Dubai-based Gaza artist Hazem Harb devastated after father's detention by Israeli forces

Relatives say they have been told that Mr Harb's 70-year-old father is being tortured while in custody

Hazem Harb and his father, who was detained by Israeli forces in Gaza last week. Photo: @hazemharb / Instagram
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A Dubai-based Palestinian artist has spoken of his grief after being told by relatives in Gaza that his father, a 70-year-old heart patient, was detained by Israeli forces and is being tortured in detention.

Hazem Harb said the news of his father, Riad Harb, was relayed to his uncle's wife by a teenager who had also been held by Israeli troops.

Hazem's family has not heard from his father since he was taken from his home in Al Rimal district of Gaza city on February 2.

“He said Riad was very, very tired,” the aunt, Ghadeer Harb, tells Hazem in a recording of their phone conversation played to The National.

“At some point he said he thought Riad had died. They hit him on the head,” she adds.

Ms Harb met the 17-year-old former detainee at Al Nasser hospital, in the south of Gaza.

“I don't understand why they would take him,” Hazem told The National.

“He is weak, needs constant care and would collapse without regular intake of salt. He can barely walk.”

The Israeli army did not respond to The National’s request for comment on the elderly Mr Harb's whereabouts, or why he was detained.

Hazem said his father was detained after Israeli troops stormed the building he was living in with other family members.

The artist's sister, Huda, witnessed the assault by soldiers, but was not told where he was taken.

Hazem had been issuing pleas on social media for news of his father, who he last saw in September when he travelled to Gaza to be with him during a heart operation.

He said his sister was visiting with her family to check on their father when soldiers entered the building and began firing shots.

One of the bullets ricocheted and wounded their father.

“They placed explosives on the building walls,” Hazem said, recounting what his sister told him in a phone call soon after the incident.

The soldiers began entering flats in the building and ordered all residents outside, before separating the women from the men.

The males, including Hazem's father, brother, brother-in-law and nephews, were all stripped and arrested, he said.

Some were later released, including one of Hazem's six family members who were detained.

He said his nephew Mohammad, 16, had become “effectively a mute” because of trauma.

Hazem said his agony over his family's ordeal, amid Israel's war in Gaza that has claimed about 28,000 lives in a little over four months, has only been compounded by seeing one of his three sisters and a niece speaking about their plight in videos posted on news outlets.

In one video Huda, who fled to the southern city of Rafah, speaks to Al Jazeera about being targeted by Israeli strikes. Her daughter spoke to The National about the same ordeal.

Hazem described the difference between what he saw during his last visit to Gaza and his family's situation today as “surreal”.

At the time his sister, who now lives in a tent among more than a million displaced Gazans in Rafah, had cooked the famous Palestinian dish maqluba for him in a beautiful home on Gaza city's corniche, he said.

The artist said he enjoyed living there, even though most of his time was spent at the city's main Al Shifa hospital, now destroyed by the war, while his father underwent open-heart surgery.

“I took 11,000 photos,” he said.

“It was almost as if I was saying goodbye.”

Updated: February 10, 2024, 4:13 PM