Report. They were treated as if they were enemy combatants, even though they were bricklayers and day laborers.

Beaten and hungry: the story of the workers sent back to Gaza

On October 8, Israeli Defense Minister Gallant designated all Palestinians from Gaza who were in Israel with a work permit as “illegal combatants.” Some 18,500 had been allowed out of the Strip in recent years to work in Israel, on construction sites and in the fields.

After the October 7 Hamas attack and the killing of 1,400 Israelis, civilians and military personnel, the Israeli government canceled all permits and began searching for them. 4,000 were loaded onto buses and forcibly moved to the West Bank, where they were welcomed by Palestinian communities in homes and cultural centers.

In those frantic hours, nobody in Tel Aviv had a clear idea what to do with them. Gallant, for his part, immediately considered them a threat and issued an order allowing their detention for 10 weeks in army military bases. According to the NGO Addameer, assisting Palestinian prisoners, many of them ended up detained at the base in Sdeh Teiman, near Be’er Sheva, while others were held at the one in Anatout in Jerusalem.

They were treated as if they were enemy combatants, even though they were bricklayers and day laborers. “Another group of detainees (approximately 50 detainees) have had their detention extended for the purpose of interrogation, and they will be tried under the anti-terrorism law, which allows the detainees to be denied access to their lawyer for up to 21 days,” Addameer adds.

There are no accurate numbers available. Human rights organizations have not been able to meet with them and don’t know how many are still imprisoned and where they’re being held. On Friday, hundreds were put on buses heading for Gaza.

They were left at the Kerem Shalom crossing, used for transporting goods, and had to walk six kilometers before reaching the Strip. This is shown in videos that circulated on social media on Sunday, as well as by their testimonies, given to journalists from Al Jazeera and Middle East Eye. They recounted being subjected to beatings and torture, and having their money, clothes and phones confiscated.

“We couldn’t contact our family members. We didn’t know if they were still alive.” Some showed the marks on their bodies. “One man asked me if I wanted anything to drink, then he threw boiling water at me,” one of them recounted. “They treated us like dogs, they interrogated us while in Tel Aviv. We had our hands tied behind our backs and were barely given any food or drink,” another one told MEE.

“Young boys the same age as my children stripped us and urinated on us… no one has mentioned us workers held in Israel, not the Red Cross; the Palestinian Authority betrayed us, the whole world betrayed us,” a man shouted to an Al Jazeera crew. “They beat us and left us naked. They were starving us.”

The Israeli NGO Gisha called the conditions in which they were detained “extremely dire.” And so many others are still held in such conditions. “They were beating and humiliating us as if they were taking revenge on Gaza,” another recounted. “The Israelis know very well that we have nothing to do with what is going on. We are workers who were repeatedly interrogated and we underwent several security checks before we were given the work permit.”

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