Shut Down the Sde Teiman Facility Now, Physicians for Human Rights

Israeli human rights groups on Thursday, May 23, petitioned the High Court of Justice to close the detention center at the Sde Teiman military base in the Negev due to allegations of torture of Gazan detainees at the facility. The petition was filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), HaMoked, and the Public Committee Against Torture (PCATI), among others.

A demonstration held in front of Sde Teiman by Israeli peace activists, April 20, 2024 (Photo: Free Jerusalem)

“Evidence has mounted on what is allegedly happening at the facility,” the petition read, “which reveals an unimaginable reality of surgeries performed without anesthesia, holding detainees in painful positions for days and handcuffing that leads to amputation, blindfolding for long periods, even when providing medical treatment and while detainees were defecating, holding detainees in diapers, beatings, and abuse.”

According PHR, various reports and a UNWRA document compiling the testimonies of over 100 released detainees at Sde Teiman indicate that hundreds of individuals are being held in open-air pens, with their hands cuffed and eyes covered for the entire day, and are prohibited from moving or speaking; otherwise, they face severe punishment. According to all testimonies, these detainees regularly endure severe violence, leading to cases of fractures, internal bleeding, and even death.

Since the start of the current war and particularly following Israel’s ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, thousands of Gazans, including minors, women, the elderly, and dozens of healthcare workers, have been detained. Many of them were apprehended from protected spaces such as hospitals and schools. So far, all efforts to locate or obtain information regarding their well-being and whereabouts have proven unsuccessful.

The evidence and information disclosed to the public confirm the findings outlined in an ethical position paper released by PHR, “Within it, we analyze data collected from released detainees, the (inadequate) responses offered by officials, discussions with healthcare professionals, and data concerning dozens of deaths in custody. We are issuing this report because, drawing upon the lessons learned from secret detention facilities like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, it is crucial to prevent their continued operations and recognize the misconception that they can ever be ‘reformed’.”

Israel’s Ministry of Health declared that detained Gazans would not be treated in public hospitals and would instead be transferred to medical facilities operated by the Israel Prison Service or the military- regardless of whether these facilities were equipped to provide adequate care. Subsequently, the ministry issued medical treatment guidelines, which, as the report concludes, violate medical ethics and disregard the fundamental principles of the healthcare professions. These guidelines were reinforced by medical professionals who supported the refusal to treat detained Gazans, even when they were brought in by the military. The report cautions that in light of the current circumstances at the facility, its medical personnel risk committing severe breaches of medical ethics.

The Ministry of Health’s guidelines for the Sde Teiman facility enable these violations by allowing the participation of medical personnel in actions that constitute inhumane treatment or torture. “Considering the numerous testimonies from both detainees and medical staff regarding the conditions at the facility, we conclude that the Sde Teiman facility must be immediately shut down, and detained Gazans in need of medical care should be transferred to a civilian medical facility that upholds ethical and professional medical standards,” PHR said.

Over 600 medical professionals have already endorsed the ethical position paper: “It is the duty of every doctor, medical staff, and organizations representing the health community to oppose what is taking place in Sde Teiman in general and, in particular, in relation to the medical treatment given to prisoners there. The undersigned on this report believe that the facility should be closed and that the presence of medical staff in a place where the treatment and conditions amount to torture is forbidden.”

The full report in English