Palestinian women detained by Israel claim they were ill treated in.com2Fd42F1d2F82172b48b5d0243ea32fb11164dc2F15fff6301009452684e64b0d94fb7ccb

Palestinian women detained by Israel claim they were ill-treated in Israeli custody

JERUSALEM (AP) — Nabela considered the United Nations school in Gaza City a safe haven. Then the Israeli army arrived.

Soldiers stormed the site, ordered men to take off their clothes and dragged women to a mosque for strip searches, she said. So began six weeks in Israeli custody, which she said included repeated beatings and interrogations.

“The soldiers were very harsh, they beat us and shouted at us in Hebrew,” said the 39-year-old from Gaza City, who spoke on condition that her last name not be used for fear of being arrested again. “If we raised our heads or said anything, they hit us on the head.”

Palestinians held by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip during the Israel-Hamas war report widespread physical abuse and neglect. It is not known how many women or minors were arrested.

Nabela said she was shuttled between facilities within Israel in a group of female students before arriving at Damon Prison in the north, where she estimated there were at least 100 women.

Human rights groups say Israel “disappears” Palestinians in the Gaza Strip – detaining them without charge or trial and not telling their family members or lawyers where they are being held. The Israel Prison Service says that “all necessary basic rights are fully implemented by professionally trained prison guards.”

Israel declared war after Hamas-led militants killed about 1,200 people and took about 250 others hostage on October 7.

Since then, ground forces have detained hundreds of Palestinians to search for suspected militants and gather intelligence. Images of blindfolded men kneeling, heads bowed and hands bound have sparked global outrage. In the northern Gaza Strip and the southern city of Khan Younis, troops simultaneously arrested dozens of UN schools and hospitals, including medical staff.

The military said it forces detainees to strip to search for explosives and takes detainees to Israel before releasing them back to Gaza if they are found innocent.

For Nabela, this process took 47 harrowing days.

Despite Israeli evacuation orders, Nabela and her family had decided not to leave Gaza City because they believed nowhere in Gaza was safe. On December 24, troops entered the school where they sought shelter.

“I was terrified when I imagined they were going to execute us and bury us there,” she said.

Emergency services separated Nabela from her 13-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son and loaded them onto a truck that was headed to a facility in southern Israel. According to the Israeli group Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI), all detainees in Gaza are first taken to the Sde Teiman military base.

“We were freezing and had to kneel on the ground,” Nabela told The Associated Press from a school hostel in Rafah, where she is housed with other recently released female detainees. “Loud music, shouting and intimidation – they wanted to humiliate us. We were handcuffed, blindfolded and had our feet bound in chains.”

Nabela was moved between several prisons and said she was subjected to repeated strip searches and interrogations at gunpoint.

When asked about her connection to Hamas and her knowledge of the militants' extensive underground tunnel network, she maintained her innocence, telling interrogators that she was a housewife and that her husband worked for Hamas's rival, the Palestinian Authority.


A Gazan detainee, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of further arrest, told the AP that Israeli forces ordered her to kiss an Israeli flag during a medical examination before she was transferred to Damon Prison. When she refused, a soldier grabbed her hair and slammed her face into a wall, she said.

In a PHRI report, former Gazan detainees alleged that they suffered similar ill-treatment.

One, whose name was redacted, said he was peed on by guards at Ketziot Prison in southern Israel and witnessed strip searches in which guards forced naked prisoners to stand close together and inserted search devices into their buttocks.

PHRI described Israel's prisons, which also house Palestinians from the West Bank and East Jerusalem held on security-related charges, as “an apparatus of retaliation and revenge.” It claimed that the prison service and military were given “free rein to act as they see fit”.

At the start of the war, prisons went into “lockdown mode,” confining inmates to their cells for two weeks, the report said. Due to wartime emergency measures, the Israeli parliament suspended normal cell capacity requirements in October. Since then, prisoners have been sleeping on mattresses in overcrowded cells.

Telephone privileges have been completely suspended, the report said. In some facilities, security wings were cut off from electricity and water, leaving inmates in darkness for most of the day and making showers and sinks unusable.

During eight days in an undisclosed facility in southern Israel, Nabela said she did not shower and had no access to menstrual pads or toiletries. Food was scarce. At one point, Nabela said, guards threw away inmates' meals and told them to eat off the floor.

The military said each detainee received clothing, blankets and a mattress. It denied that cells were overcrowded and said detainees had adequate access to toilets, food, water and medical care.

“The violent and hostile treatment of detainees described in the allegations is prohibited,” the military said in response to an AP request for comment. “Cases of inappropriate behavior will be dealt with.”

Questions about the Ketziot and Damon prisons were referred to the Israel Prisons Service, which did not comment on the allegations, saying only that it was not involved in the arrests and interrogations of Palestinians from Gaza.


Nabela said she never spoke to a lawyer or a judge.

Due to a wartime change in Israeli law, all Gazan detainees can be held without charge or trial for 45 days.

They are referred to as “unlawful combatants” and do not enjoy the same protections as prisoners of war under international law. According to PHRI, their appearance in court may be delayed and access to a lawyer may be withdrawn. Israeli human rights group HaMoked said 600 Gazans were being held as illegal combatants in Israeli prisons and even more could be held in military facilities.

Palestinian detainees told PHRI that adequate medical care was rare, even for those requiring insulin or chemotherapy treatments.

An official document obtained by the AP outlining operations at the Sde Teiman military medical facility said illegal combatants were handcuffed and blindfolded.

The names of the medical staff remained anonymous “to ensure the safety, well-being and lives of the caregivers,” it said. Patient consent was not required for medical procedures and it was said that confidential medical information could be shared with prison staff.

The military said the detainees were handcuffed “in accordance with their assessment of the level of risk and their state of health.” Israel's Health Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Eleven Palestinian prisoners have died in Israeli custody since October 7, according to the advocacy group Palestinian Prisoners Club, and the most recent case occurred just this week. At least five suffered from chronic health problems, raising concerns that they died due to medical neglect, according to PHRI.

The Israeli military said it was investigating the deaths.


Nabela's fortunes improved when she arrived at Damon's home. There she met Palestinian women who were imprisoned in the West Bank.

She said the women were nice. It had electricity and hot showers. Her interrogator wondered aloud why Nabela was being arrested.

A month and a half after her arrest, a prison administrator announced that Nabela would be released along with about 20 other women. Israeli buses took them to a Gaza border crossing, where they made their way to U.N. shelters in the southern city of Rafah, which are full of displaced Palestinians. She cannot travel to Gaza City, where her family lives.

Nabela remembered one of her last interrogations with a hurt face. She had started crying and her interrogator told her:

“Don’t cry about it. Life is better here than in Gaza.”