to beatings and treatment akin to waterboarding, threats of rape and electrocution, and were forced to strip naked, among other forms of ill-treatment.

“UNRWA has made official protests to the Israeli authorities about the reported treatment of Agency staff members while they were in Israeli detention centers,” it said. “UNRWA has not received any response to these protests to date.”

The Israeli military has said it acts according to Israeli and international law and those it arrests get access to food, water, medication and proper clothing. The military and the Israel Prison Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the claims in the UNRWA report.

The Palestinian Prisoners Society has said Israel refuses to disclose information on the number of people from Gaza it has detained over the past six months, or on where they are being held.

UNRWA has documented the release of 1,506 detainees from Gaza, including 43 children and 84 women, by the Israeli authorities through the Kerem Shalom crossing as of April 4.

The freed detainees were subjected to “insults and humiliation such as being made to act like animals or getting urinated on, use of loud music and noise, deprivation of water, food, sleep and toilets, denial of the right to pray and prolonged use of tightly locked handcuffs causing open wounds and friction injuries,” according to UNRWA.

“Detainees were threatened with prolonged detention, injury or the killing of family members if they did not provide requested information,” UNRWA said.

“In most reported detention incidents, the IDF forced males, including children, to strip down to their underwear. UNRWA also documented at least one occasion where males sheltering in an UNRWA installation were forced to strip naked and were detained while naked.”

Israel’s military operation in Gaza was triggered by Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, which by its tallies killed 1,200 with 253 taken hostage.

The subsequent bombardment has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian medics, displaced the majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million people and caused a grave humanitarian crisis.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Geneva and Henriette Chacar in Jerusalem; editing by Jonathan Oatis)