Israeli troops turn Gaza football stadium into mass detention camp
Disturbing footage showed Palestinians being detained en masse at a football stadium in Gaza City.
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Exactly 50 years after Pinochet turned Chile’s national football stadium into a makeshift concentration camp for political prisoners, Israeli forces appear to have turned one of Palestine’s oldest football stadiums into a mass detention centre.
According to disturbing footage published earlier this week, dozens of men, women and children were rounded up, stripped down to their underwear, and blindfolded while soldiers and tanks patrolled the surrounding field. A soldier carrying a baby wrapped in a blanket could be seen at the end of the video.
The footage appears to have been taken at the Yarmouk Stadium in Gaza City, though it is unclear when it was filmed or what happened to the detainees.
In response, Rami Abdo, the head of the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, commented, "Field executions and mass arrests. Terrifying footage of Israeli occupation forces turning a stadium in Gaza into a collective detention camp. The video shows the arrest of hundreds of civilians, including women, elderly, and children."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)—the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States—called for an international probe of the footage. The organization noted that the footage could be a violation of the Geneva Conventions, which states prisoners of war “shall at all times be humanely treated and protected, particularly against acts of violence, from insults and from public curiosity.”
The Israel Defense Force (IDF) has since claimed in a statement Tuesday that the detained individuals are “treated in accordance with international law. It is often necessary for terror suspects to hand over their clothes such that their clothes can be searched.”
“Detainees are given back their clothes when it’s possible to do so.”
This is not the first time that a country has used football stadiums as mass detention centres. In 1939, Francisco Franco—the fascist dictator who ruled over Spain until 1975—converted three of Madrid’s football stadiums into concentration camps. Testimonials from survivors of the camps later revealed that many victims were tortured and executed, while others died of starvation and hypothermia.
In 1973, Chile’s national stadium was used as a makeshift prison camp, as well as a torture and execution facility by the Pinochet dictatorship that had seized control of the country in a military coup. Approximately 20,000 men and women were rounded up over the course of eight weeks and around 41 people were murdered.
“The stadium became a synonym for the cruelty of the Pinochet regime,” René Castro, one of the longest-serving prisoners at the stadium, told The New York Times. “They did unspeakable things to us there. Now it is a place for football. People have fun there.”
The Taliban have also used football stadiums across Afghanistan as makeshift public squares to exact corporal punishment since the 1990s. In November 2022, 14 people—including three women—were publicly lashed in a football stadium in the Logan province in the presence of hundreds of residents. Their alleged crimes included “adultery, robbery, and other forms of corruption” according to the Taliban’s Supreme Court.
In the past, the Taliban have used football stadiums to carry out public executions and beatings.
Now it appears that Yarmouk stadium—one of the oldest sports facilities in Palestine that was once the site of festivals, weddings and other celebrations in Gaza City—is the latest football stadium to bear witness to human rights atrocities. The stadium had previously been subjected to intense bombing during an eight-day campaign by the IDF in November 2012 that destroyed a large portion of the stadium.
The fate of the Palestinians detained by the IDF in Yarmouk stadium remains uncertain, but the disturbing scenes evoke parallels with a recent incident where Israeli military detained Palestinian men en masse and forced them to strip down to their underwear and kneel in front of their captors while wearing blindfolds. Many of the victims were later identified in footage as academics, shopkeepers, and regular civilians despite IDF claims that they were “Hamas members and suspect Hamas members.”
“They’re neither fighters, they’re not surrendering, they’re just civilians who were there with their families trying to survive this,” Hani Almadhoun, director of philanthropy for the US arm of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA USA) told CNN.
“This is not just about justice, this feels like more about revenge.”
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