Israel-Palestine war: Workers from Gaza describe torture and abuse in Israeli detention
Around 4,500 labourers from Gaza were estimated to be in Israel when hundreds of Palestinian fighters stormed Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip, killing around 1400 people.
Despite being in Israel on work permits, they were all rounded up in detention facilities, and repeatedly humiliated and abused according to first-hand accounts.
Workers recently released by Israel told Middle East Eye their work permits had been revoked and they were sent back to Gaza on foot, despite the coastal enclave being under constant bombardment and now subject to an Israeli ground invasion.
The workers were forced to walk for 6km until they arrived in Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing near the southern Gaza town of Rafah.
In videos circulating online, hundreds of workers are seen returning to Gaza on foot. It is not clear how many of the 4,500 labourers have been released.
The Palestinians told MEE of various abuses in detention, many of which appear to amount to torture.
'One man asked me if I wanted anything to drink, then he threw boiling water at me'
- Palestinian worker from Gaza
“They took our phones. One man asked me if I wanted anything to drink, then he threw boiling water at me,” an elderly man said.
“When we were released and had to walk back to Gaza, one man died. He just dropped dead as he was walking,” another worker, originally from Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, said.
“They treated us like dogs, they interrogated us while in Tel Aviv. We had our hands tied behind our backs and were barely given any food or drink,” he added.
“Young boys the same age as my children stripped us and urinated on us... no one has mentioned us workers held in Israel, not the Red Cross; the Palestinian Authority betrayed us, the whole world betrayed us,” one worker told Al Jazeera upon his arrival in Gaza.
Miriam Marmur, public advocacy director of Israeli rights group Gisha, told MEE that the information they received about the workers’ detentions was “extremely concerning and alarming”.
“We have no way of knowing how many people were held unlawfully in Israeli detention centres because Israel refused to disclose the names and whereabouts of the people they were holding,” she said.
Marmur added that the workers were held in facilities in Israeli military bases in the occupied West Bank, and she had with no knowledge of how many workers remained detained.
“There are various reports of Israeli forces carrying out raids, picking up Palestinian workers and taking them to detention centres," she said, adding that "from what they describe, the conditions are extremely, extremely dire”.
Middle East Eye has asked the Israeli military for comment.
Psychological and physical abuse
Released Palestinian workers said they were not allowed access to legal representation. Humanitarian workers were also forbidden to enter the detention facilities to carry out assessments of the conditions.
“We were abused for 25 days, we were around 5,000-6,000 people held,” one person told Al Jazeera.
Many of the workers said they were consistently threatened as they were asked questions about Hamas.
'Some people were interrogated. They had it the worst, they were hung and beaten'
- Worker detained by Israel
“Some people were interrogated. They had it the worst, they were hung and beaten. They asked if we knew anyone from Hamas,” an elderly man told local media.
“Obviously we don’t know anything, we’re just workers,” another man said in footage circulating online.
Workers have said the Israeli authorities did not allow them to access their phones or make calls to their families, leaving many of them concerned about the welfare of their loved ones under bombardment.
“God willing we get back and find our children and families safe and alive,” one man told local media.
“We were tortured, no one had mercy on us. They took our money and clothes, they left us naked for three days while they tortured us. We were hungry, they kicked and punched us, stepped on our heads, until now I am in pain.”
According to the workers, they were handed over to Israeli forces by their employers.
In online footage, workers can be seen showing blue tags placed on their ankles. They said none of their belongings, including phones and money, were returned to them before they were released.
Israelis cheer footage of abuse
Since the 7 October attack, anti-Palestinian rhetoric and sentiment has reached an all-time high in Israel. Israeli officials have called for Gaza to be wiped out and urged Palestinians linked with the attack to be tortured.
Meanwhile, attacks on Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have escalated.
Earlier this week, far-right Israeli groups on messaging apps shared and celebrated graphic videos of what appeared to be Palestinian workers in the West Bank being abused by Israeli soldiers.
Several of these videos were published on "Without Limits", an Israeli right-wing Telegram channel, which has over 117,000 subscribers, among other right-wing groups.
In one harrowing video, blindfolded Palestinian men with cable ties around their hands are seen being assaulted by heavily armed troops. The men, some of whom have been stripped entirely naked, can be heard screaming while lying on the floor.
Soldiers drag them across the ground, while one Israeli soldier steps on a detainee's head. His colleagues are heard laughing in the background.
The clip has almost 2,000 laughing emoji reactions to it, and hundreds of celebration emojis, as well as love-eye reactions. The Israeli army previously told MEE the actions of the soldiers seen in the footage were "deplorable" and said it was being looked into.
Around 18,500 Palestinians from Gaza hold permits issued by Israeli authorities, though it is not known how many were in Israel when the permits were revoked following the outbreak of war.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.