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

Turning a Blind Eye to Hamas War Crimes

Filed under: Hamas

On August 14, 2009, “police” forces belonging to the Hamas de-facto administration and the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, its military-terrorist wing, attacked the Ibn Taymmiyah mosque in Rafah, where operatives of the Jund Ansar Allah group (affiliated ideologically with Al-Qaeda) were located. Twenty-eight Palestinians were killed in the attack, at least 100 were wounded, and the mosque suffered heavy damages.

Hamas Attack on Ibn Taimiyah Mosque

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights issued the following report:

“At approximately 13:00 on Friday, 14 August 2009, during the Friday Sermon, Sheikh ‘Abdul Latif Mousa, the Imam of Ibn Taimiyah Mosque in al-Brazil neighborhood in Rafah, declared the birth of an Islamic emirate and called for allegiance for him and his group, which he called “Soldiers of Allah’s Supporters [Jund Ansar Allah].” Sheikh Mousa also criticized the Government in Gaza and threatened it with fighting if it attempts to storm and control the mosque.

“The sermon was preceded by intensive deployment of members of the ‘Izziddin al-Qassam Brigades and police officers in the vicinity of the mosque. At the end of the prayer, the worshippers left the mosque quietly. However, dozens of members of the armed group stayed in the mosque until the afternoon prayer (approximately 16:30). Shortly after 17:00, the besieging forces ordered all those who were inside the mosque to surrender. Families of a number of those who were inside the mosque intervened and demanded their relatives to get out of the mosque. Some of them accepted the demand and got out of the mosque. Soon after, gunmen opened fire from inside the mosque at members of the ‘Izziddin al-Qassam Brigades and police officers. Consequently, a bloody confrontation erupted between the two sides, which continued until 06:00 on Saturday. At least 28 persons have been killed, including 5 ones who have not been identified so far [as of the publication of the report]. The dead include 3 civilians, 3 police officers, 3 members of the ‘Izziddin al-Qassam Brigades and 8 members of the armed group, including its leader, Sheikh ‘Abdul Latif Mousa. At least 100 others have been wounded.

“Members of the ‘Izziddin al-Qassam Brigades and police officers controlled the mosque and its vicinity. Rescue operation are still ongoing under rubbles of two houses adjacent to the mosque, which belong to Sheikh Mousa and the Lafi family, where Shiekh Mousa’s body was found.

“The police arrested at least 100 persons who are suspected to be members of the armed group, including some of the wounded persons. The police closed the area and the vicinity of the main hospital in the town and denied access of journalists.”[1]

Videotapes photographed secretly documented some of the main scenes of the attack on the mosque by Hamas and Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades police, and the following events can be seen:[2]

  • Massive, heavy machine gun and rifle fire directed at the mosque, including the minaret.
  • Anti-tank and RPG fire at the mosque.
  • The operatives barricaded inside the mosque use its public address system to appeal to the Hamas forces for medical aid to treat the wounded. The appeal is answered with massive gunfire.
  • The operatives inside the mosque beg Allah to give reason and discretion to the Hamas forces shooting at the mosque.
  • A group of armed Hamas operatives (apparently police) in uniform stand next to one of the mosque corners with a group of men, apparently Jund Ansar Allah operatives who had surrendered. They are seen being beaten, and then the pictures stop. When they resume a number of bodies can be seen on the ground, men apparently shot to death, while armed Hamas operatives stand nearby. The Jund Ansar Allah group claimed they were the bodies of its men executed by Hamas police and Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades operatives.

How did the human rights organizations react to the Hamas attack on the mosque in Rafah?

B’tselem was silent

B’tselem did not react to the event at all. There was no official announcement on its website and the search engines turned up no related information. However, the organization continues to follow closely the human rights situation in the Gaza Strip and to criticize Israel systematically, repeatedly claiming that “despite its “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip, … Israel continues to hold effective control of many aspects of life in Gaza, … This scope of control imposes on Israel responsibility for the safety and welfare of the residents there, in accordance with the laws of occupation specified in the Hague and Geneva Conventions. Regardless of the questions of the legal status of the Gaza Strip, international humanitarian law and international human rights law require Israel to protect civilians in time of armed conflict, safeguard wounded and sick persons, prevent deterioration in the humanitarian situation, and enable the shipment of necessary medicines and provision of an adequate standard of health.”[3]

Based on that fundamental perception, on July 1, 2009 B’tselem issued an official statement which indirectly criticized the Palestinian Authority security forces under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas for the death of a Palestinian prisoner in a hospital in Hebron. “The PA,” it said, “must investigate the death of Haitham ‘Amru and bring the perpetrators to justice. Additionally, the PA must establish clear procedures regarding treatment of detainees, which will ensure the detainee’s wellbeing and clearly reflect the absolute prohibition on torture.”[4]

The announcement raises serious questions about the organization’s standards. Why did B’tselem find it necessary to issue an announcement about the death of one Palestinian who served in the Palestinian security forces in Hebron (which belong to Fatah), while keeping silent over the attack carried out by the Hamas police in Rafah which killed 28 Palestinians?

Amnesty International was silent

Amnesty International, whose website posted numerous strongly-worded reports since the beginning of the year criticizing Israel, also chose not to relate to the Hamas attack on the mosque in Rafah even a month and a half after it occurred. On the other hand, on September 10, 2009, they did officially condemn the Egyptian security forces for shooting to death four “migrants” who tried to infiltrate Israel from Egyptian territory.[5] Amnesty noted that at least 28 Sudanese and Ethiopians were shot to death and many others were wounded by the Egyptian security forces during 2008, and that 11 more had been killed in similar circumstances since the beginning of 2009. Killing 39 illegal migrants who posed no security risk was not described by Amnesty as an Egyptian security force “war crime,” although those responsible should be tried in an international court, especially in light of the fact that Amnesty itself noted that so far no legal action had been taken in Egypt against those responsible for the systematic murders.

In strident contradiction to the stringent approach towards Israel, Amnesty International treats Egypt with kid gloves in a situation which the organization itself describes as one in which the Egyptian forces have a “license to kill.” Amnesty worded its appeal to the Egyptian government in the following terms: “Amnesty International has urged the Egyptian authorities to open an investigation into the killings of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers at the border, to clarify the specific circumstances in which security officers at the border are instructed that they may use firearms and to ensure that these comply with relevant international human rights standards.”

Not only that, but Amnesty also hinted that Israel is responsible for Egypt’s itchy trigger finger! According to the organization’s announcement, “The use of lethal force, which began in mid 2007, may be a result of Israel’s pressure on Egypt to reduce the flow of people crossing the border into its territory without authorization.” Amnesty presents no evidence for its claim, or supposition, despite its severity and the attempt to make Israel indirectly responsible for the deaths of dozens of African refugees killed by the Egyptian security forces.

Human Rights Watch was silent

In a surprising coincidence (perhaps not so surprising), Human Rights Watch also chose to ignore the Hamas attack on the mosque in Rafah and to issue a special report about the deaths of the four migrants at the hands of the Egyptian security forces. Its report also insinuated that Israel was linked in one way or another. In the announcement, issued on September 10, 2009, Human Rights Watch made sure to emphasize that “the latest killings come just days before President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel are scheduled to hold high-level talks in Cairo on September 13.”[6]

That bit of information is a non sequitur completely irrelevant to the killing of the four migrants. Apparently Human Rights Watch chose to mention it in order to suggest a possible connection between the two and to hint that it was somehow linked to Egyptian-Israeli relations and Israel’s fear of refugees infiltrating into it through the Egyptian border.

In addition, Human Rights Watch’ approach is particularly strange and raises grave doubts as to the genuine commitment to human rights it purports to have. The organization claimed to have documented 31 cases of refugees killed by the Egyptian security forces, and mentioned the outspoken remarks made by the commander of the Sinai region, Muhammed Shusha, justifying the shooting of the refugees: “’Egypt has every right to manage its borders, but using routine lethal force against unarmed migrants – and potential asylum seekers – would be a serious violation of the right to life,’ said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.”

Moreover, Human Rights Watch did not define the Egyptian policy of deliberately killing infiltrators as a “war crime,” and did not call on or demand the Egyptian government to investigate the deaths of the dozens of infiltrators and to bring those responsible to trial, and it certainly did not demand to try the commander of the Sinai region and his officers and soldiers in an international war crimes court. All it asked was that “Egyptian authorities… should bring an immediate end to the unlawful killings of migrants and asylum seekers near Egypt’s Sinai border with Israel.”

In addition, its announcement dealing with shots fired by the Egyptian security forces again implicated Israel, this time severely criticizing Israel for its treatment of infiltrators.

Is the silence of the human rights organizations connected to the timing of the Goldstone Report?

An analysis of the event reveals a great deal about the way Hamas operates in the Gaza Strip, its war crimes against its own people and the close ties between the official security forces under the control of the Hamas de-facto administration and the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the movement’s military-terrorist wing:

  • The methods employed by the Palestinian police at the Ibn Taymmiyah mosque indicate that it is a military force in every respect.
  • The police collaborated with the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades in an action which was clearly military in nature.
  • Most of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades operatives killed in the attack were members of the Palestinian police force.
  • The Hamas police attacked a mosque, a place sacred to Muslims.
  • The Hamas police fired massive amounts of ammunition, including heavy machine guns and anti-tank missiles, in a densely populated area endangering the lives of innocent civilians.
  • The Hamas police prevented rescue forces from treating the wounded in the mosque, despite their pleas.
  • There is a grave suspicion that the Hamas police killed in cold blood men who had surrendered.
  • The Hamas police prevented the media from covering the event and prevented the wounded from being evacuated to a hospital, seriously violating freedom of the press and attempting to conceal war crimes.
  • The action was commanded by senior officers in the Palestinian police. The Hamas de-facto administration, through its ministry of the interior, is responsible for the actions of the police and it justified them without a qualm.
  • The men inside the Ibn Taymmiyah mosque were armed, not only with guns and hand grenades, but with explosive belts.

The affair of the attack on the Ibn Taymmiyah mosque bears all the signs of a war crime, and the names of those responsible are well known. Not only are they not in hiding, they are proud of what they did and justify their actions. The affair is compatible with Israel’s descriptions of the methods used by Hamas and the other terrorist organizations during Operation Cast Lead, including the use of mosques for terrorist purposes and the presence of armed operatives inside them, shooting in densely populated areas with complete disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians, and the fact that Hamas’ security forces are in fact a fighting force tied to the movement’s military-terrorist wing.

The Hamas attack on the mosque in Rafah was given wide coverage and statements, as well as information documented by photographs, were broadcast by all the media. The reports also reached the three human rights organizations noted above, B’tselem, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch , but they chose to ignore an event in which 28 Palestinians were killed and at least 100 wounded. Why? Why were they silent? Did they coordinate their positions? Do they have a common ideology guiding them? Is there a link between timing of the Goldstone Report and the events in Rafah? The human rights organizations have the answers, and will have to clarify their positions. In any case, their continuing, inexplicable silence (a month and a half!) casts a dark shadow on their honesty and the standards they use, and demands a close examination of the reliability of the accusations they continually make against Israel.