It was torture, say Palestinian men stripped, blindfolded and detained by Israeli army

Accounts from freed detainees shed light on what appears to be a widening practice by the military of detaining men and boys in the Gaza Strip

Captured and detained Palestinians sit on a street in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza Strip, as Israeli soldiers stand guard. Reuters
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Moussa Ali, 14, from the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City, says he was kept blindfolded, beaten and given little to eat or drink for five days after being detained along with several male relatives by Israeli troops last week.

The soldiers put them into lorries after separating them from the women and younger members of the family, and took them to an unknown location, Moussa told The National.

The soldiers wrote his age in bright red marker on his hands and arms and collected his personal information, including the names of his parents and grandparents.

“They stripped us, blindfolded and tied us. Here are the cuts from the ties,” Moussa says.

After five days of being beaten and insulted, with his hands kept bound the whole time, he was taken far from his hometown to southern Gaza.

“They tortured us and I am missing,” Moussa said, referring to the fact that his family does not know where he was taken.

“I don’t know where my mother and father are.”

Palestinian rights groups say Israeli troops have arrested hundreds, possibly thousands, of males in Gaza, including children like Moussa, as they hunt down suspected members of Hamas, the militant group that governed the territory before Israel launched its military offensive on October 7.

Israel says it wants to eradicate Hamas after gunmen from the group killed about 1,200 people in an attack on southern Israel that day, and took about 240 hostage.

The Israeli campaign against the Gaza Strip, by air, land and sea, has devastated the territory and displaced most of its population. Most Gazans have fled to the south after being warned by the military that the north was no longer safe for them.

The Israeli detentions gained attention after images began circulating on social media on Thursday that showed soldiers rounding up blindfolded men in their underwear in the streets of Gaza.

Detained Palestinians forced to strip to their underwear in Gaza

Detained Palestinians forced to strip to their underwear in Gaza

The Israeli army said it was operating in “the Hamas strongholds of Jabalia and Shejaiya” in northern Gaza to “dismantle Hamas’ military capabilities”.

“The individuals detained are treated in accordance with international law,” the army told The National in a written response.

“It is often necessary for terror suspects to hand over their clothes such that their clothes can be searched and to ensure that they are not concealing explosive vests or other weaponry.”

Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, said Moussa and other detainees who had been released were the lucky ones.

“I think we are talking here about those who are fortunate, who were not executed in the field and people who were taken for five days and came back,” Mr Sourani told The National.

“There are hundreds, if not thousands who have not come back yet and no one knows anything about them.”

He said the Israeli military's actions could be a violation of the responsibility to protect civilians in armed conflict, a cornerstone of international humanitarian law.

“In my more than 40 years of work in this field, this is unprecedented.”

Nader Zindan, 42, another Gazan who was stripped, detained and later released, said he was in pain and had bruises all over his back because the lorry carrying him and other detainees would constantly brake abruptly, causing them to bump into each other and into the metal sides of the vehicle.

He did not eat or sleep for five days and now does not know the whereabouts of his family.

“It was torture,” he said.

“I am exhausted, I don’t know where to begin looking for my wife and children.”

Updated: December 11, 2023, 2:54 PM