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Scarred for life: Testimonies of Palestinians sexually abused and tortured in Israeli jails

By Humaira Ahad

“They ordered all of us, men and women, to take off our clothes and continue walking, instructing us to look only forward,” reads the harrowing testimony of a Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail.

“I was walking naked between the tanks, not even wearing underwear. An Israeli soldier spit in my face. I forced myself not to react, knowing they would break every bone in my body if I did.”

The testimony of a Palestinian prisoner from the Gaza Strip revealed in a recent report by the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry, exposes the horrendous abuse of Palestinians – both men and women – languishing in Israeli jails.

Several instances of sexual abuse were recorded in the report, including Israeli forces publicly stripping Palestinian women of their veils and clothes, subjecting them to sexual harassment in full view of their male relatives and close family members.

The UN body stated that the Israeli genocidal war against Palestinians in the besieged coastal territory has now taken the form of sexual violence intended to degrade and humiliate them.

Sexist and degrading graffiti has been painted on various sites in Gaza. Palestinians have been forced to perform humiliating acts in their undergarments.

“With regards to the orders to remove veils, the women’s choice is between shame and abuse, possibly death,” said a Palestinian woman working with an NGO that provides psychosocial support to women in Gaza.

“Being forced to remove your veil has a deep psychological impact on women, compounded by loss and grief from a war unlike anything they have seen before.”

Various instances of sexual abuse and harassment of women on Salah al-Din Street, the main highway in Gaza City, are detailed in the report.

“Multiple accounts of women being subjected to sexual violence and abuse when evacuating and stopped at a checkpoint on Salah al-Din Street between October 22 and December 28, 2023,” said a women’s rights defender from Gaza.

“This included being stripped down to their underwear by male soldiers in public and subjected to soldiers touching their bodies.”

Palestinian men were mocked and harassed for not being able to protect the women from sexual abuse. According to the report, there have been cases of mistreatment of even pregnant Palestinian women.

“At a makeshift checkpoint, women, men, girls, and boys were all asked to undress at gunpoint, create a ball with their clothes, and throw their clothes to the Israeli forces,” said the UN commission report.

“They were told to hold their identity documents high in the air and continue walking while undressed. The men were completely naked while walking and the women were in their underwear.”

Injected with unknown substances

“I was beaten and subjected to electric shocks because I refused to be injected with an unknown substance,” Samir Abdullah, a 23-year-old resident of Gaza who was imprisoned by Israeli forces, revealed, according to the Geneva-based human rights group Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.

“I saw people suffer from serious health declines; some even got sick and were not given medical care. Some inmates were also given unknown injections by the army.”

Abdullah, recently freed from an Israeli prison, said he was subjected to electric shocks.

“I was given electric shocks by one of the officers for exceeding the allotted time in the toilet. The effects are still visible on my body. You would be exposed to electricity if you spent more than four minutes in the toilet.”

The young Palestinian man was also attacked by dogs, kept in solitary confinement, and denied food for almost two weeks.

Releasing shocking statements from Palestinians detained in Gaza, the Geneva-based human rights organization pointed to an escalation of abuse and torture by the regime against Palestinians.

“This abuse has escalated to such an extent that, for the victims fortunate enough to survive, it now includes sexual violence, forced injections with unknown substances, and deliberate scarring and marking of their bodies,” Euro-Med Monitor reported.

In one incident, the Israeli army opened fire on Palestinian prisoners released from the Zikim area in northern Gaza on June 11. The detainees were forced to run hundreds of meters to return to their residential areas.

“Due to exhaustion, they arrived in deplorable condition, exacerbating existing health issues developed while being tortured and abused during their detention.”

Following the incident, 33 Palestinian detainees were admitted to Kamal Adwan Hospital in Beit Lahia, north of the Gaza Strip.

Torturing elderly Palestinians

The apartheid regime has not spared even the elderly. Israeli forces have imprisoned hundreds of elderly people. A 65-year-old Palestinian man said he was arrested from his home in the Jabalia refugee camp, subjected to torture, and imprisoned in appalling conditions.

“The Israeli army stormed Jabalia Camp last month. They forced us all out and took us somewhere unknown on May 21, 2024. We were blindfolded from the start and had no idea where we were going,” the 65-year-old man was quoted as saying.

Recovering from the trauma, the man noted that they were detained for about 20 days, which seemed like 20 years.

“There was daily abuse, beatings, and humiliation. As bedtime approached, doors would rattle and ominous music would blast from speakers. Food was so scarce that one could barely get a loaf of bread and some cheese. Using the restroom was a difficult and humiliating experience,” he said.

“They did not consider that I was 65 years old, and I was not the oldest person there. There was someone over 70 years old. We were in what appeared to be ‘barracks.’ The occupation army was busy trying to deport many people arriving at this site, which seemed to be a detention center, to unknown locations.”

Former detainees recounted horrific details of the regime forces torturing a deaf and mute young man, forcing him to speak.

“In detention, there was a mute person. For many days, they would not stop beating and torturing him, demanding that he respond to verbal questions even though he was mute,” a freed detainee said.

UNRWA report revelations

Earlier, a leaked draft of a report by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) narrated similar accounts of torture and sexual abuse by Zionist regime forces.

Muhammad Al-Hamlawi, a 39-year-old senior nurse, recounted a horrific ordeal in which a female officer ordered two soldiers to lift him and press his rectum against a metal stick fixed to the ground.

The stick penetrated his rectum for roughly five seconds, causing it to bleed and leaving him in “unbearable pain.”

Al-Hamlawi also described being subjected to electric shocks while seated in a chair wired with electricity, causing him to stop urinating for several days.

A detainee “died after they put the electric stick up” his anus, the report said.

Palestinian prisoners described the dehumanizing conditions they were subjected to, including being blindfolded, handcuffed, and stripped naked except for their underwear.

The prisoners were crammed into military trucks and driven to the Sde Teiman detention camp, where they were held in open-sided hangars. They were forced to sit handcuffed for up to 18 hours a day.

Exhausted detainees who fell asleep were punished and beaten by the occupation forces.

Since October last year, out of the 4,000 detainees held at Sde Teiman detention camp, 35 have died, the New York Times recently reported.

Echoing the horrifying details narrated by Palestinian detainees to the Euro-Med Monitor, the UNRWA report also mentioned instances of physical torture with dogs and electricity, prisoners being subjected to mock executions, and being held in humiliating and degrading conditions.

“Methods of ill-treatment reported included physical beatings, forced stress positions for extended periods, threats of harm to detainees and their families, attacks by dogs, insults to personal dignity and humiliation such as being made to act like animals or getting urinated on, use of loud music and noises, deprivation of water, food, sleep and toilets, denial of the right to practice their religion, and prolonged use of tightly locked handcuffs causing open wounds and friction injuries.”

The report also included accounts of widespread sexual assault. Women detainees reported being groped while blindfolded, and some male prisoners said they were injured in the genitals.

One former prisoner described being handcuffed, blindfolded, and detained in a metal cage for 42 days. During interrogations, he said he was given electric shocks and set upon by army dogs that scratched and bit him.

“At an off-site location, several individuals reported being forced into cages and attacked by dogs, with some individuals, including a child, exhibiting dog bite wounds on release,” the UN body for Palestinians noted.

“The beatings included blunt force trauma to the head, shoulders, kidneys, neck, back, and legs with metal bars, gun butts, and boots, resulting in broken ribs, separated shoulders, and lasting injuries.”

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