Gaza paramedic says Israeli army stripped and tortured him and threw rocks at injured man

Palestinian Red Crescent worker Mohammad Abu Rukbeh is still being held by Israeli forces despite having severe injuries

Mohammad Jamal Salah sustained wound to his leg after he says he was detained, stripped and tortured by Israeli forces in Gaza. Photo: Mohammad Jamal Salah
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Palestinian Red Crescent worker Mohammad Jamal Salah, 42, is one of many Gazans who has faced horrors throughout the war.

For 40 days, Mr Salah has had to stay strong for his team in Gaza’s north, in Jabalia, where he had set up and ran the north’s only functioning medical complex, which still helps to deliver babies and treat the wounded.

“I want this war to end so I can cry,” he says

“I will never forget the day we received 95 bodies and 38 critically injured people, all between the hours of 2am and 6am.”

Most of the survivors died, he said, due to a lack of treatment.

On December 20, Mr Salah says he sensed he was in more danger than usual and that Israeli forces were closing in on him when he was unable to leave the Palestinian Red Crescent’s ambulance centre in Jabalia to travel to the medical port as he did every day.

“I just waited for them to arrive.”

He had 127 people with him, with 22 wounded, including a boy, 17, and his co-worker, Mohammad Abu Rukbeh, who had third-degree burns on his legs and back.

🚨Occupation forces have surrounded and besieged the PRCS Ambulance Center 🚑in #Jabalia, northern #Gaza from all directions. #NotATarget ❌ #لست_هدفا ❌

Posted by ‎Palestine Red Crescent society الهلال الاحمر الفلسطيني‎ on Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Israeli forces including tanks, soldiers and snipers soon surrounded the ambulance centre.

Through speakers, they repeatedly called for the head of the Red Crescent to come out.

As he walked out, he began to shake as snipers set their laser pointers on him.

He complied when they asked him to strip and turn around before putting his clothes back on.

“A soldier approached me. He spoke to me in Arabic. He asked me how many people were inside. I told him that I was too scared to remember. He asked me to calm down and recall. So I did.”

Many men, women and injured people were still inside the centre Mr Salah said.

The soldier asked Mr Salah to tell the women to come out before their raid.

🚨لا تزال الاتصالات مقطوعة عن طواقمنا في مركز اسعاف جباليا، و وصلتنا انباء عن قيام قوات الاحتلال باقتحام المركز واعتقال...

Posted by ‎Palestine Red Crescent society الهلال الاحمر الفلسطيني‎ on Thursday, December 21, 2023

“I bargained. I told him that there was no need for violence. I told him that we are not with Hamas. That I’m a civilian. That we have no weapons. I will do as they tell me to and I will tell my men to do the same.”

Slowly, the woman began to leave the complex along with some who needed treatment.

An elderly man was put in a wheelchair and taken outside while the men were all placed in plastic handcuffs. Mr Salah’s co-worker, Abu Rukbeh, who needed special attention, was placed on a stretcher which was retrieved from a storage room.

🚨The latest updates regarding the detention of PRCS teams and individuals at the PRCS Ambulance Center🚑 in #Jabalia,...

Posted by ‎Palestine Red Crescent society الهلال الاحمر الفلسطيني‎ on Friday, December 22, 2023

Then, the remaining men were told to walk behind a tank to an abandoned building with laser sights from guns still pointing at them.

“We were sworn at – things that I cannot even say over the phone,” he told The National.

The soldiers “joked” about shooting them, Mr Salah said.

The men were then taken to a lorry and blindfolded. “I was the first to get on board because I was in front of the entire line.”

“I was told to sit down, with my hands now tied behind my back, and to open my legs.” They then sat the men one in front of the other, all in the same position. Except for Mr Abu Rukbeh.

“They tossed him on board. As if to intentionally make him suffer.”

“The humiliation. The swearing. The beatings. I was beaten on my head with the back of a Kalashnikov,” he says.

Mr Abu Rukbeh had stones thrown at him and was “screaming in agony”.

The others were also beaten. Mr Salah's account is similar to others told by detainees captured in Israel's war on Gaza where more than 21,800 people have been killed.

In total, eight people who were with Mr Salah, including Mr Abu Rukbeh, were taken into Israeli custody. Mr Salah has not heard from the others since December 22.

An Israeli army representative told The National that “individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist activity undergo field interrogations” in Gaza.

“Relevant suspects are detained and taken for further questioning,” the representative said, adding that those found “not to be taking part in terrorist activities” are released.

The official said that it is “necessary” for “suspects” to “hand over their clothes so that their clothes can be searched and to ensure that they are not concealing explosive vests or other weaponry”.

The official confirmed Mr Abu Rukbeh was apprehended “on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities,” adding that the Israeli army is “not familiar” with reports of security forces beating him with stones.

Mr Abu Rubkeh has received medical treatment from Israel, the representative said.

Back in Gaza, Mr Salah still has the wounds. He said his life was in danger, and so he reluctantly left his team to head to a relatively safer location in the south.

“It was one of the hardest things I've had to do.”

Although now in Rafah, Mr Salah's heart remains with his colleagues – those detained and those continuing to work in the north.

“We will never be OK after this. Gaza is uninhabitable. Psychologically and physically. Nobody is OK.”

Updated: January 02, 2024, 12:52 PM