Israel’s ‘degrading’ stripping of prisoners a war crime, say human rights groups

Israel has been accused of war crimes by lawyers and human rights groups after images emerged of dozens of Palestinian prisoners stripped, bound, and in some cases blindfolded in Israeli custody in Gaza.

Israeli media published several photos on Thursday showing captives wearing only underwear being held by Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers on a street, a sandy area, and in the back of a truck. Some of the images were geolocated to the city of Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza.

Israeli media initially reported that the prisoners were Hamas fighters, but an IDF spokesperson later said they were “suspects”.

Ken Roth, the former head of Human Rights Watch and international law specialist, accused Israel of a human rights violation.

“Israel seems to have taken a page from El Salvador’s autocratic president, Nayib Bukele, who generated global outrage by stripping prisoners to their underwear, huddling them together, and circulating photographs to humiliate them,” he told i.

The original sources of the photographs are not yet known. IDF soldiers have frequently posted their own photos on social media throughout the war.

“The Geneva Conventions prohibit ‘outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment’. That demand comes immediately after the rule against taking hostages,” Mr Roth continued. “Israel wants to hold Hamas to one requirement while flouting the very next one.”

Humza Yousaf, the First Minister of Scotland – whose wife’s parents recently escaped Gaza after being trapped there under bombardment – described the images as “inhuman cruelty”.

“I repeat my call for the International Criminal Court to be able to investigate potential war crimes by all parties and hold those who have been found guilty to account,” he said.

Shawan Jabarin, director of the oldest Palestinian human rights group al-Haq, said the images indicate “torture, a war crime, and a crime against humanity”.

Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack said it was unclear if displaying the unclothed prisoners constituted a criminal act. “The army claims that this is a procedure to protect the soldiers from explosive devices or other weapons. It is true that Hamas uses suicide bombers. It is still humiliating and inhumane to hold the detainees in this way,” he said.

“The details are not clear yet, [if the pictures were taken] on the way to detention or how long they were held like this, so it is still difficult to say what is the legal meaning of it,” Mr Mack added.

In addition to the prohibition on “humiliating and degrading treatment”, the Geneva Convention also states that: “Prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour.”

The IDF did not respond to a request for comment on the allegations, or the current status of the prisoners.

IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Haggari said on Thursday night: “The IDF and Shin Bet have arrested and interrogated hundreds of suspects in terrorist activities, many of them, in the last day as well, surrendered to us… We check who is connected to Hamas and who is not, and we detain and question everyone.”

Palestinians identified several of the men pictured in the published images, including journalist Diaa al-Kahlout, said to have remained in north Gaza to care for his disabled daughter.

Palestinian outlet Quds News reported that several of the detainees were released on Friday morning

Palestinian media reported further mass arrests on Friday, which the IDF has not confirmed.