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Palestinian boys and men detained without charge by Israeli military describe 5 days of alleged abuse

Nimer Abu Ras’ wrists are bruised and lacerated. His hands are swollen.

He is one of hundreds of Palestinian men and boys who have been detained, many of them stripped and blindfolded, in recent weeks by Israeli forces conducting clearing operations in northern Gaza. Many of those detained have already been identified as civilians by relatives and employers after images of the mass detentions circulated on social media.

“They would tie your hands behind your back and drag you like a dog – plastic handcuff scars on your arms. Depending on the mood of one of them, they would come kick you with their boots,” said 14-year-old Mahmoud Zendah, a recent wound marking the bridge of his nose.

Zendah said an Israeli soldier had kicked him in the face.

“I didn’t do anything to him. He just decided to come and kick me,” Zendah said. “He came to me and asked me, ‘Are you Hamas?’ I told him, I don’t know Hamas or the resistance. I’m only a child that goes to school and back home. I eat, I play with my friends and go back home. I don’t do anything else in life.”

Another 14-year-old, Ahmad Nimer Salman Abu Ras, was initially too afraid to even describe his detention.

“I’m afraid,” he said. “I’m scared of the Israelis. I don’t want them to do something to us.”

Like the others being treated at Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central Gazan city of Deir Al-Balah, they were detained as Israeli forces moved through the Al-Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City.

“Suddenly, we heard people screaming and soldiers yelling and bulldozers destroying the houses,” Zendah’s father, Nader, said. “[The soldiers] opened the door of the house and separated women from men, they made us take off our pants and raise our shirts and lined us up against the wall…Then they put us outside of the house and blindfolded us.”

They were then loaded into trucks and taken from one location to another.

“They put us on the floor and put their feet on our heads, they would ask, ‘Are you Hamas?’ and beat [us]. When we wanted to sleep, we couldn’t because it was so cold. And when we asked for something to wear or cover ourselves with, they would beat us,” 16-year-old Mohammad Odeh said.

Forty-year-old Mahmood Esleem, a diabetic, was weak when he arrived at the hospital. His son, Mohammad, who was detained with him, said his father was denied insulin during his detention.

The next day, Esleem appeared to be in even worse shape – barely able to stand, complaining about pain in his foot and slipping in and out of consciousness, according to a cousin who was at his bedside.

“All arrived physically and psychologically exhausted. They came to the hospital halfway walking on foot – ambulances met them halfway. We gave them the needed medical treatment,” Dr. Khalil Al Daqran, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital spokesman said. “There were signs of torture on their arms and signs of beating all over their bodies.”

The Israeli military said it was detaining and questioning individuals “suspected of terrorist activity” as part of its military operations in combat areas in northern Gaza and that “individuals who are found not to be taking part in terrorist activities are released.”

The IDF also defended its practice of ordering those it detains to undress, saying the practice is “to ensure that they are not concealing explosive vests or other weaponry.”

Human rights groups have decried the photos and their wide circulation online after they emerged in Israeli media.

“Whether the detention is of a civilian or a combatant, the law protects those in detention in custody against degrading and humiliating treatment and outrages upon personal dignity,” said Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine Director.

Israeli officials have since claimed to the US that going forward they will give detainees clothes back “immediately” if they conduct strip searches, State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Wednesday, adding that Israeli officials told their US counterparts that the photos should not have been taken or released.

Civilians can be detained during armed conflict under international law, but only when “absolutely necessary for imperative reasons of security,” Shakir said, adding that Israel has violated those laws before.

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