The face of Badr Dahlan

Aziza Sami , Tuesday 25 Jun 2024

Ghastly and shell-shocked, the gaunt face of recently released Palestinian prisoner Badr Dahlan has been making the rounds on social media, his staring eyes evoking the pain and suffering of a man just-returned from hell.

The face of  Badr Dahlan


If one were to look for a modern photograph showing the face of a tormented body and soul from the mediaeval Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s great work the Inferno, then it could be that of  Badr Dahlan, a 29-year-old Palestinian resident of Khan Yunis, who was released along with 33 other Palestinians arrested without charge or due process and held for a month in an Israeli prison.

Ever since the start of the Israeli war on Gaza, the incarceration of Palestinians has been numbered in the thousands, with many others also being jailed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Traumatised, stuttering, and bearing the visible marks of wounds on his face, wrists, and ankles, Dahlan, who was taken to the Shuhada Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah to receive treatment, called his ordeal a “nightmare” and spoke of the repeated beatings he had received to the head, arms, and legs, along with threats to cut off his leg, at the hands of the Israeli authorities.

The tortured image of Dahlan was starkly different to those relayed through mainstream media channels of the Israeli hostages handed over by Hamas to the International Red Cross in prisoner-exchange deals since November 2023.

The released Israeli hostages, mostly women and children, appeared to be calm and bear no signs of physical abuse. Some of them waved or nodded their heads in acknowledgement to the members of Hamas who helped them out of the buses used to deliver them, inducing allegations in the Israeli media that they had somehow been drugged or were suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, whereby a captive falls in love with a capturer.

At the time of their release, none of the Israeli hostages displayed the horrifying gauntness and utter misery that Dahlan did, nor were there clear signs on their faces or bodies of physical and other abuse. Even when he was in hospital in Gaza, Dahlan said that he felt that he was going to die.

Badr Dahlan is one of thousands of Palestinians, around 10,000 according to media reports, who have been incarcerated in Israeli jails since October last year. Their detention has entailed great humiliation, as was witnessed in images of Palestinian men forced to take off their shirts and kneel on the ground with their arms tied behind their backs before being taken off to an Israeli prison.

On 6 June, the New York Times published a report on the Sde Teiman military base in Israel, describing it as “synonymous with the detention of Gazan Palestinians.” The report described how the base has been filled with “blindfolded, handcuffed detainees (who are) held without charge or legal representation, forbidden to stand or sleep except when authorised, and prevented for weeks from contacting lawyers or relatives.”

Sde Teiman has harboured accusations of abuse and the mistreatment of detainees, the paper said, with many of them being proven to have no ties to Hamas or to any other armed groups. Some were subsequently released without explanation or apology.

Released Palestinian prisoners who spoke to the New York Times reported abuse that included electrocution and the breaking of the ribs, as well as the humiliation of wearing diapers while being interrogated.

Officers at the Israeli military base told the Times that since last October, 35 out of the 4,000 detainees at the base have died. An Israeli military doctor told the newspaper that the detainees had included “aid workers, a paraplegic, and an invalid with a tube inserted into his neck.”

The doctor said that he could not understand why they had been incarcerated at the base.

Such incidents are not exceptions to the rule, nor can they be taken in isolation from statements made by leading members of the Israeli government, including the president, prime minister, various ministers, military personnel and media pundits, who have all called, and continue to call, for the “eradication” of the Palestinians, their “nuking,” their “displacement,” their deprivation of water, fuel, and electricity, and have called them “animals.”

The Law for Palestine rights group that among a myriad of others is now documenting human rights violations incurred by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) and Israeli settlers in the Palestinian Territories has compiled a database of over 500 incidents, and counting, of Israeli incitements to commit genocide against the Palestinians and of their systematic eviction from the West Bank by armed settlers, the most recent of which took place this week.

South Africa has taken Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes of genocide, documented in an 84-page dossier under the Genocide Convention of 1948.

In the wake of the genocide of the Jewish people in Europe and the atrocities committed against them by the regime led by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in the 1930s and 1940s, the international community chose to adopt this convention so that such crimes could never again be perpetrated.

Today, however, the ICC appears to be toothless when it comes to implementing such laws to protect the Palestinian people. For the extremists inside Israel and outside of it, it appears to be that it is only the eradication of the Palestinian people that will give them any relief.

This is an historical irony that will undermine Israel’s elusive search for security even further, with no lessons learnt.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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