Middle East Eye / June 10, 2021
Security cameras documented assault against 55 shackled prisoners linked to the Hamas movement.
Israeli guards brutally assaulted Palestinian prisoners in a notorious desert prison in Israel’s Negev, footage published by Haaretz on Thursday reveals.
Security cameras documented the assault on 55 shackled Palestinian prisoners linked to the Hamas movement, which was reportedly carried out on 24 March 2019.
The footage shows several Israeli guards throwing prisoners, one by one, to the floor, while swarming around them, kicking, punching and beating them with batons.
Haaretz said that Palestinian prisoners’ hands were tied behind their backs, and they were commanded not to move or speak, and left tied on the ground for hours in a yard opposite a row of prisoners’ tents.
An official at the Israel Prison Service, speaking anonymously, told Haaretz that it was “one of the most violent incidents in Israeli prisons”.
At least 10 Israeli prison guards are seen assaulting the Palestinian prisoners, yet only four were investigated by Lahav 433, a security agency that tackles serious crime and corruption.
Lahav 433 has now closed its investigation citing the pretext of “unidentified criminal”, and has not filed charges against anyone over the incident.
In March 2019, Palestinian prisoners protested against Israel installing jamming devices to prevent them from using smuggled phones – sometimes the only means to contact their relatives.
An Israeli special unit, called Metzada, raided the Negev prison in March and placed some prisoners in individual cells. Some were hospitalized. Palestinian prisoners launched a hunger strike and reached a deal in April with the Israeli Prison Service to install landline phones inside prisons and release inmates who were held in solitary confinement.
Middle East Eye reported at the time that Israeli prison authorities enforce a general prohibition on phone communication for the nearly 5,300 Palestinian prisoners it detains. While letters are allowed, the process involves long delays due to Israeli prison censorship, and sometimes they are not received by the prisoners’ families.
Under international law, prisoners are entitled to family visits and communication.
Haaretz said Israeli prison officials claim the incident was prompted by the stabbing of two jailers.
However no confrontations between prisoners and jailers can be seen on the footage, and Haaretz noted 15 Palestinian prisoners were transferred to Soroka hospital for treatment after the incident, two of which were in serious condition.
Amir Salloum, a 26-year-old Palestinian from Shufaat neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem, has spent four years in the Negev prison.
He told Haaretz that while he was waiting to be transferred from Section 4 to 3, he heard someone shouting “stabbing, stabbing”.
“A few minutes later, prison guards from the Metzada unit came and started firing metal bullets like this at us. We fled to the outskirts of the section.”
Salloum said another special unit joined forces with Metzada.
“They tied us up and no one resisted that. Then they started beating us with batons. They threw us in the middle of the section as if we were nothing, and they beat us even though we weren’t able to defend ourselves. They broke my jaw, my teeth and my nose,” Salloum said.
Thirteen Palestinian prisoners have complained about the incident to the Israeli authorities, but the results of Lahav 433’s two-year investigation could make justice impossible.
Prisoners said that they knew the faces of the guards involved in the assault, who also reportedly shouted racist abuse and ignored their appeals to stop.
Salloum said he was sent to the hospital after he started bleeding, but was also beaten on the way to get treatment.
“We were sure that they would kill us there. Everyone prayed to God,” he said.