Skip to main content

Beaten, tortured and buried alive: What happened to the woman on the Israeli truck

Hadeel al-Dahdouh was separated from her breastfeeding son for more than 50 days when she was thrown into the back of an Israeli truck. She tells MEE she was subjected to horrific torture
Israeli soldiers stand by a truck packed with shirtless Palestinian men and one woman in the besieged Gaza Strip on 8 December 2023 (Reuters/Yossi Zeliger)
Israeli soldiers stand by a truck packed with shirtless Palestinian men and one woman in the besieged Gaza Strip on 8 December 2023 (Reuters/Yossi Zeliger)
By Maha Hussaini in Gaza, occupied Palestine

It's an image that has provoked shock and outrage.

Dozens of Palestinian men, bound, blindfolded and stripped to their underwear, crammed in an open-top Israeli truck in the besieged Gaza Strip.

The photo showed shellshocked Palestinians looking cold, hungry and traumatised amid the chilly and rainy December winter weather.

But just to the right of the centre of the scene, one person stood out.

Hadeel al-Dahdouh, a mother of two, is the only woman known to have been abducted by Israeli soldiers when they stormed the Zaytoun quarter of Gaza City late last year.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


Speaking to Middle East Eye in Rafah after her lengthy detention, she said that she, along with her husband, in-laws and neighbours, were injected with unknown substances and subjected to prolonged and violent interrogations and even mock executions while in Israeli captivity.

Choking back tears, Dahdouh, who is still wearing the same "prayer dress" from when she was first detained, is overcome with grief when recounting the degradation she endured.

Her testimony, which is drawn from her detention in parts of occupied Gaza and Israel, appears consistent with that of other former detainees abducted by Israeli forces following the 7 October attacks.

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.

'If I moved, they would beat me'

Dahdouh told MEE that her harrowing ordeal began when Israeli forces laid siege to her area with tanks and other armoured vehicles, forcing her family - consisting of her husband, children, in-laws, and two members of the al-Mughrabi family - to seek shelter at their small home.

"We were taking shelter in the basement when Israeli soldiers bombed one of the walls and entered. They took us all outside and separated the men from women," she said.

"One of the officers called me and said: 'Come here, we're going to perform a test on you.' I asked him what kind of test - he then told me that it would be a small test on my hand and that I would be returned to my children.

"I was terrified. I was scared for my children's safety."

Dahdouh said that before she left her basement she handed her four-year-old son Muhammad and nine-month old son Zain to her mother-in-law as she feared the worst.

"Israeli soldiers then took us to another home that was evacuated in the Zaytun neighbourhood. Once we entered the house, they immediately started beating and torturing us," she said.

"They kept us there for a while before a soldier came and gave the men [some kind of] sedative injection in their lower backs. Shortly after, they started hallucinating and were not fully conscious. The soldiers did not tell us what they gave them, but I suspect it was a sedative because I previously underwent a caesarean operation and was given a sedative injection that also left me hallucinating."

One of the soldiers then forced Dahdouh into a stress position with her head placed on the floor and her arms tied behind her knees.

She said that her back was uncovered and she was injected with a substance near her spinal cord.

"For over an hour, I was forced to sit like this and was not allowed to move. If I moved, they would beat me so hard. I asked him what they were doing to me but they did not answer. They just started cursing me and saying: 'You are a Hamas bitch.'

"I was crying, begging, and saying, 'I swear to God I am not, I am just a normal citizen like everyone else'," she said.

"I don't know what they injected me with, but it was some kind of solution, and they also took something from my body, like a blood sample," she added.

Dahdouh said Israeli soldiers then interrogated her and the other men about the 7 October attack, asking what they were doing when Hamas fighters stormed the barrier fence and attacked southern Israel.

"[One of the Israeli soldiers] was asking me and hitting me hard on my back and legs. The plastic shackle on my hands was very tight and it was hurting me a lot, I told him: 'Please loosen it a little.' Instead, he tightened it even more. 

"We were kept in this house for one night. In the morning, they took us to another place that they said was the Sharia court. There were more than a hundred detainees there. They placed me among the men and started beating me and throwing things on my face to scare me."

'I'II bury you alive'

On the third day, Dahdouh said Israeli forces dug what appeared to be a hole and hurled her and dozens of other men into it.

"I started crying and screaming, saying 'What are you doing?'. An officer then told me: 'I'll bury you alive.' I told him: 'Shoot us directly, it's better than torturing us like this'," she said.

"He started beating and cursing me, then he removed my headscarf, I was crying and I felt that I was falling. My feeling was indescribable.

"I was blindfolded, but I could see a little through the bandage on my eyes. They took my husband and put him on the ground very close to a tank and pretended that they were going to run over him. I then heard two shots, then a soldier told me: 'I killed your husband'."

Dahdouh said she was then made to believe her husband was dead.

For the next 54 days, she says she thought she was a widow. Only upon her release did she realise that her husband was still alive and that the soldier had carried out a mock execution.

How to hold Israel accountable for torturing Palestinians 
Read More »

Dahdouh said the soldiers then buried her and some of the men under a blanket of sand. They kept them in the hole for some time before pulling them out and transferring them to a detention centre.

"They were pouring sand on us and cursing us," she said. "We thought they were going to bury us."

Shortly afterwards, she said, she was forced on to an Israeli military truck in the photo which has since gone viral. "I was the only woman among dozens of men," she said.

"They took us to the border area where I saw three other women from the Abuzor family. For three days, we were left without any kind of food, I was in pain due to breast engorgement, because at that time I used to still breastfeed my child, and since I could not breastfeed him for days, my breasts were full with milk."

Dahdouh says she was then transferred to another detention centre in Jerusalem, where she was strip-searched and her belongings confiscated. 

"They took all my money and gold which I was keeping in my socks and bra, as well as my ID and mobile phone," she said. "They then interrogated me again about the events of 7 October, asking me about the whereabouts of [Hamas leader] Yahya Sinwar.

"I was crying and asking the officer to send me back home to my children because I didn't know anything about what he was saying. He told me, 'I will send you home only when our sons in Gaza are back home'.

"We were then put in a cell that looked like an animal cage. Rain was falling on us and it was very cold. They were beating and torturing us every day, from around 4am until 10pm. 

"They would force us to sit in prostration position and wouldn't allow us to move or change our position."

'When I saw my children they were thin and malnourished'

Dahdouh says Israeli forces then moved her to another detention centre in Be'er Sheva, where she was beaten, tortured, and kicked directly on her caesarean wound.

After she was injured during the beating, Dahdouh said she expected the Israeli army to send her back to Gaza. Instead, she says, she was transferred to Damon Prison in Israel, where she was tortured for six days, before being brought to the Karem Abu Salem Crossing along the barrier fence with Gaza.

"They left us there and ordered us to run towards Gaza without turning our heads back," Dahdouh said.

"We arrived at a UN facility in Rafah [in the southern Gaza Strip] where I learned that my husband was still alive and that he was released a few days earlier. But my children were still in Gaza City - one of them was with my mother, and the other was with my mother-in-law.

Ramadan in Gaza: Food is scarce, but grief and despair are plentiful
Read More »

"Not only was I separated from my children during my detention period, but I couldn't go back to Gaza City after I was released, and my mother and mother-in-law could not come to the south because they are elderly and could not risk crossing the dangerous Rashid Street and through Israeli checkpoints."

After days of waiting, she says she was finally reunited with her children after her sister-in-law made the brave decision to leave Gaza City and bring her children to her.

"I was shocked when I saw my children. They were very thin and suffering from severe malnutrition.

"To make matters worse, the army took all my money and gold and have left me with bad health. The wound from the caesarean was torn open and the area was infected. I cannot move or take care of my children."

The war on Gaza, which is now approaching its sixth month, has left roughly half of the Palestinians in Gaza - about 1.1 million people - experiencing "catastrophic" hunger, aid agencies have warned.

More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed across the enclave, and thousands of bodies are uncounted for, lost in the rubble.

With most of Gaza's hospitals forced to close, the few that are still partially functioning do not have enough medical supplies, doctors or staff to cope with the number of dead and wounded.

MEE reached out to the Israeli army for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

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

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.