A United Nations office said on Friday it was “seriously concerned” about a dramatic rise in Israel’s arrests of Palestinians and called for an investigation into allegations of torture in Israeli custody.
Israel has arrested more than 3,000 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since the start of the Gaza war in early October and a record high number were being held without charge or trial, said a statement by the UN Human Rights Office in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Within the span of two months, six Palestinian men have died in Israeli custody, the highest number of cases in such a short period in decades, it said.
Since the October 7th Hamas attack and Israel’s subsequent heavy bombardment of Gaza, Palestinians held in Israeli jails have reported deteriorating conditions, including overcrowding, restricted access to food and water and limited visits from family or lawyers. Many have said they were subjected to beatings and abuse by detention guards, including rape threats.
“The massive rise in number of Palestinians arrested and detained, the number of reports of ill-treatment and humiliation suffered by those in custody, and the reported failure to adhere to basic due process raise serious questions about Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” the UN Human Rights Office said.
“All cases of deaths in custody and allegations of torture and other ill-treatment must be investigated and accountability ensured.”
Israel’s prison service has said all prisoners in its custody “are detained according to the provisions of the law” and that prisoners deaths were under investigation.
As part of a truce deal with the Palestinian group Hamas, which controls Gaza, Israel has released 240 Palestinian women and teenagers from its jails. More than half were detained without charge, according to Israel’s records.
During the week-long pause in fighting, Israel arrested more than 260 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Prisoners Society said.
In a separate development, Israel has told the United Nations it will not renew a visa for the top UN humanitarian aid official for the Gaza Strip and West Bank, a UN spokesman said on Friday.
Canadian-born Lynn Hastings, a veteran UN official, has served as the deputy special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process and UN humanitarian co-ordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory for nearly three years.
“We’ve been informed by the Israeli authorities that they would not renew the visa of Ms Hastings past the due date at some point later this month,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
He said UN staff did not overstay their visas in any country, but stressed that UN secretary general António Guterres had full confidence in Ms Hastings. Mr Dujarric did not say whether Ms Hastings would be replaced.
A spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry accused the United Nations of being biased and described as “disgraceful” the UN response to the October 7th attack by Hamas that Israel says killed 1,200 people.
“That’s why Israel decided to check on – one by one – the visas that are issued to representatives of the UN,” the spokesperson said.
In a social media post at the end of October, Israel’s foreign ministry accused Ms Hasting of failing to be impartial and objective, an accusation the United Nations rejected.
“You’ve seen some very public attacks on Twitter against her which were utterly unacceptable,” Mr Dujarric said. “Personal direct attacks on UN personnel anywhere around the world is unacceptable and puts people’s lives at risks.” – Reuters