Amnesty International Media Briefing
IDF Spokesman, January 27, 2009
1. A report issued by Amnesty 1 on February 10, 2009 , raises claims that Hamas has carried out a " deadly campaign ” against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip suspected of collaborating with Israel . According to the report, the campaign of murder, torture and abductions was begun by Hamas "militia” forces immediately after the beginning of Operation Cast Lead ( December 27, 2008 ) and continued after the IDF declared a ceasefire ( January 18, 2009 ). During the campaign Hamas operatives shot at least 24 people to death . Scores of others were shot in the legs and knees, beaten or tortured . According to Amnesty, shooting people in the legs [familiar from previous Hamas-Fatah confrontations] has as its object to cause the victims permanent disability.
2. The Amnesty team of investigators, led by Donatella Rovera, was in the Gaza Strip for three weeks on a field research visit, and collected data, and photographed evidence and testimonies. The five-page report provides detailed information about the murders and acts of violence carried out by Hamas operatives against opponents, especially Fatah, accusing them of "collaboration” with Israel . 2
3. According to the report, many of the victims were prisoners who had escaped from the central prison in the Gaza Strip after it was bombed by the Israeli Air Force on the first day of the operation. 3 Some of them were Fatah supporters who had been incarcerated during the Fatah-Hamas confrontations. The body of Nasser Muhammad Mhanna ), who was sentenced to two years in prison for the attempted assassination of Ismail Haniya, head of the de-facto Hamas administration, was found on the outskirts of Gaza City after he had been shot in the head and eye at close range.
The Tel al-Islam post in the northern Gaza Strip was used by Hamas as a jail
where Hamas activists suspected of collaboration with Israel were imprisoned
and interrogated (IDF Spokesman, January 27, 2009).
4. According to the Amnesty report, there is incontrovertible evidence that the Hamas security forces and "armed militias have been responsible for grave human rights abuses, and that the victims of such abuses and many others are being intimidated and discouraged from testifying about their ordeal.” The report also notes that the Hamas administration has "displayed a flagrant disregard for the most fundamental human rights norms.” The Hamas administration not only made it possible for such abuses to be carried out, it also justified them and granted "absolute impunity to the perpetrators.” The report notes that the delegation’s attempts to arrange a meeting with a Hamas spokesman to discuss their concerns were unsuccessful. 4
5. Note : During and after Operation Cast Lead the media (particularly the Palestinian media) reported that Hamas had executed or wounded Fatah-affiliated activists and individuals, using the excuse that they were suspected of collaborating with Israel . Similar evidence was provided during investigations of detainees undertaken by the IDF during the operation. The Amnesty report reinforces the information published to date and provides more proof of Hamas’s brutality and the viciousness it uses in oppressing its opponents in the Gaza Strip, even during Operation Cast Lead.
The main points of the Amnesty report 5
6. Since the end of December 2008, during and after the Israeli military offensive, Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip have engaged in a campaign of abductions, deliberate killings, torture and death threats against those they accuse of "collaborating” with Israel . At least two dozen men have been shot dead by Hamas gunmen in this period. Scores of others have been shot in the legs, kneecapped or inflicted with other injuries intended to cause permanent disability, subjected to severe beatings which have caused multiple fractures and other injuries , or otherwise tortured or ill-treated.
7. The victims of Hamas’s deadly campaign include those who escaped from Gaza ‘s Central Prison when it was bombed by Israeli forces on the first day of the operation and are accused of "collaborating” with the Israeli army. Others attacked were former operatives of the Palestinian Authority security forces and other activists affiliated with Fatah . The campaign began shortly after the beginning of Operation Cast Lead and had continued after the ceasefire.
8. Many victims were abducted from their homes and were later found dead or injured in isolated areas, or were found dead in one of Gaza ‘s hospitals. Some were shot dead in the hospitals where they were receiving treatment for injuries they sustained during Operation Cast Lead. The perpetrators of these attacks did not conceal their weapons but rather " behaved in a carefree and confident – almost ostentatious – manner .” It was obvious, according to the report, that the abductions, killings and torture were the work of Hamas because they were the only ones who could operate with such freedom in the Gaza Strip.
9. Amnesty delegates in the Gaza Strip asked to meet with members of the Hamas de-facto administration in order to discuss these and other concerns. A meeting was scheduled with Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nunu on February 1, 2009 , but he cancelled at the last moment; no other meeting could be arranged [which did not prevent Hamas from complaining that the report was one-sided]. According to the report, Amnesty International was gravely concerned that the Hamas de-facto administration in the Gaza Strip not only disregarded such abuses, but justified and even facilitated and encouraged them .
A Selection of the Testimonies Appearing in the Report
The murder of Nasser Muhammad Mhanna
10. Nasser Muhammad Mhanna, 34, father of six, a commander of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades , Fatah’s military-terrorist wing, was detained by Hamas in August 2008. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment on charges of participating in the attempted assassination of Ismail Haniya, head of the Hamas de-facto administration. On the afternoon of January 28 his body was found in a Gaza City suburb; he had been shot in the head and eye at close range .
The murder of three Abu ‘Ashbiyeh brothers
11. ‘Atef, Mohammed and Mahmoud Abu ‘Ashbiyeh , from Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip, were murdered within 24 hours after they escaped from Gaza ‘s central prison. Muhammad, 24, reached the family home in the middle of the afternoon of December 28 but an hour later a group of gunmen came to the house and took him away. His body was found hours later in the morgue of Kamal ‘Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya "with abdomen and head wounds.” The following day the bodies of his two brothers, Mohammed and ‘Atef, were found in the morgue of the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City , both with gunshot wounds in the head, chest and abdomen. The three were detained March 2008 and were accused of "collaborating” with the IDF.
The murder of Jamal al-Ghandour
12. Jamal al-Ghandour, in his mid-50s , was shot dead in his bed in the Al-Shifa hospital on the afternoon of December 28 by unmasked gunmen wearing plain clothes in front of relatives and other witnesses. Also present were uniformed members of Hamas security forces, who did nothing to prevent the killing or to apprehend the perpetrators. Jamal al-Ghandour was receiving treatment for injuries he had sustained that morning in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza ‘s Central Prison, where he had been detained with his son since January 2008 on charges of collaborating with the Israeli army.
Testimonies of others captured by Hamas who escaped execution
13. The following testimonies were given by a number of men who were captured by Hamas but escaped execution. Their names were withheld for their protection:
i) Testimony of A : "On 20 January, in the morning, Hamas gunmen came to my home but I was not there; they went to look for me at my relatives’ house but did not find me and came back to my home just as I was returning. They were masked but I saw their vehicle before they blindfolded me. They put me in the car and drove to a place nearby. There they beat me severely everywhere and then they shot me in the back of my right knee .” A.’s father tried to protest his son’s abduction and was shot in the stomach by the same gunmen. A. was due to travel abroad for medical care but was prevented from doing so by the Hamas de-facto administration.
ii) Testimony of S : "Four masked men came to my house on December 31… at about 4 p.m. ; they were armed with Kalashnikovs. They took me behind my house; they did not say anything. They shot me in the back of my right knee and then shot my left leg three times . My relative tried to intervene but they threatened to shoot him too. When other people from the neighborhood came to see what was happening, the gunmen fled. A few days ago [at the end of January] gunmen again came to the house to ask about me.”
iii) Testimony of W : "In the evening of 9 January members of the Hamas Internal Security came to my home and forced me to go with them. About 20 meters from the house, they shot me in the leg and left me bleeding on the ground . My leg had to be amputated above the knee .” A witness told Amnesty International that one of W.’s relatives tried to run to the scene and intervene when he saw what was happening but the gunmen shot at him, missing him.
iv) Testimony of I : "About 10 armed men came to my house on the afternoon of January 26; about half were masked… They said they were from…the intelligence services of the Internal Security. They had a large white car; they blindfolded me and bundled me into the car. They took me to near the sea; I could not see but could hear the waves. They did not ask me anything; they just said that I talked too much and was interfering where I shouldn’t. They beat me with iron bars all over the body and left me for dead .” He sustained multiple fractures and his entire body was severely bruised. His neighbors said that some of the gunmen work for Hamas’s Internal Security force.
v) Testimony of B : "A group of masked armed men came to my home in a white minibus at 8.30 a.m. on January 28, 2009 . They took me to an area south of Gaza City and beat me with iron bars. They said I was interfering with them; nothing else.” B., who had previously spent several years in Israeli jails, was left with both arms and both legs broken in several places.
vi) Testimony of N : "Some armed men from Internal Security came to our home looking for me on January 20 at around 1 p.m. , but I was not at home and they took my son instead; so as soon as I returned home I went to the police station to ask what they wanted and to get my son back. Another of my relatives was also being detained there. They took all three of us to an abandoned farm near the police station and beat us. They accused me of distributing sweets in the neighborhood to celebrate the assassination by the Israeli army of [Hamas Minister of the Interior] Sa’id Siyam. 6 I told them this was not true. Then they said that if I told them about three people who had distributed sweets and who were happy about Sa’id Siyam’s assassination they would let me go. I told them I didn’t know anyone…They also accused us of sending reports to Egypt and to the PA in the West Bank . In the end they let us go but told us to stay at home for a month and said that if we talked about this they would shoot us.”
Evidence from other sources about the repression of Hamas opponents
during and after Operation Cast Lead
14. Reports about the repression of Hamas opponents were obtained from Palestinians detained by the IDF during Operation Cast Lead. For example, Hamas operative Nawaf Faisal Atar , a resident of Al-Atatra who was detained on January 11, said that Gazans who dared to oppose Hamas were shot in the legs [as corroborated by the Amnesty report]. He said that Gazans were afraid to oppose Hamas because its operatives did not hesitate to call people Israeli collaborators and execute them. Hamad Fajar Saleh , a resident of Jabaliya, who was detained on January 12, said that in 2007 Hamas operatives shot and killed his brother, who had guarded the house of the Palestinian Authority employee responsible for internal security. He also said that Hamas prevented people affiliated with Fatah from getting the food and other items of humanitarian aid they were entitled to from UNRWA. 7
15. In addition the media (especially those affiliated with Fatah) issued similar reports. For example, during Operation Cast Lead a motorcyclist was reported to have shot and killed a Palestinian in Gaza who had been suspected of collaborating with Israel and who escaped from the detention facility attacked by the Israeli Air Force. According to eye witnesses, the victim was shot three times in the head and chest (Reuters, January 4, 2009 ).
16. Three weeks after the end of Operation Cast Lead Ihab Al-Ghassin , spokesman for the interior ministry of the Hamas administration, issued a statement to the effect that the security forces had detained a number of groups guilty of spying for Israel a few days before the beginning of the operation. He said that during the operation other groups had been exposed and some of them had been killed after they admitted to having relayed information regarding the whereabouts of senior Hamas figures and the deployment of Hamas forces on the ground. 8 He added that the interior ministry had begun an investigation of the killings and attacks which took place during and after Operation Cast Lead, stressing that they would find and apprehend anyone involved in illegal activities (PalMedia website, February 3, 2009 ).
Evidence of medical facilities turned into prisons
17. A January 19, 2009 article in the Jerusalem Post quoted a senior Fatah activist in Ramallah who claimed that at least 100 Fatah activists had been killed or wounded by Hamas on suspicion of collaboration with Israel . It also reported eye witnesses as saying that Hamas had turned a number of hospitals and school in Khan Yunis and Rafah into torture facilities and had renewed orders of house arrest for many activists considered "suspects” ( Jerusalem Post article by Khaled Abu Toameh, January 19, 2009 ).
18. There are also reports stating that Hamas took over medical facilities for its own purposes during and after Operation Cast Lead. Sources within Fatah said that Hamas took over the ground floor radiation unit of the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City and used it as a jail and interrogation center. That was done after the prison in the Al-Shati refugee camp in the western part of Gaza City was demolished by the Israeli Air Force. To change the radiation unit into a prison, instruments and equipment were moved to the hospital’s first floor or reception area (Fatah affiliated Al-Ahed website, January 21, 2009).
19. In view of the reports, the health ministry of the Salam Fayyad government issued a statement accusing the Hamas security forces of turning medical centers into jails and interrogation centers during and after Operation Cast Lead. That was done by expelling the medical personnel who had responded to the Salam Fayyad government’s call and returned to work. The announcement noted the astonishment felt by the Palestinian people and the world at large that after the IDF operation, Hamas’s security forces had taken over the Al-Shifa hospital , especially the oncology ward and the new building which was to be used as a reception area by medical specialists. According to the announcement, Hamas also used more than 15 rooms on the top floor of the old Al-Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis, the ground floor of the new Al-Nasser hospital and the psychiatric hospital as centers for interrogation and torture. Salam Fayyad demanded that the Hamas forces take responsibility and prevent the theft of medical and relief equipment (Ma’an News Agency, February 7, 2009 ). It was the first official announcement of the Palestinian Authority’s health ministry which gave concrete examples of events and condemned them. 9
1 Amnesty International is an international non-governmental organization which defines its mission as "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated” ( http://www.amnesty.org/en/who-we-are/about-amnesty-international ).
2 In our assessment, accusing members of Fatah of collaborating with Israel is meant to serve Hamas as an excuse to settle scores with its opponents. The real reason for the murders and other acts of violence is Hamas’s desire to reinforce its position and control of the Gaza Strip and to weaken its opponents.
3 One of the targets attacked on the first day of Operation Cast Lead was Hamas’s Tel al-Islam post in the northern Gaza Strip. In the past it was used by the Palestinian Preventive Security Services. Hamas took over the compound when it took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, and it has since served as a base for the Executive Force (which was integrated into the Hamas police force). It also served as headquarters for Hamas senior coast guard forces and as a facility for the incarceration and interrogation of Fatah activists and other suspected of collaborating with Israel (IDF Spokesman, December 27, 2008 ).
4 Hamas issued a press release claiming that the Amnesty report was one-sided, unfair and based on media lies. It "advised” Amnesty that it would better spend its time by reporting the so-called "war crimes” committed by Israel (Palestine-info website, February 12, 2009 ).
5 According to AI Index: MDE 21/001/2009 as it appeared on the Amnesty website (http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE21/002/2009/en/bc0af48d-f866-11dd-a0a9-2bd73ca4d38a/mde210022009en.pdf) .
6 Sayid Siyam, interior minister in the Hamas administration and responsible for the security forces dealing with repressing Hamas opponents, was killed in an IDF attack on January 15, 2009 , during Operation Cast Lead.
7 According to reports of the interrogations of Hamas military-terrorist operatives who were detained during Operation Cast Lead and available on the Israel Security Agency website.
8 The Hamas-affiliated PalPress website reported that a Palestinian was executed after having been suspected of relating information which led to the death of Hamas administration interior minister Sayid Siyam (PalPress website).
9 For further information see our January 28, 2009 bulletin entitled "Gazans Tell How Hamas Used Them As Human Shields” .