1707290786 A reporter from Gaza recounts his captivity in Israel The

A reporter from Gaza recounts his captivity in Israel: “The worst 33 days of my life”

A reporter from Gaza recounts his captivity in Israel The

On December 7, the gates of hell opened for Diaa al Kahlout, a 38-year-old Palestinian journalist. This morning he was arrested in Beit Lahia (in the north of the Gaza Strip) by the Israeli occupation forces, along with several dozen men in a campaign that, as they have repeated since the war began on October 7, is leading to the end of Hamas. They were forced to remain in their underwear in the middle of the street, as shown in images taken by the military that were widely criticized around the world. In it you can see Al Kahlout himself sitting on the floor with more than a hundred prisoners.

It was the beginning of more than a month of imprisonment in Israeli territory between torture, interrogations and humiliations, which ended with his release and his return to Gaza on January 9 without charges or accusations, according to the story that he himself told this newspaper by phone calls and news. “These were the worst 33 days of my entire life,” he said last week from the tent he shares with other displaced people in Rafah, on the border with Egypt. He fears that Israeli military operations will reach the southern end of the Gaza Strip, where hundreds of thousands of displaced people like him are gathering.

“About 150 Israeli soldiers and officers arrived in Beit Lahia and took us out of my father's house along with several neighbors and relatives. Afterwards, they gathered us together and asked us to take off our clothes except our underwear. They tied us up, put us in military trucks and transported us to the Zikim military base. [primera playa de Israel, al norte de la Franja]“ explains the reporter, head of the Gaza delegation of the newspaper Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed (a pan-Arab media based in London and owned by the Qatari company Fadaat Media). According to him, he was interrogated for the first time in the Gaza Strip by what he believed to be an agent of the Shin Bet (Israeli's domestic intelligence agency), who asked him whether he was part of Hamas. “I denied it and told him I was a journalist. From then on, the investigation focused on my reports, my journalistic relationships and my sources. Then they beat me and threw me to the ground. I ended up with a mouth full of sand.” When he expressed his grievances and insisted they had nothing to do with the combatants, he claims they gagged him with duct tape to prevent him from speaking. “They made fun of me and said in English: 'journalist' [periodista]”, Add.

After a few hours in this area of ​​Zikim, the group of detainees, including Al Kahlout, were transferred to a military prison, a facility not dependent on the prison system and which, according to the reporter's estimates, is located in the desert of the Negev, east of Gaza . “During the transfer I was attacked and beaten; The handcuffs hurt my hands and the blindfolds hurt my eyes. When we arrived they took us to a brick room. We sleep on a mat and only with a blanket,” he explains. He highlights the harsh conditions in which the military held them: “We were blindfolded and handcuffed throughout our detention; we were not allowed to talk to other prisoners; They threatened us with death; They accused us of belonging to Hamas and said we should die. “They punish us by making us kneel for hours.”

The next interrogation, which he describes as “normal,” took place on the ninth day, with personal questions about his profession or his whereabouts on October 7, when the war began, after the massacre of around 1,200 people in Israel organized by Hamas. . The journalist remembers that they took him away again on December 25th. “They started stripping me of my clothes, searching me and hanging me by my hands while beating and insulting me.” He believes he was once again in the hands of the Shin Bet.

The food, he says, was limited to two slices of bread with some cheese for breakfast and dinner and two more slices with some tuna for lunch. Sometimes they had to take turns going to the toilet for up to an hour. Al Kahlout complains that at no time during his imprisonment was he allowed to communicate with his family or his lawyer. He bitterly remembers the insults he suffered because he could not bear being on his knees for up to 16 hours a day. His release came with a sad surprise. His father-in-law was killed in a bomb attack on December 13th, and his father, wife and one of his children were also injured.

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On December 20, Amnesty International condemned the “inhumane and degrading treatment” of the group detained in Beit Lahia before they all disappeared as their whereabouts were never revealed. Shortly before, the Israeli NGO Physicians for Human Rights reported the deaths of six Palestinians who were in Israeli custody at various locations. On December 16, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had already sounded the alarm after receiving “numerous disturbing reports from the northern Gaza Strip of mass arrests, ill-treatment and enforced disappearances of possibly thousands of Palestinian men and boys” and several women and girls by the Israeli forces .” Israeli authorities justified the arrests in Beit Lahia and other enclaves in the northern strip by saying that these people had failed to follow orders to leave what they believed to be a Hamas stronghold.

When asked about Al Kahlout's case, an Israeli military spokesman said: “As part of the army's activities in the combat zone, people suspected of being involved in terrorist activities are arrested and interrogated. Persons who do not participate in terrorist activities will be released.” These detainees will be treated “in accordance with international law,” he adds. “It is often necessary for terrorist suspects to give up their clothing so that it can be searched and to ensure that they are not hiding explosive vests or other weapons,” comments the same source, without commenting on the reporter’s allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

Since his release, Diaa al Kahlout – married and father of five children, one of whom has cerebral palsy – has been living separately from his family in Rafah (southern Gaza Strip), who are at the other end of this area and have no way of moving around. War. The family left their home after receiving a threatening call from the Israeli army on October 8, in the first hours of the military response that has already left nearly 27,000 dead in Gaza, about 70% women and minors. The family then had to move to the reporter's father's house in Beit Lahia. The seven settled into the same room while Al Kahlout continued to talk about the war and send texts to the newspaper's offices in Doha and London.

“Our life was good before October 7th. We lived in a beautiful house in the Karama neighborhood in northwest Gaza. We also had a car and my children studied in private schools. He educated them and they learned English so that they could find a better future. “The house and the vehicle were destroyed by the army,” he laments.

Separated from his family, Diaa al Kahlout is trying to resume Rafah's journalistic work these days, amid constant pain and nightmares that sometimes prevent him from falling asleep. Consequences of weeks of imprisonment; like the 20 kilos of weight he lost. “That was the best thing about prison,” he jokes from the tent that serves as his home and office, in an area where, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ, in English), from October 7, 2023 until As of January 31, 78 Palestinian reporters have died in the deadliest conflict for reporters in modern times. Despite everything, Diaa al Kahlout is clear: “I never thought about quitting my job. I'm a professional journalist and all I care about is people's suffering. “My children have asked me to leave Gaza and seriously consider emigrating because they don’t want to lose me again.”

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