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Israel high court responds to prison abuse revelations

Israel's Supreme Court issued an order June 23 demanding the Benjamin Netanyahu government provide an update on conditions in the Sde Teiman detention facility, where the government has been holding Palestinian detainees from the war in Gaza. The court gave the government until June 30 to provide its update. The order came in response to a challenge from a constellation of human rights organizations, including the Association for Civil Rights in IsraelPhysicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, seeking to shut down the prison over allegations of harsh abuses there.

Sde Teiman, in the Negev desert, was the focus of a CNN investigation into the treatment of Palestinians detained during Israel's war with Hamas. Whistleblowers from the detention center spoke to CNN, describing scenes of torture and severe human rights abuses. 

The whistleblowers said the facility has two sections: one where general Palestinian detainees from Gaza were put under physical restraint, and one where wounded detainees were strapped to their beds, put in diapers, and fed through straws. They detailed physical punishment and acts of dehumanization, with one whistleblower who worked as a medic saying "They stripped them down of anything that resembles human beings."

CNN's report on Sde Teiman caused outrage, with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Alice Jill Edwards urging Israel to take the account seriously:

The Israeli authorities must investigate all complaints and reports of torture or ill-treatment promptly, impartially, effectively and transparently. Those responsible at all levels, including commanders, must be held accountable, while victims have a right to reparation and compensation.

Israeli authorities announced that they would investigate the reports of abuse. They later toldthe Supreme Court that they were transferring detainees out of Sde Teiman and phasing outthe use of the prison.

International law protects the basic rights of detainees under the United Nations Convention Against Torture & Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT). Under Article 16 of the convention, states must prevent in their territory any act of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Israel is a party to this convention.

This is not the first case that Physicians for Human Rights Israel has brought to the Supreme Court over the Israeli government's actions. Earlier this year, they challenged a government plan to send a group of Palestinian medical patients to Gaza. The Supreme Court sided with the human rights group, ordering the government to halt its plan. At the time, PHRI director Guy Shalev said, "Unless the Israeli public opens its eyes to what is being done in its name and insists on upholding clear boundaries, this moral stain will not fade away."

From Jurist, June 24. Used with permission.

Note: Thousands of Palestinians held by Israel have been detained for years without charge.