Blindfolded Palestinian prisoners in Gaza

Stripped, blindfolded, and bound Palestinian civilians are taken prisoner and ordered into a line by Israeli occupation forces in Gaza in December 2023.

(Photo: Social media post by Israeli soldier)

Doctor at Israeli Detention Camp for Gazans Blows Whistle on War Crimes

"Just this week, two prisoners had their legs amputated due to handcuff injuries, which unfortunately is a routine event."

A doctor at an Israeli field hospital inside a notorious detention center where hundreds of Palestinian prisoners are temporarily held is sounding the alarm about torture and horrific conditions at what some human rights defenders—including Israelis—are calling "Israel's Guantánamo Bay" and even a "concentration camp."

In a letter to Israel's attorney general and defense and health ministers viewed byHaaretz—which reported the story Thursday—the anonymous physician describes likely war crimes being committed at the Israel Defense Forces' Sde Teiman base near Beersheva. Palestinian militants captured by IDF troops, as well as many civilian hostages ranging in age from teenagers to septuagenarians, are held there in cages, 70-100 per cage, until they are transferred to regular Israeli prisons or released.

"From the first days of the medical facility's operation until today, I have faced serious ethical dilemmas," the doctor wrote. "More than that, I am writing to warn you that the facility's operations do not comply with a single section among those dealing with health in the Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law."

Gazans arrested and detained by Israeli forces are not legally considered prisoners of war by Israel because it does not recognize Gaza as a state. These detainees are mostly held under the Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law, which allows the imprisonment of anyone suspected of taking part in hostilities against Israel for up to 75 days without seeing a judge.

Human Rights Watch has warned that the law "strips away meaningful judicial review and due process rights."

Sde Teiman detainees are fed through straws and forced to defecate in diapers. They're also forced to sleep with the lights on and have allegedly been subjected to beatings and torture. Other Palestinians taken by Israeli forces have described being electrocuted, mauled by dogs, soaked with cold water, denied food and water, deprived of sleep, and blasted with loud music at temporary detention sites.

The whistleblowing Sde Teiman physician said that all patients at the camp's field hospital are handcuffed by all four limbs, regardless of how dangerous they are deemed. In December, Israeli Health Ministry officials ordered such treatment after a medical worker at the facility was attacked. Now the camp's estimated 600-800 prisoners are shackled 24 hours a day.

At first, the cuffs were plastic zip ties. Now they're metal. The doctor said that more than half of his patients at the camp have suffered cuffing injuries, including some that have required "repeated surgical interventions."

"Just this week, two prisoners had their legs amputated due to handcuff injuries, which unfortunately is a routine event," he told Haaretz.

The whistleblower also alleged substandard medical care at the facility, where there is only one doctor on duty, who is sometimes a gynecologist or orthopedist.

"This ends in complications and sometimes even in the patient's death," he said. "This makes all of us—the medical teams and you, those in charge of us in the Health and Defense ministries, complicit in the violation of Israeli law, and perhaps worse for me as a doctor, in the violation of my basic commitment to patients, wherever they are, as I swore when I graduated 20 years ago."

The doctor claims in his letter that he warned the Health Ministry's director-general about the appalling conditions at Sde Teiman, but that there have been "no substantial changes in the way the facility operates."

An ethics committee visited the camp in February; the physician said that its members "are worried about their legal exposure and coverage in view of their involvement in a facility that is operated contrary to the provisions of the existing law."

Last month, Haaretzrevealed that 27 detainees have died in custody at the Sde Teiman and Anatot camps or during interrogation in Israel since October 7. While some were Hamas or other militants captured or wounded while fighting IDF troops, others were civilians, including some with preexisting health conditions like the diabetic laborer who was not suspected of any offense when he was arrested and sent to his death at Anatot.

One former Sde Teiman detainee claims that he personally witnessed Israeli troops execute five prisoners in separate incidents.

"Israel's indifference to the fate of Gazans, at best, and desire for revenge against them, at worst, are fertile ground for war crimes."

Responding to the 27 detainee deaths and invoking the U.S. military prison in Cuba known for torture and indefinite detention, the Haaretz editorial board wrote last month that "Sde Teiman and the other detention facilities are not Guantánamo Bay and... the state has a duty to protect the rights of detainees even if they are not formally prisoners of war."

"Israel's indifference to the fate of Gazans, at best, and desire for revenge against them, at worst, are fertile ground for war crimes," the editors said. "Indifference by Israelis and desire for revenge must not constitute license to shed the blood of detainees... The fact that Hamas is holding and abusing Israeli hostages cannot excuse or justify the abuse of Palestinian detainees."

In December, the Geneva-based advocacy group Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor—which has also accused IDF troops of allowing Israeli civilians to witness the torture of Palestinian prisoners—demanded an investigation of what it called the "new Guantánamo."

Israeli rights groups and individuals have also condemned the abuses at Sde Teiman, which, like Guantánamo, has been described as a "concentration camp."

"Enough, just enough. We have to stop this gallop into the abyss," urged Hebrew University senior lecturer Tamar Megiddo on Wednesday. "This war has to end. This government needs to end."

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