Gaza Palestinian victims of Hamas human rights violations and war crimes

Published: 2 February 2009
Briefing Number 233

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Summary:: Hamas in Gaza is brazenly violating the human rights of the Palestinian people, and has committed war crimes. This Briefing compiles some illustrations from the war of December 2008-January 2009.

We include statements on the issue made by the EU's Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, and the UN's Head of Humanitarian Affairs, each condemning Hamas; as well as reports from Arab language media, and statements by Palestinians.

Critics of Israel are all-too-willing to blame Israel for bringing suffering on the people of Gaza . But these critics routinely disregard the suffering which Hamas itself has brought on the Palestinians.

And they do not ask themselves whether their calls to ‘engage' with Hamas are actually encouraging Hamas to continue with its extreme internal agenda

1. Senior UN official condemns Hamas's cynical use of civilian facilities

Throughout the fighting, Israel accused Hamas of firing rockets and missiles from the midst of civilian areas in Gaza city, Beit Hanoun and elsewhere – residential buildings, schoolyards, crowded neighbourhoods – and to use civilians as human shields in order to protect itself from Israeli counter-strikes. Israeli agencies have published many videos of such attacks on the Internet. Now, a senior UN official has joined in condemning this Hamas practice:-

“The reckless and cynical use of civilian installations by Hamas and indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian populations are clear violations of international humanitarian law…”

- John Holmes, UN Head of Humanitarian Affairs, addressing the UN Security Council on 27 January 2009 (reported by Ha'aretz, 28 January)

[Beyond Images comment: Hamas use of Palestinian civilians as human shields is a war crime. Article 28 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that the presence of civilians ‘may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations']

2. A Gaza family describe how their farm was commandeered by Hamas, and their fear of protesting….

The Abd Rabbo family own a farm on a hillside overlooking Sderot. The family have described in a Palestinian newspaper, al-Hayat al-Jadida, how Hamas fighters dug tunnels under their houses, stored arms in their fields, and launched rockets at night from their farmyard.

A 22 year old member of the Abd Rabbo family said:-

“You can't say anything to the resistance fighters, or they will accuse you of collaborating with Israel and shoot you in the legs….”

- The summary and quote are from an article which appeared in the Palestinian daily al-Hayat al-Jadida on 27 January 2009

3. Senior Palestinian official describes Hamas tactics…. on al-Jazeera TV

“…..Because their military bases have been destroyed, Hamas have turned Gaza schools, al-Nasser hospital, the radiology department of Shifa hospital, Al-Aqsa University , and other places, including mosques, into centers for the detention, interrogation and torture of Fatah members and members of other national Palestinian factions….

… Dozens of people have been shot in the leg, been beaten savagely, and had their bones broken…..

…. Who plunders the trucks bringing aid to the Gaza Strip, and distributes it only among the followers of its party and movement, while the children of Gaza are starving…..?”

These are extracts from an interview with PLO Executive Committee secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo, which was broadcast on al-Jazeera TV on 22 January 2009 . (The transcript, translated into English, was produced by MEMRI: see MEMRI Special Dispatch No2217 dated 28 January 2009 – )

4. EU official blames Hamas for the civilian suffering of Gaza

Louis Michel is the European Union's Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid.

On Monday 26 January he visited Jabalya in northern Gaza . While expressing shock at the scale of the destruction and damage caused by the war, and calling it “indescribable”, he then said the following (as reported by the BBC – see , on 28 January 2009 ):

“At this time we have to also recall the overwhelming responsibility of Hamas. I intentionally say this here – Hamas is a terrorist movement and it has to be denounced as such….”

According to the BBC report, Michel called for the crossings into Israel to be opened, but also said there could be no dialogue with Hamas.

Such words are rarely uttered by EU officials. Amidst the misery of Jabalya, it would have been all too easy to take a one-sided stance, and condemn Israel for its actions. But Michel has seen beyond this. The war had a context: the policies and ideology of Hamas. The consequences of the war have been tragic for the civilian population of Gaza , but, as Michel identifies, the ultimate responsibility for their tragedy lies with Hamas.

5. Hijacking of aid lorries – typical example, reported by Jordanian media

There have been many reports of armed groups hijacking aid lorries entering Gaza carrying supplies for the civilian population.

One recent report concerned an aid lorry donated by Jordan . According to Jordanian news agency Ma'an ( ):

“Armed men held up an aid convoy after it crossed into the Gaza Strip. The men fired at the trucks and diverted them to private warehouses after they passed through the Kerem Shalom crossing, an Israeli-controlled crossing used primarily for shipments of humanitarian aid…. The shipment had been coordinated in advance with UNWRA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees….”

•  report published on the Ma'an website, 20 January 2009

6. Attempted hijacking of Palestinian ambulances by Hamas gunmen

A Palestinian ambulance driver, Ahmed Jallah (**), who is registered with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, has described publicly how Hamas gunmen threatened ambulance drivers, and tried to hijack ambulances.

•  On one occasion, Jallah had a gun held to his head by a Hamas gunman who demanded that he transport three gunmen out of a house, and use the ambulance to protect themselves from the advancing Israelis

•  Jallah also describes how Hamas made several attempts to hijack the al-Quds hospital's fleet of ambulances during the war. “You hear when they are coming. People ring and tell you. So we had to get in all the ambulances and make the illusion of an emergency, and only come back when they had gone….”

The full report of Jallah's experiences was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 26 January 2009 ( ). (** - Even though the driver's real name appears in the original article, we have changed it in this Briefing).

7. Numerous stories of torture and human rights abuse – reported by Arabic-speaking journalists in Israel

Many reports have emerged of torture and human rights abuses by Hamas against Palestinian members of Fatah, and others in the Gaza Strip. These have been reported in the Israeli press by journalists such as Amos Harel, Khaled Abu Toameh and Ehud Ya'ari each of whom speak Arabic and have extensive contacts in the Palestinian Arab community.

•  Killings of rivals: “During the fighting, Hamas killed several dozen civilians. Some of those killed were members of rival Fatah, but others were not politically affiliated….” (Amos Harel, Haaretz, 29 January 2009 )

•  Torture and murder of suspected collaborators: “In most cases, Hamas suspected that their victims had collaborated with Israeli intelligence…. In one case, which was widely discussed in the Strip, Hamas gunmen kidnapped a civilian from his home, tortured him, and ripped out his eyes, because they suspected he was an Israeli agent. The man was returned to his family, but several days later the gunmen returned and murdered him….” (from the same Haaretz report)

•  Hamas hiding under the Shifa hospital: “Most of the senior figures of Hamas hid in a bunker – which had been built by Israel – under Shifa hospital in Gaza city, as well as in bunkers under the buildings housing foreign delegations, such as those of Qatar ….” (from same Haaretz report)

•  Shooting Fatah members in the legs for defiance: A Fatah activist in Gaza City claimed that as many as 80 members of his faction were either shot in the legs or had their hands broken for allegedly defying Hamas house-arrest orders” (Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, 19 January 2009)

•  Use of mosques as detention centers and for punishment: “Three brothers from the Subuh family were abducted by Hamas militiamen and taken to the Abdel Aziz Rantisi mosque in Khan Yunis, where they were shot in the legs, a local journalist told the Jerusalem Post…” (from the same report)

•  Blocking residents from the North of Gaza from fleeing South: “In some locations Hamas prevented civilians from leaving neighbourhoods that were in the line of fire; overall it invested great effort in blocking civilians who wished to flee from the North to the South of the Gaza strip… (Ehud Ya'ari, writing in the Jerusalem Report, 2 February 2009 – article called ‘Cracks in Hamas')

8. The Hamas human shield doctrine - summarised

On 28 February 2008 , Hamas spokesman Fathi Hammad made the following statement on Hamas-run al-Aqsa TV. The statement was picked up by Palestinian Media Watch ( ) and summarises the Hamas doctrine of using civilians as human shields:-

“For the Palestinian people, death became an industry, at which women excel and so do all people on this land: the elderly excel, the Jihad fighters excel, and the children excel. Accordingly, Palestinians created a human shield of women, children, the elderly and the Jihad fighters against the Zionist bombing machine, as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: we desire death as you desire life…..”

The Palestinian people have paid a tragic price for this nihilistic vision.

9. ‘They turned houses and mosques into battlegrounds, and the people now regret it….' – from Arab electronic newspaper Elaph

On 9 January, Abd al-Fattah Shehadeh wrote the following comment in the Arab electronic newspaper Elaph ( ). This comment epitomises Hamas strategy:

“Hamas turned houses and mosques into battlegrounds so that the people would protect them, and those who trusted them now regret it…..”

- quoted by Ehud Ya'ari, Jerusalem Report, 2 February 2009