RAFAH, Gaza Strip: A Palestinian doctor says Israeli forces in Gaza detained him when they overran a hospital and subjected him to abuse during 45 days of captivity including sleep deprivation and constant shackling and blindfolding before releasing him last week.
Doctor Said Abdul Rahman Maarouf was working at Al Ahli Al Arab hospital in Gaza City when it was surrounded by Israeli forces in December.
He described having his hands cuffed, his legs shackled and his eyes masked for the nearly seven-week duration of his imprisonment.
He said he was told to sleep in places that were covered with pebbles without a mattress, pillow or cover and with loud music blaring.
Israel’s military did not respond to a Reuters request for comment after more than a day but said it would have a statement later. It has previously denied targeting or abusing civilians and accuses Hamas of using hospitals for military operations, which Hamas denies.
“The torture was very severe in Israeli prison. I am a doctor. My weight was 87 kilos. I lost, in 45 days, more than 25 kilos. I lost my balance. I lost focus. I lost all feeling,” he said.
“However you describe the suffering and the insults in prison you can never know the reality unless you lived through it,” he added.
Maarouf said he has no idea where he was detained as he was blindfolded throughout his detention, and he was not sure if he was held inside or outside Gaza. He was dropped at the Kerem Shalom crossing and was picked up by the Red Cross.
Maarouf’s arrest was the last moment he had news of his family, and he still does not know if they survived the onslaught as Israeli forces advanced into Gaza City under an intense artillery barrage.
The war began when Hamas militants rampaged across the border into Israeli towns on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking away 240 hostages.
Israel’s military assault began the same day with an intense bombardment, followed later in October by a ground assault that has continued for months. Health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza say Israel’s offensive has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians.
As well as hospitals, Israel has said Hamas routinely uses other medical facilities including ambulances for military operations, and it has shown evidence of tunnels and some weapons at some facilities.
Maarouf held back tears as he described his last phone conversation with his daughter as the Israeli soldiers called on loudspeakers for all doctors and medical staff to leave the hospital building.
She had been in the family home in Gaza City, one of his five children who were all there with his wife and 15 to 20 other relatives.
“Dad the bombing has reached us. What do we do?” she said to him. He replied that if he told her to stay and they were killed, or if he told her to leave and they were killed it would be torture for him.
“If you want to leave then leave. If you want to stay then stay. I’m in the same trench with you and I’m going now to the Israeli soldiers without knowing my fate,” he remembered telling her.
“From that moment until today I have no information about my children or my wife,” he said, crying.
The devastation in Gaza has scattered families and cut off communications, making it hard for people to reach many areas physically and unable to contact each other by phone, with most telecom networks down.
Maarouf believes he was one of more than 100 prisoners being held in the same place. “Each one of us was wishing for death...
wishing to die from the severity of the suffering,” he said.
He said being told to try to sleep lying on pebbles was the worst part of his experience.
“I am a paediatrician working for 23 years in this field. I did not commit any humanitarian crime. My weapon is my pen, my notebook and my stethoscope. I didn’t leave the place. I was treating children inside hospitals,” he said.
“When we were called to where the tanks were I thought we’d be there a few hours and leave. I thought if they took me and my colleagues they would treat us well because we are doctors and did not commit any crime,” he said.
Back in Gaza, he is working again in a children’s ward, a stethoscope around his neck, the sound of crying infants and the concerned whispers of parents around him once more.