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Israeli doctor at detention facility says grim conditions 'break the law'

In a letter to Israeli officials, doctor says Palestinian detainees have had limbs amputated due to handcuff injuries and were forced to defecate in nappies
A man detained by the Israeli military in the northern Gaza Strip shows off the injuries on his wrists at al-Najjar hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 24 December 2023 (AFP/Said Khatib)
A man detained by the Israeli military in northern Gaza shows injuries on his wrists at al-Najjar hospital in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on 24 December 2023 (AFP/Said Khatib)

A doctor at an Israeli field hospital where Palestinians detained from Gaza are held has described harrowing details of conditions, including limb amputation due to handcuff injuries and prisoners forced to defecate in nappies. 

The unnamed doctor working at the Sde Teiman facility, between Gaza and Bersheeba in the Negev desert, wrote about the experiences in a letter to Israel's defence minister, health minister and the legal adviser to the government. The letter was reported on Thursday by Haaretz. 

Sde Teiman was established following the outbreak of war last year, as a temporary facility to detain those accused of participating in Hamas's attack on southern Israel on 7 October.

Many of those detained have no connection to Hamas, and have been released after interrogation. 

"From the first days of the operation of the medical facility until today, I am faced with difficult ethical dilemmas," the letter stated. "More than that, I am writing to warn that the characteristics of the facility's activities do not comply with law in any of the sections related to the health of imprisoned fighters."

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The doctor said that the hospital at the facility does not receive a regular supply of medicine and equipment.

'From the first days of the operation of the medical facility until today, I am faced with difficult ethical dilemmas'

- Israeli doctor

They also said that all patients are handcuffed on all four limbs for the entire day, with their eyes covered, and fed with a straw, regardless of how dangerous they are. Many are forced to defecate wearing a nappy. 

"Under these conditions, in practice even young and healthy patients lose weight after about a week or two of hospitalisation," they said. 

Most patients are at the hospital due to an injury developed during their arrest and prolonged shackling, which has caused severe injuries "requiring repeated surgical intervention", according to the doctor. 

Three sources told Haaretz that last year a detainee had his hand amputated after being wounded from prolonged handcuffing. The Israeli army said that following an initial probe, there was no wider investigation launched because it did not find a criminal offence. 

A military spokesperson said its method of handcuffing was in accordance with law and "the level of dangerousness of each detainee". 

'Violating commitments to patients'

The doctor added that there was a shortage of drugs for those with chronic diseases, and some detainees suffer from epileptic seizures. They said that patients don't receive proper treatment, and are often released too early after receiving operations or procedures. 

They also said that the hospital is often manned by a team of nurses and just one doctor, who could be an orthopedist or a gynaecologist. 

"It ends in complications and sometimes even in the patient's death," the doctor said. 

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"All of us - the medical teams and you, the level in charge of us in the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Defence, [are] partners in violating Israeli law, and perhaps worse for me as a doctor - violating my basic commitment to patients, wherever they are patients, as I swore when I graduated 20 years ago."

Israeli officials who received the letter told Haaretz they took the issues raised "very seriously", and suggested an investigation would likely take place. 

A military spokesperson said that it operated "within the framework of the law" when it came to its treatment of detainees. 

"Every procedure is documented and supervised, and is done with extreme care for the human dignity of the detainees, in accordance with the principles of Israeli and international law," the spokesperson said. 

They added that among "terrorist suspects" there were those who were "very dangerous and intend to harm any Israeli, even the medical staff". 

A Ministry of Health official said that medical care provided at Sde Teiman "complies with the international rules and treaties to which Israel is committed". 

According to Israeli rights group HaMoked, as of 1 April there were 849 Palestinian detainees from Gaza held in Israeli prisons.

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

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