Groups supporting Palestinian political prisoners are demanding that the International Committee of the Red Cross intervene on behalf of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank who are now incarcerated by Israeli occupation forces.
The call for action follows the deaths of two recently arrested Palestinian men, and it also comes in response to allegations from advocates for political prisoners of arbitrary detention, retaliatory beatings, medical neglect, solitary confinement, and other forms of abuse.
While Israel has long been accused of abusing and torturing Palestinian prisoners while targeting activists and peaceful members of civil society for arrest, the number of Palestinians caged in Israel’s sprawling network of prisons and detention camps has nearly doubled since Israel began its bloody bombing campaign of Gaza in retaliation for the October 7 cross-border attack by Hamas and other militants.
Qaddoura Fares, director of the Palestine Prisoners’ Authority, says prisoners’ rights groups were initially hesitant to report abuses in Israeli prisons to the media for fear of further retaliation against those inside, but the “crimes committed against prisoners” must be revealed to the international community as Israel conducts a campaign of mass arrest and incarceration in the occupied territories.
“Prisoners are subjected to starvation and thirst, and they are prevented from accessing and obtaining medicine, specifically medicines for male and female prisoners suffering from chronic diseases that require and need regular medication,” Fares said in a press conference this week. “Secondly, the matter developed further when the prison administration cut off water and electricity to the prisoners.”
Hamas has claimed its militants took about 200 people hostage on October 7 in order to negotiate for the release of thousands of Palestinians who are considered political prisoners of the Israeli occupation and, in many cases, held without charges or a trial under what Israel calls “administrative detention.” So far, Hamas has released four hostages back to Israel: two American women and two elderly Israeli women.
Meanwhile, Israeli jails, prisons and detention camps are filling with Palestinians. Before October 7, there were about 5,200 Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel, but in two weeks, that number has exceeded 10,000 as Israel conducts a campaign of mass arrests across the occupied territories, according to Palestinian officials and human rights groups.
As of October 19, more than 1,266 people have been arrested across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, often during deeply traumatizing Israeli army raids that tear apart families and leave homes ransacked, according to the Ramallah-based political prisoners’ right goup Addameer. That number has likely grown as Palestinians continue to protest in the streets and resist brutal reprisal attacks by right-wing Israeli settlers that have claimed over 100 Palestinian lives in the West Bank.
Among those arrested in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are at least 18 children, 32 women, multiple former prisoners, 14 journalists and three members of the Palestinian Authority’s legislative council, Addameer reports. The group says attorneys face “significant difficulties” contacting and monitoring political prisoners as they are shuffled between different Israeli facilities, and the military courts that would hear their cases remain closed.
“Arrests are taking place 24 hours a day,” said Addameer General Director Sahar Francis in an interview with Al Jazeera.
An estimated 4,000 Gazans who had special passes to work in Israel are now detained in camps on military bases after Israel closed border crossings and laid siege to Gaza. Other Gazans were likely arrested as Israeli forces responded to the October 7 Hamas assault. Many of these detainees are separated from their families in Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 6,500 people and injured more than 17,000, according to Palestinian health officials.
Fares said the “tendency for revenge alone” is driving Israeli jailers to take advantage of the chaos and anger in Palestine and Israel to subject both male and female prisoners to physical abuse. He described the Negev desert prison camp, where prisoners were reportedly humiliated with a group strip search as “exactly like” the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where U.S. soldiers infamously tortured Iraqis back in 2004.
“The most dangerous thing is that over the past few days, physical attacks have been repeated, even using sticks to beat the prisoners. Many of the prisoners had their limbs, hands and legs broken,” Fares told reporters in Arabic, which has been translated. “Some of the prisoners returned and [we] did not recognize their faces due to the bruises from the brutal assaults.”
Earlier this week, 25-year-old Arafat Yasser Hamdan died only two days after being arrested and jailed in Israel’s Ofer Detention Center. Israeli authorities claimed Hamdan died in a medical clinic after falling ill, but prisoners’ rights groups say he was likely under torturous interrogation, and his father told Al Jazeera that Hamdan had a medical condition that requires regular meals and may have died from neglect.
Only 24 hours earlier, Palestinians learned about the death of Omar Hamza Daraghmeh, 58, who was arrested on October 9 for alleged connections to Hamas. Reports indicate Daraghmeh died under unclear circumstances, but like Hamdan, Palestinian activists reject Israel’s narrative that Daraghmeh died of natural causes.
A coalition of human rights groups and supporters of Palestinian political prisoners wrote to the International Committee of the Red Cross this week and pleaded for assistance with interrupting the dire conditions within Israeli jails and prisons. If the Red Cross is unable to perform its duties due to the Israeli occupation and wartime restrictions, the groups said, its leaders should announce publicly that Israel is preventing humanitarian assistance and condemn the imprisonment of civilians for political reasons.
The International Committee of the Red Cross did not respond to a request for comment by the time this article was published.
“From our monitoring of the development of events inside the prisons and the attacks, we have become convinced that they may attack the prisoners through assassination and physical [abuse],” said Fares.
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