Israel transfers Gazan prisoners from detention center where army is accused of torture

Sde Teiman, a large military base in the middle of the Negev desert in southern Israel, has been the main detention center for prisoners from Gaza for months. Those who have been released tell stories of torture, sexual violence and humiliation. Hundreds of detainees are forced to kneel for hours, shackled and blindfolded.

No outside observers have been allowed in to monitor what is happening in the detention center. Since October 7, the International Committee of the Red Cross has had no access to Israeli prisons. The army told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that it is conducting criminal investigations into the deaths of 48 Palestinians, including 36 at Sde Teiman. On Monday, June 3, the newspaper reported that no arrests had been made.

A military source confirmed to Le Monde the deaths of 36 detainees, “including people suffering from illnesses or injuries linked to the ongoing hostilities,” without specifying in which detention center they died. The military claimed to have opened some 70 investigations into acts committed in connection with its actions in Gaza. According to the Israeli army, investigations were “ongoing.” It said some cases had resulted in sanctions going as far as prison sentences.

Several Israeli NGOs filed an appeal with Israel’s Supreme Court, calling for the immediate closure of Sde Teiman. The day after the hearing, on May 28, the chief of the general staff of the Israeli army, Herzi Halevi, announced the appointment of an “advisory committee” to examine the detention conditions in the camp. On Wednesday, June 5, Israel announced that it had begun transferring Palestinian detainees to the Ofer Prison, in the occupied West Bank, and Ktzi’ot, in the Negev. Out of 700 prisoners, only 200 are expected to remain at Sde Teiman, which the authorities intend to transform into a temporary detention center, to sort detainees and conduct preliminary interrogations, its “initial use.”

Israel therefore seemed to recognize that Sde Teiman has not, until now, respected the guarantees of Israeli and international law. The army refutes these accusations, claiming that detainees are fed three times a day and receive medical follow-up. The judges have given the authorities until June 10 to prove that they are improving detention conditions. NGOs are still calling for the center to be closed. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said the “egregious violations at Sde Teiman make depriving these people of liberty blatantly unconstitutional,” and described the “unimaginable abuses” at the facility, which they said could lead to Israeli officials being charged with war crimes.

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