The organizations HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, Gisha, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights Israel, Adalah and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed an urgent petition (Hebrew) to Israel’s High Court for a habeas corpus injunction regarding the thousands of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip currently being held by Israel in detention centers against their will and without legal basis. In the petition, the organizations request that the court instruct the Israeli army, Prison Service and the Israel Police to disclose the names and whereabouts of all Gaza residents being held in Israeli detention centers and release any persons unlawfully detained to the West Bank until they are able to return to Gaza.
On the eve of the war that began with Hamas’ heinous assault in the south of Israel on October 7, about 18,500 Palestinian residents of Gaza held work permits issued by the Israeli authorities. The exact number of Gaza workers who were in Israel that Saturday is unknown. Once the hostilities began and following damage to Erez Crossing, workers from Gaza found they were unable to return home to Gaza and, fearing for their lives, many attempted to make their way to the West Bank, hoping to find shelter with local residents.
On October 10, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) revoked all work permits it had previously issued to Gaza residents, and later noted that “they will not be reinstated.” This measure instantaneously turned Gaza residents who had been lawfully present in Israel into “illegal aliens,” from Israel’s perspective, exacerbating the risks to their lives and legal status. The Israeli army and police have since detained Palestinians from Gaza and placed them in Israeli detention facilities against their will, without legal authority and without legal grounds. Some were detained violently in Israel, others at checkpoints en route to the West Bank, and some even in areas of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
Since the first days of the hostilities, the families of Gaza workers have lost contact with their relatives who were in Israel and do not know where they are. The petitioning organizations are aware of two Israeli facilities being used to hold Palestinians from Gaza against their will, at Anatot and Ofer, military facilities in the West Bank. The workers in detention are being deprived of their basic rights, including the right to legal representation. The Israeli authorities have refused to divulge any information about who is being detained and in what conditions. The mass revocation of permits issued to Gaza residents and their detention are an illegal act of vengeance.
Testimony received by the petitioners from a Palestinian man who was held in Anatot indicate that the holding conditions in the detention centers are extremely dire. The man was detained in Israel on October 8 and held for three days in a cage-like structure, exposed to the elements, with no food, water, medication or a mattress and without access to a toilet. He was later transferred to another encampment, which he described as a “livestock pen,” where he was held with hundreds of workers from Gaza. At a certain point, an officer told the detainees that they were being held because there were Israeli hostages in Gaza, and that as long as the Israeli hostages were in Gaza, there was no prospect of the workers’ release.
The petitioning organizations state that: To date, the Israeli authorities have refused to provide any information about Gaza workers and other residents of the Strip who are apparently being held in detention centers, why or where they are being detained, under what law and for how long. Mass detention without an examination of each individual case, without clear cause and without judicial review is unlawful, arbitrary detention. Israel is obligated under the Fourth Geneva Convention to disclose the names of all individuals in custody expeditiously and ensure humane holding conditions. Holding thousands of Gaza residents incommunicado and stripped of their right to legal representation stands in flagrant contradiction of Israel’s obligations under international law.