Thousands of workers from Gaza who were in Israel on work permits have been unaccounted for since Israel began its current siege of Gaza on October 7, with their families fearing that the workers have been detained by Israeli forces.
Roughly 4,500 Palestinian workers who were working in Israel are feared missing, Palestinian Minister of Labor Nasri Abu Jaish told The Independent. One union leader told U.K.-based Tribune that there are 5,000 workers missing. Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories (COGAT) revoked work permits from Gazans on October 10. There are over 18,000 Gazans on Israel work permits in total, experts say.
Trade unions and human rights groups believe that some of the missing workers are being illegally detained in camps in undisclosed locations in the occupied West Bank. Some workers have been released and have reported that they were indeed kidnapped and detained by Israeli forces — and faced horrific conditions while they were.
One worker, who remained anonymous due to fear of reprisal, said that he was kept in a roofless “cage” that was exposed to the sun, according to testimony to an Israeli-based human rights organization, HaMoked, that was reported by Al Jazeera.
“Walid” was given no water, food or toilet access for three days, after which he was moved to a 300 square meter camp in which hundreds of fellow day laborers were forced to share one toilet. He was beaten and cursed at by Israeli guards when he asked to contact the Red Cross.
“Walid” was only released when Israeli guards were able to determine that he wasn’t from Gaza, as they previously believed, but from the West Bank. He said one officer at the camp said that they would be held at least until Hamas releases the roughly 220 Israeli hostages it took on October 7.
Jaish said that the imprisoned workers are being tortured. “They’re beaten and scarves are tied around their eyes so they don’t know where they are. Many of them are sick and they don’t give them medicine. They don’t give them water or food. They’re in open-air camps and aren’t allowed to speak to each other,” Jaish told The Independent. “We’re told one person was killed as he tried to fight a soldier. They broke one worker’s jaw, another one his leg, another one his hands. I’ve met them in hospital.”
Another worker, a cleaner in his 60s, told The Independent that he and his coworkers were bused to undisclosed locations while blindfolded and with their hands and feet tied after the work visas were revoked. “I wanted to die. I’ve been working here for years and always get tips. I’ve never done anything wrong and I’ve never been involved in anything political,” he says. “They kept calling us ‘Hamas’ and ‘terrorists’. It was absolutely humiliating.”
He added that they were kept in a dark room, beaten, and refused food, water and medication. “All my kids and grandkids in Gaza depend on me, there are 23 people in my family that depend on me. Now I have no home, no job and no money. How am I supposed to live anymore? It’s unbearable.”
HaMoked said that they have received hundreds of calls from families who can’t locate their loved ones who had permits to work in Israel, but are unable to help as Israeli officials refuse to provide information about where the workers are detained. Human rights organizations have said that the detaining of the workers is unprecedented, illegal under international law and a “prohibited act of vengeance,” five Israel-based organizations wrote in a letter on October 12.
Overall, Israel is detaining roughly 10,000 Palestinian prisoners, up from about 5,200 before October 7. “We don’t know where our parents and families are — don’t know if we’ll see them again,” one worker, using the pseudonym Saleh, told Jewish Currents. Saleh is from Gaza and normally works in Jaffa, but had his permit revoked. “I have daughters and sons there. Please God, let me go [to Gaza] so I can die with them — so we can die together.”
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