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US claim it has no information on Israeli torture 'remarkable and wrong', says rights group

Washington 'should have eyes on Israel's conduct', Human Rights Watch says
An injured Palestinian among those detained by the Israeli military awaits treatment for his injuries at al-Najjar hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 24 December 2023
An injured Palestinian man among those detained by the Israeli military awaits treatment for his injuries at Al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 24 December 2023 (Said Khatib/AFP)

A leading human rights group has lashed out at the Biden administration for saying it has no information on recent reports of Israel torturing Palestinian detainees in a military base in the Negev Desert.

"The fact that the US government appears not to have information from the Israeli government on detention conditions and torture allegations is remarkable and wrong," Sarah Yager, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, told Middle East Eye.

"Clearly US officials should have eyes on Israel's conduct. If they truly don't, that needs to change – including knowing whether or not detainees are being tortured," she added, noting that US weapons have been "supporting Israel throughout their Gaza campaign".

Over the past several weeks, several US media outlets have reported that Israeli detention centres have been using torture on Palestinian detainees, with the focus being on the Sde Teiman detention facility in the Negev Desert.

Most recently, the New York Times published a three-month-long investigation into the treatment of Palestinians at Sde Teiman. The report found systematic sexual abuse and torture perpetrated against detained Palestinians, with one account of that treatment revealing one detainee "died after they put the electric stick up" his anus.

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Middle East Eye reported back in March on Israel's treatment of Palestinians from Gaza detained by Israel, many of whom spoke of being electrocuted, beaten and subject to mock executions.

MEE reached out to the State Department for comment on these reports, and a spokesperson said: "We are deeply concerned by these reports and are looking into these and other allegations."

"We have been clear and consistent with Israel that it must treat all detainees humanely and with dignity in accordance with international law, must respect detainees' human rights, and must ensure accountability for any abuses or violations."

Yager said that the State Department and the Biden administration's response to the reports show that they think they are being vocal about the allegations of torture.

The human rights expert said that HRW itself has not yet verified the allegations at Sde Teiman, however she noted that allegations of torture by Israel "are nothing new".

The rights group Public Committee Against Torture Watch has reported on 22 cases of detained Palestinian children, of whom 64 percent were physically abused by Israeli forces.

"Human Rights Watch has found that discrimination pervades every aspect of the Israeli carceral system," Yager said.

The comments from the State Department also come on the same day that a report published by the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry concluded that the increase in sexual abuse and torture of Palestinian men, women and children at the hands of the Israeli military is likely "linked to an intention to punish and humiliate Palestinians".

"Torture isn't new and that's why there are clear international laws prohibiting it," Yager said.

"I would like to have seen US officials make clear – again – that torture is illegal and that they will not support any security partner that engages in it."

The Biden administration has been criticised on several occasions for not putting enough pressure on Israeli forces to stop the harming and killing of Palestinian civilians.

In a recent report published on the possibility of US weapons being used in violation of international law in Gaza, the State Department said that there were reasonable grounds to believe this, but did not make a definitive conclusion.

The report was met with shock and disappointment from human rights experts, and it was described by Matt Duss, vice president of the Center for International Policy, as "a BS process that produced a BS result".

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