Yesterday (actually, I mean yesterday – a year ago) the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killed 3 top commanders of the military wing of Hamas in Gaza.
Today (a year ago), Hamas responded by executing 18 suspected Palestinian collaborators in Gaza. The executions were very public and meant to send a strong message to anyone who might be considering collaborating with the Israelis. The New York Times reported:
Al Majd, a website managed by the Internal Security Service of the Hamas government that ran Gaza until June (2014), warned that future collaborators would be dealt with in the field, not in courthouses, to create deterrence.
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other organizations condemned the summary executions. The United Nations Independent Commission appointed to investigate Operation Protective Shield concluded that these summary executions constituted violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. (para #501)
Hamas and others may try to justify these extrajudicial killings but there can be no justification for killing someone without giving him due process and a trial. Either Palestinians live under the rule of law, or they live under the law of the jungle. There is no middle ground. The perpetrators of these extrajudicial killings must be brought to justice.
Below are excerpts from the U.N. Commission’s report:
Based on its research, the commission documented summary executions of at least 21 persons, including one woman, committed between 5 and 22 August 2014 in Gaza City, allegedly for being collaborators for Israel. Five summary executions occurred on 5 August, one on 11 August, and at least 15 on 22 August. The people executed on 5 August, and at least 11 persons executed on 22 August, were taken from Al-Katiba prison where they had been held in the custody of the local authorities in Gaza and shot by firing squad. Of these 16 executions, 8 persons had trials ongoing and 2 had received prison sentences after conviction. The other 6 individuals had challenged death sentences imposed under the PLO Revolutionary Penal Code of 1979 and were waiting for the decisions on their appeals.
On 7 August, Al Qassam Brigades, the armed branch of Hamas, claimed responsibility for the 5 August executions, declaring that the persons executed were “found guilty of giving information on the whereabouts of fighters and civilian houses”. On 22 August, Al Qassam Brigades announced the execution of 11 persons in the morning and 7 after the Friday prayers at Al Omari mosque.
The 22 August executions occurred a day after three Al Qassam commanders were killed by the IDF in Rafah and were followed by the announcement of a security campaign against “collaborators” dubbed “Operation Strangling Necks”. In the morning of 22 August, 11 Al Katiba detainees were executed outside the abandoned Al Jawazat police station and Hamas reportedly warned that “the same punishment would soon be imposed on others”. On the same morning, masked men reportedly read a Hamas statement outside Al Omari mosque announcing that several “collaborators” had been sentenced to death. As worshippers were leaving the mosque, at least six persons were executed in front of them by masked men.
Representatives of the local authorities in Gaza told the commission that the executions were carried out by self-organized Palestinian factions operating in secrecy, without instructions from the authorities. They informed the commission that the local authorities had purportedly created a body to investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings. The Ministry of Interior of the State of Palestine said that “The Palestinian President and Government have frequently condemned the arbitrary executions carried out during the attack against the Gaza Strip, describing them as illegal. The Government of National Consensus, formed just days before the attack, did not have a presence on the ground in the Gaza strip effective enough to enable its judicial organs to investigate such acts. The Palestinian Public Prosecutor’s Office has still not been able to exercise its legal jurisdiction by investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators of those actions.” The commission learned that a draft law to strengthen judicial and procedural safeguards for the prosecution of alleged “collaborators” and pave the way for the abolition of the death penalty has been put forward by the State of Palestine. Government authorities have pledged to investigate 25 cases of summary executions that were brought to its attention once it recovers control over the Gaza strip.
The summary executions had devastating consequences that extend well beyond the acts themselves. Since they are widely perceived as evidence of the victims’ guilt, the stigma that accompanies them “punishes” the relatives. Witnesses spoke of the executions as indelible stains on the family’s reputation and honour, which can be long-lasting and translate into various forms of discrimination, including in terms of access to education and employment. Witnesses described how relatives of those executed face exclusion and could not find jobs as a result of the executions. They also pointed out that they did not believe that there was any chance that the perpetrators would be brought to justice. Moreover, the witnesses requested that their identities remain confidential as they feared retaliation by members of the political leadership or by society at-large for speaking out. Although the local authorities told the commission that specialized social affairs committees had been set up to support the families of persons accused of collaboration, the far-reaching effects of stigma call for a stronger response to ensure that the civil, political, social and economic rights of the relatives are fully protected. With regard to the detainees taken from Al Katiba prison, where they had been in the custody of the local authorities in Gaza while their judicial proceedings were pending, the commission is concerned by the statement by the local authorities that the executions were carried out by Palestinian armed groups without any participation by the local authorities. Given that ensuring the safety of the detainees was the responsibility of the authorities, the latter appear to have been complicit in the executions.
The commission is of the view that inmates were transferred out of the prison and summarily executed with the apparent knowledge of the local authorities in Gaza, in violation of their obligation to protect the right to life and security of those in their custody. These extrajudicial executions, many of which were carried out in public, constitute a violation of both international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects the right to life and cannot be derogated from, not even “in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed” (article 4). International human rights law imposes the duty on relevant authorities to investigate, prosecute and punish violations of the right to life, in line with the Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions.
Because of their link to the armed conflict, the extrajudicial executions constitute a violation of article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which, in relation to “persons taking no active part in the hostilities […] and those placed “hors de combat” by […] detention, prohibits (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture […]; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples” and amount to a war crime. Whoever is responsible for the killings, whether the Al Qassam Brigades, other Palestinian armed groups, or the local authorities, must be brought to justice.