Gaza Hospital Director Released After Seven Months in Israeli Detention

July 2, 2024 by No Comments

Israel released the director of Gaza’s main hospital on Monday after holding him for seven months without charge or trial. The release was apparently made to alleviate overcrowding in detention centers, despite allegations against him. He claimed he and other detainees were held under harsh conditions and tortured.

The decision to release Mohammed Abu Selmia sparked controversy, with government ministers and opposition leaders expressing their disapproval. They repeated allegations that he had aided Hamas’ use of Shifa Hospital, which Israeli forces had raided twice since the war began. Abu Selmia and other health officials denied these accusations, and his release without charges is likely to raise further questions.

Abu Selmia was released back into Gaza with 54 other Palestinian detainees, many of whom also alleged abuse. These claims could not be independently verified, but align with other reports from Palestinians held in Israeli custody.

“Our detainees have been subjected to all kinds of torture behind bars,” Abu Selmia said at a news conference after his release. “There was almost daily torture.” He alleged that guards broke his finger and caused his head to bleed during beatings involving batons and dogs.

He accused medical staff at various facilities of participating in the abuse “in violation of all laws.” He also claimed that some detainees had limbs amputated due to poor medical care.

There was no immediate response from the prison service, which has previously denied similar accusations.

Israeli forces raided Shifa Hospital in November, alleging that Hamas had established a command and control center inside. Abu Selmia and other staff denied these allegations and accused Israel of recklessly endangering patients and displaced people sheltering there.

The military discovered a tunnel beneath Shifa Hospital leading to a few rooms, along with other evidence suggesting militant presence. However, the evidence fell short of what they had claimed prior to the raid.

Abu Selmia was detained on Nov. 22 while accompanying a U.N.-led patient evacuation from the hospital. He described his detention as “politically motivated,” stating that he had been brought to court at least three times but never charged or granted access to lawyers.

Israel has since raided other Gaza hospitals based on similar allegations, forcing them to shut down or reduce services amidst the war’s harsh conditions. The army raided Shifa a second time earlier this year, causing significant damage after claiming militants had regrouped there.

Hospitals can lose their protected status under international law if used for military purposes.

The decision to release Abu Selmia drew strong criticism from government ministers and opposition leaders as various state entities responsible for detentions tried to shift blame.

Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel’s far-right national security minister overseeing police and prisons, described Abu Selmia’s release and the release of others as “security negligence” and blamed the Defense Ministry. Yair Lapid, an opposition leader, called it another sign of the government’s “lawlessness and dysfunction.”

Gallant’s office issued a brief statement attributing the incarceration and release of prisoners to the prison service and the Shin Bet internal security agency. The prison service stated that the decision was made by the Shin Bet and the army, releasing a document signed by an army reserve general ordering his release.

The Shin Bet explained that the government, despite their advice, had opted to release detainees deemed less threatening to free up space.

“Though the Shifa Hospital Chief passed the risk assessment compared to other detainees — the matter will be internally reviewed,” it said.

Since the war began, Israeli forces have detained thousands of Palestinians from Gaza and the occupied West Bank, filling military detention facilities and prisons. Many are held without charges or trials under what is known as administrative detention.

Israel launched its offensive following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, in which Palestinian militants killed approximately 1,200 civilians and took another 250 hostage. The war has killed at least 37,900 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, without specifying the number of civilians or fighters.

Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million population has fled their homes, many displaced multiple times. Israeli restrictions, ongoing fighting, and the breakdown of public order have hindered humanitarian aid, leading to widespread hunger and fears of famine.