GAZA: At least 100 Palestinian men detained by Israeli forces have been stripped to their underwear, blindfolded and made to kneel on a street in northern Gaza, according to images and videos widely circulated on social media and confirmed by the Israeli army.
The men were shown with their heads bowed as they were guarded by Israeli troops in the undated video that first surfaced on Thursday, which has drawn condemnation.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said on Friday that the images echoed the history of the region, where stripped men are taken to unknown locations.
Many of the detainees were recognised by members of the community and family.
“Some say one was a student, one ran the local store and another one had no connection with ‘terrorism’ as he lived in an apartment block. … A number of people identified a well-known local journalist among those who were arrested,” according to Fisher, who added that one man was with his two children and all three of them were rounded up.
Shawan Jabarin, director of the Al-Haq human rights organisation, said he was “shocked” to see images that reminded him of the treatment of detainees and prisoners of war during World War II.
“This [is] inhuman, it amounts to torture and more than that, it’s a war crime and a crime against humanity,” he told Al Jazeera.
Israeli media reported that some of the images appeared to show suspected Hamas fighters who had surrendered to Israeli forces.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Tel Aviv, said later on Friday that some of the Palestinians detained in the incident were released.
According to family members, one of the released detainees was a shopkeeper with no ties to Hamas, he said.
About the Israeli response on the images, Khan said that the army statement was unapologetic.
“This is simply a tactic that they are going to use. They don’t care about the criticism from the international community or the human rights groups,” he added.
Daniel Hagari, the Israeli army spokesperson, said earlier: “During this fighting, those who stay in the area, come out of tunnels and some out of houses, we investigate and check who is linked to Hamas and who is not, we detain and interrogate all of them.”
He did not speak directly about the images but said that hundreds of suspects have been interrogated so far and that many have surrendered in the past 24 hours.
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said the men were “arbitrarily arrested” in the northern Gaza Strip after Israeli forces surrounded two shelters in the town of Beit Lahiya for days.
They were taken from the Khalifa bin Zayed and New Aleppo schools, both of which are affiliated with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the rights group said in a statement.
Ahmed Bedier, president of the United Voices for America civic engagement group, called the images “horrific”.
“This is a way to humiliate, this is a psychological warfare, designed to break the Palestinian people and tell them no place is safe, including shelters,” he told Al Jazeera.
The Al-Araby Al-Jadeed news outlet, also known as The New Arab, said its correspondent Diaa al-Kahlout was among those detained and had been taken to an unknown location.
He, his brothers and other relatives were among dozens of men arrested, The New Arab said in a statement on its website, adding that the detainees were forced to strip and were searched before being taken to an unknown destination.
The outlet called on “the international community, journalists’ rights defenders and watchdogs, and human rights bodies to denounce this ongoing assault committed by the Israeli occupation army against journalists since [October 7] and exert efforts to ensure they are released from detention and protected”.
Violation of international law
On Friday, the Palestinian armed group Hamas condemned the stripping of the men and called on international human rights groups to investigate the incident.
“Stripping them of their clothes in a humiliating manner is a blatant Zionist crime to take revenge on our defenceless civilians as a result of the blows suffered by its soldiers and officers at the hands of Palestinian resistance men,” Izzat al-Risheq, a Hamas official, said in a statement.
“We hold the occupation responsible for their lives and safety, and we call on all human rights and humanitarian institutions and organizations to intervene,” the statement read.
Fisher said: “Of course, it would be a violation of international law for prisoners of war to be treated this way and for pictures to be taken of them and then published.”
He added that more concerning for international aid groups and human rights organisations was that “it is entirely unclear where these men have been taken or what may actually happen to them”.
The images and videos were taken from the vantage point of Israeli troops, and one clip shows dozens of men sitting cross-legged in rows of three and four with their heads bowed in the middle of a wide street.
One photo shows soldiers with assault rifles guarding dozens of men kneeling in a line alongside the wall of a building. Another photo shows detainees being lined up in an empty field.
The last video appears to show detainees packed into the back of moving army trucks.
Israel said it has detained and interrogated hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank since Hamas’s October 7 attacks in southern Israel.
Following those attacks, Israel started a massive air and ground offensive on the enclave.
More than 17,100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 7, according to the authorities in the enclave.
Israel said its death toll stands at about 1,150.