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28.9.2014

Rumours, suppositions and very few facts: Arrests made by Israel during the attack dubbed Operation Protective Edge

On June 13, 3014, when word came out of the abduction of three Israeli youths, Israel launched Operation Brother’s Keeper, to find the abductees. During the operation, the military raided West Bank cities and towns, detaining more than 400 Palestinians. Sweeping, arbitrary travel restrictions were placed on the West Bank’s civilian population; unlawful sanctions were imposed including the cessation of prison visits to Palestinian inmates held inside Israel and the renewal of punitive house demolitions. Hamas began, and then intensified, rocket attacks into Israel’s territory. Israel then launched a large scale military operation in Gaza, during which it conducted air strikes, bombed residential buildings with their occupants inside, and later launched a ground offensive which included mass arrests.

During the Gaza ground offensive, the army arrested hundreds of Palestinians and transferred them to interrogation facilities inside Israel, without notifying relatives that they had been detained or where they were held. As a result, the detainees were held incommunicado, vulnerable to the violation of their rights, including the rights to due process, adequate holding conditions and to be free of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.

HaMoked spent weeks trying to find which Gaza residents had been taken and what happened to them. These efforts revealed very little information, and most of the information regarding the detainees was obtained from the media. But even this failed to dispel the shroud of secrecy surrounding the detentions conducted by the army in Gaza, and it seems that there is still much that we do not know.

July 8, 2014

Israel launches air offensive on the Gaza, calling it Operation Protective Edge.

July 17, 2014

On government orders, the military launches a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.

July 22, 2014

HaMoked receives call to locate two Palestinians who had been detained in Um al-Nasser in the northern Gaza Strip. The military control center tells HaMoked that the two are held at Shikma Prison.

July 23, 3014

Ynet news website reports that about 20 Palestinians “of different ranks” were detained “in the last few days” and interrogated by the Israel Security Agency (ISA) inside Israel. The photo shows four blindfolded Palestinians clad in blue uniforms being led by an Israeli soldier. The caption that appeared in the Hebrew version of the report reads: “a few of the detainees in the facility”.

July 24, 2014

Walla! news website reports that on July 23, 2014, the military detained about 150 “suspected terrorists” from the Gaza Strip. The website reported that the detainees were led by Israeli soldiers into Israeli territory where the military police incarcerated them in a facility in southern Israel. According to the report, the detainees were interrogated by the military intelligence unit responsible for operating agents abroad, and that activists labeled “sensitive” were handed over to the ISA for further interrogation. The photos that appear with the report show dozens of Palestinians being taken to Israel, wearing only undergarments, and some also barefoot. One of the photos shows detainees kneeling with their hands placed on top of their hands and their clothes in their laps.

Haaretz reports that the vast majority of Palestinians detained in the Gaza Strip “primarily in Rafah” had been released by the army. Haaretz also reports however, that 20 Palestinians are still under ISA interrogation. It is not clear whether these 20 individuals are the ones mentioned in the end of the report as having been arrested in the beginning of the ground offensive in Khan Yunis and turned over to the ISA. The ISA reportedly stated that the detainees “belong to Hamas’ rocket-launching unit”. According to a military source quoted in the report, an incarceration facility was prepared for the Khan Yunis detainees in a Southern Command military base and has a capacity of up to 500 detainees. The facility was operated by the Military Police “Captive” Company, which includes reservists.

While the media reports of mass arrests in the Gaza Strip, HaMoked writes to the Attorney General, demanding the disclosure of the location of the facilities where Gaza detainees are held and the legal basis for holding them. No response is received.

July 25, 2014

Haaretz updates that some 270 Palestinians have been arrested since the ground offensive began, adding that an unspecified number of detainees remain in custody, awaiting classification as “uninvolved” or “unlawful combatants”. The report also notes that military deployment in the village of Shukah, east of Rafah, suggests that some 150 Palestinians, who, according to a senior army officer, were arrested in their homes on July 23, 2014, were from that area. Haaretz also reports that the military had set up the Sde Teman army base in the Negev desert to serve as a holding facility for detained Palestinians, as it had in the 2008-2009 offensive, dubbed Operation Cast Lead.

***

HaMoked receives a request to locate two brothers from the village of Khuza’ah, near Khan Yunis. Soldiers at the control center refuse to process the request, stating they have no obligation to provide information about detainees from Gaza. The brothers are released the next day, after being held for 48 hours in an unknown location, without anyone being informed, in clear breach of the law.

July 27, 2014

HaMoked receives call to locate a Palestinian from Khuza’ah near Khan Yunis, who was taken by the army on July 23, 2014. HaMoked contacts the control center, but receives no response.

HaMoked sends an urgent letter to the military, demanding the control center answer inquiries about detainees from the Gaza Strip, with consideration to the limitations resulting from the fighting. HaMoked stresses that the law does not cease to apply in times of fighting and adds that it is unacceptable for the control center to abdicate its responsibilities, i.e., providing information about Palestinians held in Israel, at a time when this information is needed most.

HaMoked also contacts the State Attorney’s Office, demanding it to provide HaMoked with the names and ID numbers of all detainees from the Gaza Strip held inside Israel and their places of detention.

July 28, 2014

HaMoked, together with Physicians for Human Rights - Israel, files an urgent petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, on behalf of a detainee from Khuza’ah and four other Palestinians who had disappeared during the fighting and may have been detained by the army. HaMoked asks the court to instruct the state to uphold its obligation to duly register the detainees and notify their families of their whereabouts and legal status. In response to the petition, the state notifies that two of the detainees, including the one from Khuza’ah are held in Shikma Prison and represented by the Public Defender’s Office. One petitioner had been released and the rest were never arrested. The petition is withdrawn.

In the meantime, the State Attorney’s Office responds that the state does not intend to provide HaMoked with a list of Palestinians detained by the military in Gaza and taken to detention facilities inside Israel. Instead, HaMoked is instructed to submit individual inquiries to the control center, which must include information identifying the detainees (full name and ID number), and enclose supporting evidence of the applicant’s connection to the detainee. These unacceptable terms are not required in such applications during routine operation, and are all the more inconceivable in the current circumstances in the Gaza Strip.

July 29, 2014

The Israeli military’s weekly magazine, BaMahane
, confirms the opening of a detention facility in the Sde Teiman military base, without naming it or disclosing its location specifically. The article states: “For the first time since ‘Operation Cast Lead’, the Southern Command Detention Center makes preparations to receive Palestinian detainees apprehended by IDF forces in the Gaza Strip during ‘Operation Protective Edge’”. The article further notes that following the ground offensive, two temporary holding facilities were set up near the border. The facilities are used as a transit station, where detainees undergo initial questioning, and operate pursuant to military regulations”. Interrogations in these facilities, which according to the IDF Spokesperson’s web site, are located inside Israel, are conducted by ISA agents and army intelligence officers. Decisions on whether to send the detainees to the Southern Command Detention Center, transfer them to Shikma Prison or return them to the Gaza Strip, are made based on the findings of the initial interrogation.

HaMoked petitions the High Court of Justice to instruct the state to provide information regarding detainees from Gaza held in military facilities inside Israel, and uphold its obligation to duly register them. HaMoked stresses that the conditions put forward for locating detainees from the Gaza Strip are unacceptable, given the situation, and notes that a state authority that does not properly record detainees in their place of detention and makes sure this information is readily available, does not fulfil its duties and abuses its powers.

July 30, 2014

In response to HaMoked’s request to locate a Palestinian detained in the Gaza Strip on July 24, 2014, the control centre states the man is held at Shikma Prison.

August 3, 2014

Israel decides to retreat ground forces from the Gaza Strip, but continues air strikes.

August 1, 2014

The state submits its response to the petition to provide the names of Gaza detainees held by the military in Israel. The state argues that the military is under no obligation to provide HaMoked with any information regarding detainees from the Gaza Strip as the arrangement reached in Hirbawi relates only to locating detainees from the Gaza Strip. The state adds that the control center’s consent to respond to individual requests to locate Gaza detainees during the current military operation was given ex gratia. However, the state does note that “given the inherent difficulties”, it would rescind the demand to provide proof of the applicant’s connection to the detainee and would consider “written communications indicating that the resident’s relatives sought HaMoked’s assistance in locating him”.

August 4, 2014

The justices of the High Court accept the state’s position and suggest HaMoked withdraw the petition to provide the names of Gaza detainees. Given the state’s statement that no incarceration orders were issued under the Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants Law, and given the Court’s recommendation, HaMoked withdraws the petition.

August 7, 2014

Haaretz reports it has learned from military sources that “Israel took 159 prisoners during the operation, all of whom were transferred to Israeli territory for questioning. Twenty-five of them are still in custody; the rest have been released back to Gaza”.

August 11, 2014

Palestinian news agency Ma’an publishes the names of 26 detainees held in Shikma Prison. The names were provided by Palestinian Gaza based human rights organization Al Mezan and Adv. Muhammad Jabbarin, who represents some of the detainees. Adv. Jabbarin also says at least 15 Palestinians were held for some time pursuant to the Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants Law and later released.

August 14, 2014

In a retrospective on the ground offensive in Gaza, Israeli military’s weekly magazine BaMahane reports that Operation Protective Edge was the third time in which the Southern Command Detention Center (Sde Teman) was opened during an emergency. The commander of the Military Police Captive Battalion is quoted as saying: “the detainees brought to the facility were held in adequate conditions, including proper sleeping quarters, free access to showers and washrooms and the same food provisions supplied to IDF soldiers”.

***

HaMoked makes an application under the Freedom of Information Act for the army to supply it with figures on arrests conducted during the fighting in Gaza, including how many Palestinians had been arrested, how many had been transferred to Israel and how long detainees were held by the military inside the Gaza Strip or in Israel. HaMoked also requested information regarding the three detention facilities mentioned by the media, including their exact locations and the maximum capacity of each one. On September 28, 2014, the military informed HaMoked that it was still “working tirelessly” to produce the information and asked for an extension.

August 26, 2014

After 50 days of fighting, Operation Protective Edge ends with an agreement between Hamas and Israel.

August 27, 2014

HaMoked finds that the ISA has posted to its website a list of 18 detainees brought in for ISA interrogation during the attack on Gaza. The list notes the full name and place of residence of each detainee, along with the information the detainee gave regarding “use made by Hamas of the civilian population and public buildings for military action”.

Five of the names are also posted on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the title “Hamas terrorists confess to using human shields”. Thirteen of the names also appear in the list published by Palestinian news agency, Ma’an of detainees held in Shikma Prison on August 11, 2014.

It appears that while the state staunchly refuses to divulge the names of Gaza detainees to HaMoked, has no trouble publishing their personal information so long as it serves its purposes.

September 17, 2014

According to a report on web magazine The Electronic Intifada, Israel is still holding 24 detainees from the Gaza Strip, 22 are represented by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. Al Mezan’s executive director says that at least eight of the detainees had been subjected to torture during their interrogation. A representative from Adameer, a prisoners’ rights organization, says that one of the 24 is held under the Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants Law and that five Palestinians from the Gaza Strip are considered missing after the Israel Prison Service said they were not held in any prison inside Israel.
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