UNRWA: Israeli army forced staff to confess ties to Hamas using torture

A report published by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees includes accounts by its staff members who were detained in Israel of being threatened and coerced to make false confessions that agency staffers took part in the October 7 Hamas attacks

The damaged Gaza City headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), in February 2024

Hagar Shezaf reports in Haaretz on 17 April 2024:

UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, accused Israeli security forces of using torture to extract false confessions from its employees about their ties to Hamas.

A report published by the agency Tuesday includes accounts by detainees working for the agency of abuse that included beatings by interrogators and doctors working with the military, as well as attacks by dogs and threats of rape and murder.

According to UNRWA, over 1,506 detainees from the Gaza Strip have been released from IDF custody after being interrogated, including 23 UNRWA staff and 16 family members of UNRWA staff.

In recent months, Israel has claimed that at least 30 UNRWA employees participated in the October 7 Hamas attack. In the wake of the accusations, some 20 countries and institutions suspended funding to the agency, but some of them have since resumed their support.  According to the report, UNRWA staff members detained by Israel were pressured to confess that agency staffers took part in the October 7 attacks. The abuse, which involved threats and coercion, included “treatment akin to waterboarding,” according to the report.

According to data in the report, among the detainees who were released through the Kerem Shalom crossing into the Gaza Strip, without facing prosecution, were 43 minors and 84 women. According to the agency, they were interrogated several times prior to their release from Shin Bet custody.

Detainees described having all items in their possession at the time of their arrest confiscated, including identification documents and money. According to data obtained by Haaretz, 27 Gazan detainees have died in military facilities in Israel since the start of the war. It is not known, however, how many of them were suffering from health problems or from injuries due to the war before their arrest.

Most of the Gazans arrested by Israel are detained under the Unlawful Combatants Law, which permits the detention without trial of anyone who participated in hostile activity who is not classified by Israel as a prisoner of war.

In December, the cabinet approved an amendment to the law that degrades the conditions in which detainees may be held, and allows detainees suspected of involvement in terrorism to be held for 75 days without being brought before a judge.

In a report published by the UN refugee agency last month, it was claimed that Gazan detainees, of whom at least 1,000 civilians were released, were held in three military detention facilities in Israel, where they were beaten, robbed, stripped, sexually assaulted, blindfolded and denied access to doctors and lawyers, sometimes for more than a month.

The IDF submitted the following response: “We cannot respond to the testimonies mentioned in the report individually without the full details of the detainees and verification that they were held in IDF detention facilities.  During the fighting in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians suspected of terrorist activity are detained. The relevant suspects are taken for further detention and questioning in Israeli territory. Those who appear not to be involved in terrorist activity are released back to the Gaza Strip.  The interrogations are carried out in accordance with Israeli and international law while protecting the rights of detainees held in detention and interrogation facilities.  Inappropriate behavior towards detainees in detention and interrogation contravenes IDF orders and values. Any allegation of misconduct by IDF soldiers is investigated and dealt with accordingly. In appropriate cases, investigations are opened by the Military Police’s Investigations Unit when there is a suspicion of inappropriate behavior.

The IDF rejects claims that it coerces detainees into giving false confessions. In addition, the IDF rejects allegations of systematic and deliberate abuse of detainees, including sexual abuse, in the detention and interrogation facilities under its responsibility. Allegations of sexual abuse are intended to create a false comparison to the systematic and cruel rapes committed by Hamas. It should be emphasized that so far not a single complaint has been submitted regarding sexual abuse of detainees by IDF soldiers, and as stated, the allegations cannot be clarified without providing the detainees’ identifying details.”

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