Hamas forces carried out a brutal campaign of abductions, torture and unlawful killings against Palestinians accused of “collaborating” with Israel and others during Israel’s military offensive against Gaza in July and August 2014, according to a new report by Amnesty International.
‘Strangling Necks’: Abduction, Torture and Summary Killings of Palestinians by Hamas Forces During the 2014 Gaza/Israel Conflict highlights a series of abuses, such as the extrajudicial execution of at least 23 Palestinians and the arrest and torture of dozens of others, including members and supporters of Hamas’s political rivals, Fatah.
“It is absolutely appalling that, while Israeli forces were inflicting massive death and destruction upon the people in Gaza, Hamas forces took the opportunity to ruthlessly settle scores, carrying out a series of unlawful killings and other grave abuses,” said Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.
“In the chaos of the conflict, the de facto Hamas administration granted its security forces free rein to carry out horrific abuses including against people in its custody. These spine-chilling actions, some of which amount to war crimes, were designed to exact revenge and spread fear across the Gaza Strip.”
Many of these unlawful killings were publicly billed as attacks against people assisting Israel during the July and August 2014 conflict as part of an operation, codenamed “Strangling Necks,” to target “collaborators.” However, in reality, at least 16 of those executed had been in Hamas custody since before the conflict broke out. Many had been awaiting the outcome of their trials when they were taken away from prison and summarily executed.
Hamas forces also abducted, tortured or attacked members and supporters of Fatah, their main rival political organization within Gaza, including former members of the Palestinian Authority security forces.
Not a single person has been held accountable for the crimes committed by Hamas forces against Palestinians during the 2014 conflict, indicating that these crimes were either ordered or condoned by the authorities.
“Instead of upholding justice, the Hamas authorities and leadership have continuously encouraged and facilitated these appalling crimes against powerless individuals. Their failure to even condemn the unlawful killings, abduction and torture of perceived suspects leaves them effectively with blood on their hands,” said Luther.
Atta Najjar, a former police officer under the Palestinian Authority who has a mental disability, was serving a 15-year prison term imposed by a military court after he was arrested in 2009 and subsequently convicted of “collaborating” with Israel. On August 22, 2014, he was taken out from the prison and executed.
“There were marks of torture and bullet shots on his body. His arms and legs were broken…his body was as if you’d put it in a bag and smashed it… His body was riddled with about 30 bullets. He had slaughter marks around his neck, marks of knives…And from behind the head –there was no brain. Empty…It was difficult for us to carry him…He was heavy, like when you put meat in a bag; no bones. His bones were smashed. They broke him in the prison,” said his brother, who retrieved the body from al-Shifa hospital morgue on August 22, 2014.
Eight detainees were still on trial charged with “collaboration” with Israel at the time of their executions. Six others had been awaiting the outcome of appeals against death sentences from a military court in Gaza on the same charges. Two others had been convicted and were serving prison terms when they were executed. Many had been sentenced after trials before courts whose proceedings are grossly unfair. A number had said they had been tortured in order to extract “confessions.”
Ibrahim Dabour, an insurance company employee and father of two children, was held at Katiba Prison in Gaza City standing trial before a military court on a charge of “communicating with hostile sides” when he was taken out and extrajudicially executed by firing squad on August 22, 2014.
“We were told about the execution by people around us at 1pm. There was no official notification. He was executed at 9:30 a.m. on Friday. My brother received a text message at 10:31 p.m. that night saying ‘The judgement against Ibrahim Dabour has been carried out according to the Shari’a as per the ruling of the Revolutionary Court,’” his brother told Amnesty International.
“Even if he had been sentenced to death, there would have been an appeals process and other alternatives. What they have done is nothing to do with justice, it’s just criminal. These are the actions of militias,” he said.
In one of the most shocking incidents six men were publicly executed by Hamas forces outside al-Omari mosque on August 22 in front of hundreds of spectators including children. Hamas announced the men were suspected “collaborators” who had been sentenced to death in “revolutionary courts.” The hooded men were dragged along the floor to kneel by a wall facing the crowd, then each man was shot in the head individually before being sprayed with bullets fired from an AK-47.
“The Hamas leadership repeatedly calls for rights and justice for Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere. But they do not always act in a manner that reflects respect for rights, justice and the rule of law. By failing to halt such grave violations, the Hamas authorities are dragging the name of justice through the mud and condoning these appalling crimes,” said Luther.
As well as carrying out unlawful killings, others abducted by Hamas were subjected to torture, including severe beatings with truncheons, gun butts, hoses and wire or held in stress positions. Some were interrogated and tortured or otherwise ill-treated in a disused outpatient’s clinic within the grounds of Gaza City’s main al-Shifa hospital. At least three people arrested during the conflict accused of “collaboration” died in custody.
“Hamas forces have displayed a disregard for the most fundamental rules of international humanitarian law. Torture and cruel treatment of detainees in an armed conflict is a war crime. Extrajudicial executions are also war crimes. The de facto administration in Gaza must send a message to all law enforcement forces to treat prisoners humanely at all times. All allegations of extrajudicial execution and torture must be impartially and independently investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice in fair trials,” said Luther.
Amnesty International is calling on the Palestinian authorities, including the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza, to co-operate with independent and impartial international investigative mechanisms, judicial or non-judicial, including the Commission of Inquiry set up by the UN Human Rights Council in July 2014. They should seek to ensure that the cases documented in this report, among others, are investigated impartially and independently and that, wherever there is sufficient admissible evidence, suspected perpetrators are brought to justice in proceedings that fully respect international fair trial standards and without recourse to the death penalty.