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Two Gazan Laborers Die in Israeli Custody, Army Fails to Open Investigation

The workers were being held at two different military camps, together with thousands of others whose permits to work in Israel were cancelled when the war began; one had requested medical assistance; the army did not report the deaths.

A laborer who had been detained in Israel is reunited with his family in the Gaza Strip on Friday. [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa | Reuters]

Two laborers from the Gaza Strip died while being held at military bases in the West Bank that had been housing thousands of Gazans whose Israeli work permits were revoked when the war in Gaza began last month. While the deaths of prisoners and detainees are usually reported, the army did not issue a notice of the deaths in the three weeks that have elapsed since the death of one of them at the Anatot base.

According to a source, soon before he died, the man warned that he needed medical treatment. The other laborer who died was held at the Ofer base. Military police did not launch an investigation, but the Israel Defense Forces said that the circumstances of the two men’s deaths were being examined. The IDF is still holding the bodies of the two men.

Since the outbreak of the war on October 7, the IDF had detained thousands of Gazan laborers with permits to work in Israel. The permits were revoked after Hamas’ massacres in the south of Israel that day, and laborers were rounded up and held at Anatot and Ofer without being brought before a judge or labeled as suspects. Most returned to the Gaza Strip this past Friday through the Kerem Shalom crossing following a security cabinet resolution, but Israel is still holding some of them for further questioning.

The detainees were held in harsh conditions. As Haaretz previously reported, when the war began, the Justice Ministry told defense officials that they were concerned about the conditions at the Anatot facility.

Generally, the Israel Prison Service issues a press release and launches an automatic investigation when detainees or prisoners die. However, the facility at Anatot is run not by the prison service but by the IDF. Its conversion into a mass detention facility was hasty and lacked the necessary adjustments to infrastructure. The IDF’s failure to announce the deaths, admitting them only in response to Haaretz’s query, and the lack of a formal military police investigation both stand out and raise questions about authorities’ conduct at the sites.

According to accounts given to Haaretz, the laborers detained at Anatot slept on basic mats laid on the floor in cage-like facilities and, upon their arrival, had to stand in the sun for hours, handcuffed and blindfolded before being taken in for Shin Bet security agency interrogation. They were also given substandard food, which in the initial days mainly consisted of tuna, according to these accounts. Military doctors were brought to the facility later.

During their three-week stay at the facility, according to accounts, the detainees were given no change of clothes. The Red Cross did not visit the facility during their detention and announced last Tuesday that it was “highly troubled” by its inability to assess the detainees’ conditions and treatment in the West Bank.

Laborers who had been held at the facility said they were not told where they were and were unaware that they were at Anatot. On Friday, they were taken to the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza by bus to be released. They were not given their phones, ID cards or cash.

“They dumped us [at the crossing] like dogs and told us to walk,” one of them told Palestinian press.

Other laborers added that they hadn’t spoken with their families since being detained. One who spoke with Haaretz two weeks ago said the laborers had been driven to Anatot with their wrists and ankles cuffed. He said that upon arrival at the base, soldiers replaced the handcuffs on their wrists with plastic zip ties, freed their legs and blindfolded them.

They were held that way in the sun for two days, he said, “with no water, no food or bed – and if you ask for something, they tell you, ‘Shut up, you son of a bitch.’ I’ve never seen such behavior in my life.”

Gazan laborers on their way back to Gaza on Friday. [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa | Reuters]

After two days, he said, the detainees were uncuffed, their blindfolds were removed, and they were moved to a structure similar to a cage or a chicken coop measuring about 300 square meters (3,200 square feet). He estimates that around 100 slept there. The compound had a chemical toilet, and the detainees were given three meals a day, mostly bread with a bit of tuna and tomato, he reported. In addition, he said, the detainees were given five cigarettes a day each.

Eventually, the man added, “there was someone who wanted to contact the Red Cross, and they beat him.” He also described one of the officers who entered the compound telling the detainees: “Don’t think that you’re going home. You will go back when our hostages are returned,” a reference to the roughly 240 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7.

He further reported that he suffered violence and intimidation in his interrogation by the Shin Bet. “From the chicken coop, they took me to the interrogation with beatings and filthy talk, and one of them said to the other, ‘We’ll put a bullet in his head.’ I saw in my mind’s eye [how] I would die,” he stated.

In its response for this article, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said: “Two Gaza residents died while being held at detention facilities in the center of the country. The circumstances of their deaths are being examined.” As for the claim that it hadn’t returned personal effects, the IDF said that “the laborers were sent back per the decision of the political echelon.”


(c)2023, Haaretz


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