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Iron bars, electric shocks, dogs and cigarette burns: How Palestinians are tortured in Israeli detention

Men detained by Israeli forces since the start of the war are returning to Gaza with harrowing accounts of mock executions, constant beatings and humiliating mistreatment

Palestinian men detained by Israeli forces since the start of the war in Gaza have told Middle East Eye how they were physically tortured with dogs and electricity, subjected to mock executions, and held in humiliating and degrading conditions.

In testimonies to MEE, one man, who was taken by Israeli forces from a school in Gaza where he had sought refuge with his family, described how he had been handcuffed, blindfolded, and detained in a metal cage for 42 days.

During interrogations, he said he had been given electric shocks, as well as scratched and bitten by army dogs.

Other men also described being electrocuted, attacked by dogs, doused with cold water, denied food and water, deprived of sleep, and subjected to constant loud music.

“They did not spare anyone. There were 14-year-old boys and 80-year-old men,” said one of the men, Moaz Muhammad Khamis Miqdad, who was taken prisoner in Gaza City in December and held for more than 30 days.

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As well as three men taken prisoner in Gaza, MEE spoke to a man detained in a raid in the West Bank city of Qalqilya who said he had been blindfolded, stripped naked, and hung by his arms during interrogations in which he was repeatedly beaten and burnt with cigarettes.

He also described being held for days in freezing conditions in which he was not allowed to sleep and of a soldier urinating in a bottle and handing it to him after he had requested water.

All four men described being forced to strip naked and being constantly beaten and abused by Israeli soldiers during their weeks-long detentions.

MEE has also spoken to a number of other former detainees who also described similar experiences to those of the men in this story.

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Their accounts of torture and abuse follow similar allegations made by human rights monitors.

Israel’s conduct of its war against Hamas in Gaza is already the subject of an International Court of Justice case in which it stands accused of genocide and an ongoing war crimes investigation by the International Criminal Court.

Last week details of an unpublished investigation by Unrwa, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, alleging abuse of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners detained during the war in Gaza were reported by the New York Times.

Many of those details appear consistent with the testimonies of former detainees who spoke to MEE.

On Thursday, Haaretz reported that at least 27 detainees from Gaza had died in Israeli military facilities since the start of the war. It said some of the deaths had occurred at the Sde Teiman military base in southern Israel and the Anatot base in the West Bank.

On Friday, Alice Jill Edwards, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, said she was investigating allegations of torture and mistreatment of Palestinian detainees by Israel and was in talks with Israeli authorities to visit the country on a fact-finding mission.

Ramy Abdu, the chair of Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor which has also compiled reports of torture in custody, said the testimonies of Palestinians released from Israeli detention were “deeply disturbing”.

Abdu told MEE: “These testimonies reveal a systematic pattern of abuse, including forced strip searches, sexual harassment, threats of rape, severe beatings, dog attacks, and denial of necessities such as food, water, and access to restroom facilities. These acts not only inflict physical pain but also leave lasting psychological scars on the victims.

“The use of such brutal tactics, particularly against vulnerable groups such as women, children, and the elderly, is reprehensible and constitutes a gross violation of human dignity and international law.”

Miriam Azem, an advocacy associate at Adalah, a Palestinian human rights organisation, said that reports of "pervasive torture and ill-treatment" inflicted on Palestinian detainees in Israeli custody demanded an immediate international intervention.

"Hundreds of Palestinians from Gaza remain held incommunicado, their whereabouts unknown. The urgency of the current moment demands not just attention but immediate and resolute intervention from the international community. Any failure to intervene poses a grave threat to Palestinian lives," Azem told MEE.

The Israeli army had not responded to MEE’s request for comment at the time of publication. It has said in response to allegations concerning the mistreatment of detainees that such conduct “violates IDF values and contravenes IDF orders and is therefore absolutely prohibited”.

It has said its soldiers act “in accordance with Israeli and international law in order to protect the rights of the detainees”. It has said every death in Israeli military custody is being investigated, and that some of those who had died had pre-existing medical conditions or injuries.

‘They placed me facing the wall on my knees’

Naeem Youssef Salem Abu Al-Hassan, a 19-year-old from Jabalia, northern Gaza, told MEE he had been detained with other young men aged 18 to 25 after remaining residents were ordered by Israeli forces to leave the city on 27 December 2023.

By then, he said, he and his extended family had endured weeks of air strikes, tank attacks, and sniper fire which had destroyed much of the neighbourhood and killed a number of his relatives.

Soon afterward, Hassan said, Israeli soldiers had asked him to identify two bodies in the street who they said were fighters.

Hassan said he did not know the identities of the bodies and had no connections with fighters.

“They didn’t believe me and insisted that I recognised them otherwise they would shoot me and drop me next to the bodies. I didn’t know what to say. Then they placed me facing the wall on my knees.”

Hassan said the soldiers then kicked him and called him a liar. He was handcuffed, blindfolded, and dragged to a nearby house where other detainees were also being held.

“One soldier was smoking a cigarette and trying to burn me on my face. I told him I can’t take it so he started hitting and kicking me,” he said.

alestinian men rounded up and stripped by Israeli forces in Gaza seen in a video released on 7 December (Screengrab/X)
Palestinian men were rounded up and stripped by Israeli forces in Gaza seen in a video released on 7 December (Screengrab/X)

That night, the men were rounded up and taken out to the street where, Hassan said, they were surrounded by soldiers and tanks. Deep holes had been dug in the street and a soldier started to push him towards one of the holes.

“I felt, that’s it, he will definitely kill me now. This will probably be my last breath,” he said.

Instead, the men were loaded onto trucks. They were driven around for several hours, all the while being cursed, kicked, and beaten by the soldiers guarding them. Then they were moved to a different vehicle and driven around some more, still being beaten.

'They unleashed them on us. The dogs would attack us, scratching us while the commander would continue to beat us with utter brutality'

- Naeem Youssef Salem Abu Al-Hassan

Eventually, they were dropped at an unknown location. Five soldiers came into the room where they were being held and continued beating them.

This pattern of being moved around in vehicles between different locations, all the while being subjected to beatings, continued over several days.

Finally, the men arrived at a location where they were forced to kneel on the floor, still restrained with handcuffs and blindfolded.

“We all remained like this for 37 days… almost naked in the blistering cold, our bodies exhausted, our souls drifting away. The food was barely enough to keep you alive,” said Hassan.

When the men tried to complain about the conditions of their detention, their captors brought in soldiers with dogs.

“They unleashed them on us. The dogs would attack us, scratching us while the commander would continue to beat us with utter brutality.”

Every few days the men would be taken for questioning. Hassan said he was shown images of tunnels and his interrogators would ask him what he knew about them.

“Whenever I said that I didn’t [know anything] they would slap, punch, hit, and kick me all over my body,” said Hassan.

“The soldiers with their commander would make a lot of noise… so we were not able to sleep and remained exhausted and completely strained from fatigue, starvation, and torture.”

One night in the early hours as he tried to rest, Hassan was kicked awake by a soldier and dragged to a bus with four other men. The bus took them to Karm Abu Salem, the main crossing between Israel and southern Gaza, where they were released.

“The commander screamed at us that we should walk quickly, but I could barely walk [because of] the beating and kneeling and the lack of food and sleep. The soldiers started running after us to scare us.”

Hassan said the men managed to drag themselves to nearby UN buses that were waiting to collect them.

‘They wanted us to stay between life and death’

Moaz Muhammad Khamis Miqdad, 26, told MEE he had been rounded up at gunpoint by Israeli soldiers on 21 December while sheltering in a school with his family in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood of Gaza City.

Along with other men, he was forced to strip to his underwear. They were then taken to a nearby mosque where their hands were tied behind their backs and they were made to kneel.

“Then they threw us in a truck, where more soldiers and security forces railed at us with massive beatings and cursing,” recalled Miqdad.

The truck took them to a detention centre where the beatings continued relentlessly.

“They tortured us for hours, spraying us with cold water while we were almost naked. They were determined to torture us and break us.”

Eventually, one by one the men were taken to an interrogation room where, Miqdad said, the torture got worse.

“The soldiers asked where I was on 7 October and what I did. I told them I had nothing to do with the events of 7 October but they didn’t care. They attacked me with even more excessive punches and kicks, and this time with their weapons as well.”

Bruised and bleeding, the men were put in another truck and taken to a dark, cold room.

“I was naked, cold, beaten, starving, exhausted and completely drained. If any prisoner fell asleep the soldiers would viciously beat him on the head or chest to keep him awake. They wanted us to stay between life and death.”

After a couple of days, the men were put on a bus, this time with about 50 other prisoners. As the bus drove them to a detention centre in another area, they were beaten by soldiers, this time armed with iron bars.

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“If anybody would scream in pain, they would beat him even harder,” said Miqdad.

After two weeks in detention, Miqdad said he was allowed to take a shower. But even this risked incurring a humiliating beating.

“The shower time was limited to four minutes. I was afraid to take off my underwear and never have it back. If you were a second late in the shower the soldiers would tie you to metal bars and beat you for four hours. Soldiers and commanders would come and hit you with their weapons, metal bars, and boots.”

At night, the detainees were forced to sleep naked without any covers on the floor of what Miqdad said appeared to be an army barracks. Loud music would play at full volume.

During one interrogation, Miqdad said he was asked why he had remained in Gaza City, rather than going to the south, as Israel had told residents to do. He said he told them that he did not have the money to make the journey.

“They didn’t like my answer. They sent me back to the dark prison room, blindfolded. We were forbidden from making any movement or gesture. If we tried to adjust the blindfold to wipe away our tears and blood the soldiers would go crazy, shouting at us and beating us insanely.”

Following the interrogation, Miqdad said he was placed in a chair.

“They placed electric bands all over my body and electrocuted me with powerful shocks all the way to my head.”

After several more days of this treatment, Miqdad was told he was being transferred. He was blindfolded and put on a bus. Many of the other men on the bus were sick and elderly, he said.

The bus drove for a while and then stopped.

“They kicked us all out and threatened to shoot and kill anyone who moved from the line, or looked back, or tried to help one another.”

“A young man was totally paralysed from the harsh conditions so I carried him despite the fact I could barely carry myself. The soldiers saw me and started yelling and shooting but I did not care, I just kept walking and didn’t look back. In those moments he was not heavy.”

‘You think you will die a thousand times’

Omar Mahmoud Abdel Qader Samoud had also been forced to seek refuge in a school with members of his family after their house was destroyed by an air strike on 14 November.

After several weeks, Israeli soldiers came to the school and detained Samoud, his wife, and their children including their two-year-old son.

“They handcuffed us and blindfolded us and took us to a nearby hill,” said Samoud.

“Tanks were roaming around us, creating a deadly scene of horror and fear. In those moments you think you will die a thousand times.”

'The soldiers would kick me on all parts of my body. Imagine yourself naked, handcuffed on the floor with five or six soldiers kicking you with their boots, hitting you with weapons and bats'

Omar Mahmoud Abdel Qader Samoud

Samoud said he remained blindfolded and handcuffed for the entire 42 days of his detention, barely being given enough food to survive.

“The soldiers forced us to kneel for 24 hours. They would storm into the barracks where we were kept as hostages, make a lot of noise with their iron bars, kicking and breaking everything.

“The temperature was freezing, as [the cell] was made of iron, very similar to cages used for animals… The soldiers’ aim was to torture us, to break us, to show us who is the boss, and that our lives depended on them.”

Prisoners who raised their heads risked being sent to the “ghost room”, Samoud said.

“You become a ghost, unseen and unheard,” he said. “They tie your hands and legs, forbid you from going to the bathroom. They deny you water and food and leave you like this for a few days.”

Another room was known as the “disko”.

“A soldier dragged me on the floor, naked and handcuffed and placed me on a piece of rug,” Samoud recalled.

“The soldiers sprayed freezing cold water on me and placed a fan in front of me. They would leave me for a few days, without food or water or the possibility to get up and go to the bathroom. I urinated on myself and pleaded for mercy but they didn’t care.

“The soldiers would kick me on all parts of my body. Imagine yourself naked, handcuffed on the floor with five or six soldiers kicking you with their boots, hitting you with weapons and bats.

“Then they asked me to sit up. How could I possibly sit up? When I couldn’t follow their orders they would beat me even harder. They completely smashed me. I thought this nightmare would never end.”

A man awaits treatment at Rafah's al-Najjar hospital after being returned to Gaza from Israeli detention in December 2023 (Said Khatib/AFP)
A man awaits treatment at Rafah's al-Najjar hospital after being returned to Gaza from Israeli detention in December 2023 (Said Khatib/AFP)

Sometimes soldiers would unleash dogs on the captive men as they were forced to lie face down on the ground, still handcuffed and blindfolded.

“The soldiers would close the door and let the dogs torture us for the next two or three hours,” said Samoud. He said he had also been subjected to electric shocks.

During interrogations, detainees were restrained in their chairs by clamps on their arms and their legs. Sometimes these sessions would last from 9am until midnight, and in one of these Samoud said that his toes had been broken.

“Part of the torture technique was breaking the clamps while they are still on your legs. [The interrogator] came to remove them but started banging on them so fiercely that I cried out in pain. My toes were breaking but he kept on banging them. The pain was unbearable.

“They left me like that, my toes broken and bloodied for 20 days, lying around like a rug. I lost over 25 kilos while being held hostage and I cannot walk because of the torture.”

‘All were brutalised, tortured and humiliated’

Ali Nayef Muhammad Al-Masry, 34, was among a group of men rounded up during a night raid by Israeli forces in the northern West Bank city of Qalqilya in January.

Masry, who is from Gaza, and the other men had previously been working in Israel but had been displaced to Qalqilya when their work permits were withdrawn at the start of the war.

Following an army raid on the building where they were staying, the men were blindfolded, handcuffed, and dragged to a space alongside the fence separating the West Bank from Israel.

“They kept us there for about a month. We were workers but there were also sick people there, people with cancer, some of them were elderly. All were brutalised, tortured, and humiliated. There was no regard for human life,” said Masry.

'When I asked for water, the soldier would laugh, go to the corner, urinate in a plastic bottle, and bring it to me to drink'

- Ali Nayef Muhammad Al-Masry

One day, Masry was among 10 men separated by soldiers from the rest of the detainees. The men were made to strip naked and kneel by the fence.

“An army commander came and waged a psychological war against us. He shouted at his unit, ‘Kill them all, every single one of them.’ Then the soldiers started shooting and we heard live ammunition all around us. I had no idea if I was dead or alive.”

The men were then taken to a room for questioning.

“The first question was: ‘Who do you know?’. And he showed me photos from my neighbourhood. If he didn’t like my answers, he would hang me by my arms, still handcuffed. My interrogation lasted for 10 days. All this time, I didn't know when it was day and when it was night. I was freezing all the time. Naked, freezing, and cuffed.”

Other times, Masry said, his interrogator would burn cigarettes on his skin and kick him. He was made to sit on a chair that delivered electric shocks and was prevented from sleeping.

“The soldiers and their commander were monsters. When I asked for water, the soldier would laugh, go to the corner, urinate in a plastic bottle, and bring it to me to drink. When I refused, he would drop the whole thing on me.”

After several weeks, Masry and the other men were handcuffed and blindfolded, put on an army truck, and driven for six hours to Karm Abu Salem.

“Before they released us, they undressed us again and took our clothes. When they dropped us off there were 55 male detainees and six female detainees. They made us walk north and after walking a long distance the soldiers started shooting at us.

“Later we learned that the six women had been kidnapped from inside Gaza and were held hostage for three months. We didn’t know anything about them.”

Photo: Israeli soldiers stand by a truck packed with shirtless Palestinian detainees in the Gaza Strip, 8 December 2023 (Reuters/Yossi Zeliger)

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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