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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Hamas’ War Crimes

Filed under: International Law

I have yet to see any of the major NGO’s or other players in the internation law field turn any serious attention to Hamas war crimes and other violations of international law committed during the current fighting in Gaza.

To fill in the gap, I will, as I get to it, list reports of Hamas war crimes, primarily as reported by media outlets outside of Israel. I will update the list as I run across items, and will be delighted to get emails from readers with further suggestions.

Just to get things rolling, here’s a start:

On January 7, the Washington Post  reported that Hamas “opted for a tactical withdrawal, with its fighters melting away into the strip’s sprawling cities and refugee camps, according to Gaza residents and Israeli military analysts and officers. Now, Hamas appears to be daring the Israeli troops to follow.” This appears to be a deliberate and illegal attempt to use Gaza’s urban population as civilian shields.

This December 29 story from the New York Times quotes a Hamas spokesman calling on Hamas terrorists (and others) to murder Israeli civilians. In the wrods of the Times, “Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, told reporters that Israel had started a ‘war’ but that it would not be able to choose how it would end. He called for revenge in the form of strikes reaching ‘deep into the Zionist entity using all means,’ including suicide attacks.” This violates the rule of distinction, and is arguably incitement in violation of article 6 of the Genocide Convention.

This December 29 story from the New York Times describes Hamas death squads murdering Palestinians in Shifa Hospital in Gaza: “At Shifa Hospital in Gaza, the director, Dr. Hussein Ashour … was not the only official in charge. Armed Hamas militants in civilian clothes roamed the halls. Asked their function, they said it was to provide security. But there was internal bloodletting under way. In the fourth-floor orthopedic section, a woman in her late 20s asked a militant to let her see Saleh Hajoj, her 32-year-old husband. She was turned away and left the hospital. Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Hajoj was carried out by young men pretending to transfer him to another ward. As he lay on the stretcher, he was shot in the left side of the head. Mr. Hajoj, like five others killed at the hospital this way in 24 hours, was accused of collaboration with Israel.” Murders like this are generally considered crimes against humanity.

The same story also described Hamas rocket attacks on civilians in Ashkelon that killed a construction worker, wounded several others and otherwise forced civilians into shelters. These attacks violate the rule of distinction. Curiously, the New York Times story described all this in the passive voice, without identifying the persons shooting off the rockets.

Finally, the same story described another instance of illegal civilian shielding by Hamas and the tragic consequences to five Palestinian civilians: “In the Jabalya refugee camp on Sunday, an attack on a mosque where militants were hiding also struck a nearby house, killing five girls under the age of 18, health ministry officials said.”


Update 12.1.09

This New York Times story from January 9 describes Hamas attacks from a residential area, next to an apartment building, resulting in the deaths of at least two Palestinian civilians from Israeli return fire. More facts are needed, but, prima facie, this looks like a crime of civilian shielding.

This New York Times story from January 8 describes several Hamas attacks on Beersheba in violation of the rule of distinction, and says the total number of Hamas rocket attacks on Israel (civilians) during the day was “more than 20.”

Update 13.1.09

According to this story in Gulf News, Iran has been funnelling money to Hamas since 1990, and “By 2006, Hamas announced that it had received $120 million from Iran, used to pay wages of state employees, and the security forces of Hamas.” The illegal act here is by Iran: under Security Council Resolution 1373 (adopted under Chapter VII and therefore binding, although some have argued that it is an ultra vires legislative measure), states must “Refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts” and “Prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts.”

This film released by the IDF and available on YouTube shows a school wired with explosives by Hamas. This is very likely a violation of the rule against perfidy.

According to this story in the Jerusalem Post from January 12, Israeli intelligence claims that Hamas is using Shifa Hospital to shield Hamas combat targets in various ways: by using the Hospital as a meeting place, including as a place for distributing salaries, and by dressing up combatants as doctors. These are acts of illegal civilian shielding, and – in the case of combatants dressing as doctors – perfidy.

Update 15.1.09


This Times story reports on the fighting tactics of Hamas as reported by “Mohammed,” a “bearded young Hamas fighter” who “achieved his childhood dream of joining the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the [so-called] military wing of Hamas, at the age of 18.” Reported Mohammed, Hamas fighters “wore civilian clothes, concealed their weapons, and no longer walked around in groups.” The story adds that a “detailed, hand-drawn Hamas map of a neighbourhood called Al-Atatra, discovered by Israeli paratroopers last week on the body of a Hamas fighter, showed tunnels, sniper positions next to a mosque and numerous explosive devices planted in roads, homes and a petrol station.” The dressing of combatants as civilians and the concealing of weaponry constitute war crimes of perfidy. Locating sniper positions next to mosques constitutes an illegal act of civilian shielding. The same can arguably be said about planting explosive devices in residential homes.

This New York Times story echoes the report that “Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms.”

The same story reports (shockingly, in an aside in the 16th paragraph) on the “Hamas tactic of asking civilians to stand on the roofs of buildings so Israeli pilots will not bomb.” This is, of course, an illegal act of civilian shielding. It also puts the lie to claims that Israel targets civilians: Hamas and Palestinians civilians understand that Israel will refrain from bombing civilians, and the Palestinian civilians are so sure of this, they will readily bet their lives.

The NYT story also reports that “Hamas rocket and weapons caches, including rocket launchers, have been discovered in and under mosques, schools and civilian homes, the army says. The Israeli intelligence chief, Yuval Diskin, in a report to the Israeli cabinet, said that the Gaza-based leadership of Hamas was in underground housing beneath the No. 2 building of Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza. That allegation cannot be confirmed.”  All these are acts of civilian shielding (and in some cases perfidy), and therefore war crimes.

This Jerusalem Post story describes more rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, this time on Ashkelon.

This New York Times story reports that “Yuval Diskin, chief of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency, told the cabinet here on Sunday that Hamas had cold-bloodedly killed about 70 Fatah supporters in Gaza under the cover of the war.”

This January 15 NYT story reported 16 rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli civilian targets during January 14 and 25 on January 15, including one which “struck the Israeli city of Beersheba, directly hitting a car and wounding six people, the Israeli military said. Among them was a 7-year-old boy, whose injuries were serious.” All these attacks violated the rule of distinction.

This clip, available on MEMRI, is a speech by Sheikh Safwat Higazi that aired on Hamas Al-Aqsa TV on December 31, 2008 calling on “the youth of the Al-Qassam Brigades” and urging them to “Dispatch those sons of apes and pigs [i.e., Jews] to the Hellfire, on the wings of the Qassam rockets.” Higazi added, “The [Jews]… deserve to be killed. They deserve to die. Destroy… everything over there.” This is direct and fairly clear incitement to genocide.

This Jerusalem Post story describes Hamas attacks on humanitarian aid trucks on January 12 in which Hamas raided “100 aid trucks that Israel had allowed into Gaza, stole their contents and sold them to the highest bidders.” This action is a violation of the rule requiring combatants to cooperate with humanitarian relief efforts.

This story in the Australian describes “an entire school building and an adjacent zoo rigged with explosives.” You can see the film posted by the IDF on YouTube as well. Transforming schools into weapons is an act of perfidy.

This Jerusalem Post story describes more rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.

Update: 24.1.09

This story in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera (you’ll have to do your own translations from Italian), is compiled from interviews in Gaza with Palestinians and describes Palestinians’ complaints about Hamas’ use of civilian shields. According to the story, in many cases, Palestinian civilians attempted block entrance to their houses in order to prevent Hamas fighters from transforming the homes into military targets, but Hamas knocked down doors and sometimes shot at Palestinian citizens on the way to taking up positions in ambulances and high floors and courtyards of residential buildings, as well as near hospitals, schools and UN buildings. Hamas’ attacks on Palestinian civilians are, of course, illegal, as are its acts of civilian shielding. The use of ambulances to transform fighters constitutes the war crime of perfidy. In one section of the story, Magah al Rachmah, aged 25, is quoted as saying that Hamas fighters forced ambulance drivers and nurses to take off their uniforms with paramedic symbols in order to permit the fighters to use the ambulances together with the nurses and thereby elude Israeli forces. Other parts of the story discuss Hamas’ kidnapping, torture and execution of Fatah forces, including Achmad Shakhura, aged 47, of Khan Yunis, who was allegedly kidnapped and killed by Hamas, but not before they first tortured him, putting out his left eye. Incidentally, the story also accuses Hamas of inflating casualty figures of civilians. Lorenzo Cremonesi, the reporter of this story, sticks out in my memory as the only European reporter I can recall who wrote during the frenzy in 2002 about an alleged Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Jenin that, despite lurid stories of dozens of Palestinian “survivors” of a massacre, “it was all talk and nothing could be verified … the [true] death toll was not more than 50 and most of them were combatants.”

Update 27.1.09
This storyin the Sydney Morning Herald describes how Hamas fighters coerced Red Crescent workers into illegally using ambulances to transport Hamas fighters during the war. These actions constituted war crimes of perfidy. Here are some excerpts: “Mohammed Shriteh, 30, is an ambulance driver registered with and trained by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. … Mr Shriteh told the Herald, ‘We would co-ordinate with the Israelis before we pick up patients, because they have all our names, and our IDs, so they would not shoot at us.’ Mr Shriteh said the more immediate threat was from Hamas, who would lure the ambulances into the heart of a battle to transport fighters to safety. … ‘After the first week, at night time, there was a call for a house in Jabaliya.’ … Getting out of the ambulance and entering the house, he saw there were three Hamas fighters taking cover inside…. ‘They dropped their weapons and ordered me to get them out, to put them in the ambulance and take them away. I refused … And then one of the fighters picked up a gun and held it to my head, to force me.’ … Mr Shriteh says Hamas made several attempts to hijack the al-Quds Hospital’s fleet of ambulances during the war.”Update: 28.1.09This story in Der Spiegel explores further Hamas’s illegal use of civilians and their housing as shields for combat operations. Der Spiegel interviewed several Palestinians in the Gaza strip who described losses they suffered due to Hamas. Here are some excerpts: “Mohammed Sadala’s rage is aimed at the man, whose remains he found in his bedroom: a Hamas fighter. He and a comrade broke into the home which had long stood empty after the Sadala family fled. The Hamas men shot at the approaching Israelis from the balcony. The soldiers fired back, killing the militants and destroying the house of the 10-strong family in the process. … Others swallow their anger. Hail’s house is just a few streets away and only suffered light damage. … Hail also found out after the cease-fire that the militants had used his house as a base for their operations. The door to his house stood open and there were electric cables lying in the hallway. When Hail followed them they led to his neighbor’s house which it seems Hamas had mined. As Hail, in his mid-30s, sat on his porch and thought about what to do a man came by: He was from Hamas and had left something in Hail’s home. He let him in and the man then emerged with a bullet proof vest, a rocket launcher and an ammunitions belt. An hour later a fighter with Islamic Jihad called to the door, then disappeared onto the roof and reappeared with a box of ammunition.”The Der Spiegel article also briefly discusses’ Hamas’s suppression of political opposition through deadly force: “One of [Abu Abed’s] neighbors weighs in: ‘Many people are now against Hamas but that won’t change anything,’ he says. ‘Because anyone who stands up to them is killed.’ Since they took power Hamas has used brutal force against any dissenters in the Gaza Strip. There were news agency reports that during the war they allegedly executed suspected collaborators with Israel. The reign of terror will go on for some time, says the neighbor who doesn’t want to give his name. ‘There will never be a rebellion against Hamas. It would be suicide.’”