Ramallah, occupied West Bank – On the morning of October 8, one day after Hamas’s attack, Israeli special forces units raided the cells of Gilboa prison and violently beat Palestinian prisoners held there.
“The revenge attack began that morning,” Salah Fateen Salah, a former prisoner who was released from Gilboa on October 24 after five years in prison, told Al Jazeera.
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“They shouted through the speakers telling all the prisoners to get inside their rooms, kneel down on their knees, put their hands on their heads, and to face away from the door, so you have no idea what’s happening behind you when they open the door,” explained 23-year-old Salah.
“Then they came in and started beating people, several rooms at once, with their hands, feet and batons, including metal ones,” he said. “They unleashed their dogs on us.
“They beat a prisoner who has diabetes and takes three injections a day. He was throwing up so much blood … we were worried sick for two hours that he would be martyred from the amount of blood that he was throwing up,” said Salah.
Israeli forces also “cut open the forehead of another man who was my cellmate,” he said, noting “there was blood all over the prison floors”.
The beatings, said Salah, went on for days. “They have no humanity. Those who beat elderly and sick people have no humanity. The head of the prison himself was making death threats against us.”
Deaths in custody
Since October 7, two Palestinian prisoners have died while in Israeli custody shortly after they were arrested, and at least dozens have been injured. Both men who died in custody were held without trial or charge.
Several videos have also emerged in recent weeks of Israeli soldiers beating, stepping on, abusing and humiliating detained Palestinians who have been blindfolded, stripped either partially or entirely, and have their hands cuffed. Many social media users said the scenes brought back memories of the torture by United States forces in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib in 2003.
It’s no surprise then, that the same government that tortured Iraqis in Abu Ghraib is funding the same tactics on Palestinians. This is disgusting.
CEASEFIRE NOW! END U.S. MILITARY FUNDING TO ISRAEL NOW!
— Jewish Voice for Peace (@jvplive) October 31, 2023
Recently released prisoners, as well as prisoner rights groups, lawyers’ groups and official institutions, have all publicly said, and told Al Jazeera, they believe that any Palestinian in Israeli custody is currently at risk of death.
“The situation inside the prisons is horrific,” said Amani Sarahneh, spokesperson for the Palestinian Prisoners Society.
“We are receiving information of daily mass beatings of the prisoners. They [Israeli authorities] are threatening to kill them,” she told Al Jazeera, adding that “no one has been spared.”
On October 23, Israeli authorities announced that 56-year-old Palestinian prisoner Omar Daraghmeh died in Megiddo prison “after feeling unwell and going to the prison clinic for tests”.
Daraghmeh’s son Nimr confirmed to Al Jazeera that his father did not have any medical conditions before his arrest only two weeks prior, on October 9, from his home in the city of Tubas in the northern occupied West Bank.
The initial medical report issued by the Israeli prison administration, Sarahneh said, noted that Daraghmeh was “suffering from internal bleeding, particularly in his stomach and intestines,” which the family believes was “the result of beating”.
Omar Daraghmeh, a 56-year-old without underlying #medical conditions, died in prison on October 11 – mere hours after telling his lawyer he felt well. Arafat Hamdan, a 25-year-old with diabetes, died in Ofer Prison on October 24, two days after his arrest.
— Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) (@PHRIsrael) October 26, 2023
On October 24, Arafat Hamdan, a 25-year-old with diabetes from the village of Beit Sira on the outskirts of Ramallah, was announced dead in Ofer prison two days after he was arrested.
Al Jazeera, Palestinian prisoner groups and his family received the same information on what transpired: Israeli forces beat Hamdan, refused him his medication, and placed him under the sun with a bag on his head for long hours before he died.
“This is what happened based on the testimonies from the people who were detained with him at Etzion, and what his family have heard, too,” said Sarahneh, noting that Hamdan, as for the majority of people who are detained, was beaten in front of his family during his arrest.
Al Jazeera reached out to the Israeli prison services for comment on both cases but did not receive one in time for publication.
Naji Abbas, prisoners’ case manager at Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), told Al Jazeera that autopsies were conducted on Tuesday for both Daraghmeh and Hamdan at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in Tel Aviv by a doctor appointed by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
It is not clear when the institute’s report will come out.
Double the detainees
Since Israel’s bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip began on October 7, Israeli forces have also intensified their nightly raids into Palestinian homes, villages and cities in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In the past 25 days, Israel has doubled the number of Palestinians in its custody, from 5,200 people to more than 10,000.
This includes at least 4,000 labourers from Gaza who were working in Israel and who have been detained mainly in military bases. Separately, Israel has also arrested 1,740 other Palestinians in overnight army raids in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since October 7.
Most of these prisoners are being held under laws and military orders that allow detention without trial or charge.
A 25-year-old former prisoner, who asked not to be named, told Al Jazeera that two of his uncles, both in their 50s, were beaten while they were arrested at their homes in the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem in the south of the occupied West Bank.
“They took my uncle Ahmad*, separated him from his family, while his wife and six children were in another room listening to the sound of them beating him,” he said.
Days after his uncles were arrested, he stumbled upon a widely shared video of three roughed up, blindfolded and handcuffed Palestinian men on the floor of an Israeli detention centre with soldiers mocking them, only to realise that one of them was his uncle.
Abbas, the case manager at PHRI, told Al Jazeera that his organisation is asking Israeli institutions including the army, the police and the intelligence, for answers to questions about rights violations arising from the videos of soldiers abusing Palestinian detainees.
In addition to the severe beatings, Israeli prison authorities halted medical attention for Palestinian prisoners for at least the first week after October 7, including to those who had been beaten, according to rights groups. Family visits as well as routine lawyer visits were stopped, the groups said.
Where prisoners were previously entitled to between three and four hours outside their cells in the yard, that has now been cut to less than an hour. “They remain locked up in their rooms all day – even sick people, disabled, elderly,” said Abbas.
Overcrowded cells now often house double the number of detainees they were built for, with many sleeping on the floor without mattresses.
Meanwhile, Israeli prison forces have also cut electricity and hot water, conducted cell searches, removed all electrical devices including TVs, radios, cooking slabs and kettles, and shut down the canteen which prisoners use to buy food and basic supplies such as toothpaste.
“All public facilities were shut down — the kitchen, the canteen, the laundry room where we wash our clothes,” said Salah, the released prisoner.
One prisoner, who remains behind bars, told his lawyer that the maltreatment of prisoners is continuing: In the facility where this prisoner is being held, Israeli prison authorities even removed the shower curtains, denying them privacy while bathing. The prisoners have since refused to shower.
*Some names have been changed to protect peoples’ identities.