‘Graves for the Living’ – What We Known about Israel’s Secret Prisons for Gazans

Detainees from Gaza are held in secret locations inside Israel. (Photo: via Euro-Med Monitor)

By Fayha Shalash – Ramallah

Asma Suleiman has been living in a state of great anxiety since her father and brother were arrested by the Israeli army inside the Gaza Strip two months ago.

Families of prisoners live every day with anticipation and fear for their loved ones’ fate, especially in light of the numerous media reports and investigations about secret Israeli detention centers dedicated to Gaza prisoners, and the practice of the harshest forms of torture against them.

This makes their days even darker, amid the ongoing Israeli aggression, their forced displacement and the daily death toll which continues to rise.

Fears Coming True 

After the start of the aggression against the enclave on October 7, Asma’s family was forced to leave their home, which was later bombed and leveled to the ground.

The displacement journey was repeated several times. They lived in schools, which were completely unprepared to receive entire families, and in health clinics or medical centers, already full of wounded and martyrs.

The last destination of their desperate journey was the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. The medical compound served as a shelter for hundreds of families, mostly women and children.

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In early March, however, the Israeli army stormed the hospital a second time, four months after the first deadly raid. Israeli soldiers committed heinous crimes, including field executions of hundreds of displaced and sick people. 

Asma told The Palestine Chronicle that she was displaced with her husband’s family in the south of Gaza when she heard about the storming of Al-Shifa and the atrocities committed by Israeli soldiers there.

 “I immediately thought of my family, and I feared for the fate of my father and brother because the men would be arrested if they escaped being killed,” she said.

Indeed, her worst fears came true. 

Weeks after the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the medical compound, Asma learned from witnesses that her 65-year-old father and her 25-year-old brother had been arrested and taken to an unknown destination.

Are They Alive?

More than 60 days have passed since their illegal detention, but the family still knows nothing about their whereabouts or their fate. 

“Sometimes we are happy that the internet is not working, so we cannot receive bad news,” Asma said. “My mother is 63 years old and I fear for her when I hear any news related to the prisoners because she cries all the time for my father and brother.”

Israel does not allow any human rights institutions to visit Gaza detainees or verify the conditions of their detention. This causes tremendous concern for hundreds of families awaiting any news about their loved ones.

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Asma deliberately avoided watching the videos that showed Israeli troops arresting hundreds of Palestinians from the Al-Shifa Hospital, because the emotions were overwhelming.

“This is a deadly feeling that we are experiencing. Whenever prisoners are released from Gaza, we rush to ask them, but unfortunately, they don’t know anything about my father and brother. We don’t even know where they are detained.”

Graves for the Living 

A recent investigation published by the American news network CNN revealed harrowing details about Israel’s secret detention centers and the conditions of the detainees.

The investigation cited an Israeli witness as saying that he saw rows of men wearing gray sports suits sitting on paper-thin mattresses, surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Everyone appeared to be blindfolded, their heads hanging heavy under the glare of floodlights.

According to the reports, based on the revelations of three Israeli whistleblowers, the Palestinian prisoners from Gaza “were not allowed to move. They should sit upright. They’re not allowed to talk, not allowed to peek under their blindfold”.

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One whistleblower also recounted witnessing an amputation performed on a detainee who had sustained injuries caused by the constant zip-tying of his wrists. 

“(The beatings) were not done to gather intelligence. They were done out of revenge,” the source reportedly said. 

Scarce Information

Amina Al-Taweel, a researcher at the Palestine Center for Prisoner Studies, told the Palestine Chronicle that there is not much information about the nature and the location of the Israeli secret prisons, or even about the exact number of detainees.

The scarce information was only obtained from released prisoners. 

One of them recounted that his detention center was most likely near the seaside because he could hear the seagulls.

Al-Taweel stated that Israel refused to deal with any international institution regarding the conditions of the prisoners.

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“There are horrifying and criminal details indicating that there was torture, starvation to death, and cold-blooded execution against Gaza detainees. And this was proven by freed prisoners who witnessed the killing of prisoners from Gaza under torture,” she said.

Several Israeli prisons have been removed from maps and they are now secret facilities, like Facility 1391 and the Sidi Tamam prison. 

Some experts think that these secret detention centers were inherited by Israel from the British Mandate but the information about them is limited. 

“We have very great concern about the conditions of detention, as Israel’s treatment of detainees from Gaza is violating every law, norms or values,” Al-Taweel stressed.

(The Palestine Chronicle)

– Fayha’ Shalash is a Ramallah-based Palestinian journalist. She graduated from Birzeit University in 2008 and she has been working as a reporter and broadcaster ever since. Her articles appeared in several online publications. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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