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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Goldstone report inaccuracies part 9: Gaza Police

The Goldstone report spends a lot of space (paragraphs 414-421) trying to justify its contention that the Hamas police force was a civilian force, and that Israel was not justified in attacking it. I believe that this analysis is flawed and that the conflicting evidence is weighted with a clear bias towards declaring the policemen to be civilian.

410. In order to shed some light on where the truth might lie between these two conflicting descriptions of the police, the Mission finds it necessary to examine the development of the security forces linked to Hamas after its election victory in January 2006. When Mr. Said Seyam, a senior Hamas representative,269 took office as the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Interior in April 2006, he found that he had little or no control over the Palestinian Authority’s security forces, which were put under the control of the President of the Palestinian Authority and of officials loyal to him.270 On 20 April 2006, he announced the formation of a new security force
reporting directly to him. This was the Security Forces Support Unit, also known as the Executive Force (al-Quwwa al-Tanfiziyya). The new security force appears to have had a double function as both a law-enforcement agency and, at least potentially, a military force. It was officially charged with enforcing public security and protecting property. At the same time, he appointed Mr. Jamal Abu Samhadana, commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, as the head of the Executive Force271 and announced that it would be composed of 3,000 new recruits from various Palestinian armed groups, including al-Qassam Brigades.272 The newly appointed commander reportedly declared: “[The Executive Force] will be the nucleus of the future Palestinian army. The resistance must continue. We have only one enemy.I will continue to carry the rifle and pull the trigger whenever required to defend my people. We are also a force against corruption. We are against thieves, corrupt officials and law breakers.” 273
This paragraph seems to set the tone that, at least originally, Hamas did not distinguish between civil and military functions for its Executive Force.

411. In August 2007, following the June 2007 Hamas seizure of full control over Gaza, the current Director of the Gaza authorities’ civil police, then head of the Executive Force, Gen. Abu Obeidah, described the planned reorganization of the security services in Gaza. Executive Force members were to be integrated into the civil police. He reportedly stated that Hamas was “working hard to retrain Executive Force members to perform police duties” and that the “Force will be in charge of chasing drug dealers and lawless residents”. At the same time, he stated that
members of the Force are religious, and are resistance fighters.”274
At this point, when Hamas took over Gaza, it was obvious to all that Hamas would need to take over the police duties. Fatah clearly was not going to be tolerated in that role. The question is, did Hamas intend that the police would be a purely civil police force, or simply that they had to fulfill that role in order to maintain law and order but they would still be considered resistance fighters (and moonlight as such)? At this point, as of 2007, the answer seems to be the latter, according to Goldstone's evidence.

412. In October 2007, the security services operating in Gaza were reorganized. The previous Palestinian Authority’s police agencies in Gaza were merged with the Executive Force.275 The security forces under the control of the Ministry of Interior emerging from this reorganization comprise the Civil Police, the Civil Defence, the Internal Security (an intelligence agency) and the National Security. Their mandates, according to the Gaza authorities’ Ministry of Interior’s website,276 are differentiated.

413. The National Security force is given specific military tasks, such as “the protection of the State from any foreign aggression” and “responsibility for the defence of the Palestinian homeland in the face of external and internal threats”. It is thus plainly a military force whose members are, under international humanitarian law, combatants.277 The functions of the police have been outlined above.
The website shows that there are six security services under the Interior Ministry: Police, Civil Defense, Security and Protection, Homeland Security, National Security Forces and Military Medical Services. Keep in mind that they all report to the same ministry, meaning that they are much closer related than traditional military and police duties are in most nations.

I maintain that there is essentially no distinction between these groups.

To give an example, the "Security and Protection" group lists 12 "martyrs" from the Gaza war on its website. It is not the police division; it seems to be mostly serving a function of bodyguards. However, of the 12 killed, PCHR listed 2 of them as "militants" and 9 of them as "police." (One I could not find.) Of the 9 "police," 6 of them were listed as Al Qassam Brigades members on the Al Qassam website itself, and two were listed as Al Qassam Brigades members in other sources.

414. On 1 January 2009, during the Israeli military operations in Gaza, the police
spokesperson, Mr. Islam Shahwan, informed the media that the police commanders had managed to hold three meetings at secret locations since the beginning of the armed operations. He added that “an action plan has been put forward, and we have conducted an assessment of the situation and a general alert has been declared by the police and among the security forces in case of any emergency or a ground invasion. Police officers received clear orders from the leadership to face the enemy, if the Gaza Strip were to be invaded.”278 Confirming to the Mission that he had been correctly quoted, Mr. Shahwan stated that the instructions given at that meeting were to the effect that in the event of a ground invasion, and particularly if the Israeli armed forces were to enter urban settlements in Gaza, the police was to continue its work of ensuring that basic food stuffs reached the population, of directing the population to safe places, and of upholding public order in the face of the invasion. Mr. Shahwan further stated that not a single policeman had been killed in combat during the armed operations, proving that the instructions had been strictly obeyed by the policemen.
This is a critical paragraph, and it highlights Goldstone's credulity. There is a clear statement from the police spokesman saying that the police were instructed to face the enemy, which is not a very ambiguous statement. Months later, when he is reached by commission members to explain this problematic statement, he seizes the opportunity to "clarify" that he only meant that they should be doing normal police duties.

And Goldstone believes him.

Not only that, his "proof" is an absurd statement that no policemen were killed in combat (presumably during the ground invasion.) This is a lie. According to PCHR and my research, 16 policemen were killed from January 4th and on, 34 policemen were killed, and my research indicates that at least 16 of them were members of terror organizations.

Here is a most obvious case where Goldstone's members are willing to believe what they are told by Hamas without any followup.
415. The Mission notes that there are no allegations that the police as an organized force took
part in combat during the armed operations. On the basis of the information provided by the
Gaza authorities and of the above-mentioned study of the Orient Research Group Ltd., it would
appear that 75 per cent of its members killed in the course of the military operations died as a
result of the air strikes carried out during the first minutes of the Israeli attack. These men had
not engaged in combat with the Israeli armed forces.279
If one assumes that the commission is accurate in defining the police as a separate, purely civil institution, this would seem to be the case. If one believes that it is a facade to make human rights organizations happy, then it is a bit less clear.

416. The Mission also notes that while the then commander of the Executive Forces and now
Director of Police did reportedly say in August 2007 that members of the Executive Force were
“resistance fighters”, he stressed in the same interview the authorities’ intention to develop it into
a law enforcement force. The Mission notes that a situation in which a recently constituted
civilian police force integrates former members of armed groups would not be unique to Gaza.
That prior membership in itself would not be sufficient to establish that the police in Gaza is a
part of al-Qassam Brigades or other armed groups.
Nor does it disprove it. However, other evidence might cause one to tilt that way. For example, if the vast majority of Gaza's police force were also members of terror organizations, wouldn't that indicate that Hamas is quite happy with freely mixing the civil and militant duties of its members?

417. Except for the statements of the police spokesperson, the Israel Government has
presented no other basis on which a presumption can be made against the overall civilian nature
of the police in Gaza. It is true that the police and the security forces created by Hamas in Gaza
may have their origins in the Executive Force. However, while the Mission would not rule out
the possibility that there might be individuals in the police force who retain their links to the
armed groups, it believes that the assertion on the part of the Government of Israel that “an
overwhelming majority of the police forces were also members of the Hamas military wing or
activists of Hamas or other terrorist organizations”,280 appears to be an overstatement that has
led to prejudicial presumptions against the nature of the police force that may not be justified.
While we have established that Goldstone believes, without reservation, the assertions of the Hamas police spokesman, it gives no such credit to the IDF. Where does it gain its skepticism from? Skipping a little...

420. The Mission further notes that the study conducted by the Orient Research Group Ltd.
names policemen killed during the attack, whom it identifies as members of Hamas, al-Qassam
Brigades, other armed Palestinian groups or “terror operatives” whose affiliation is not known.
In 78 out of 178 cases the policemen are alleged to be members of al-Qassam Brigades on the
sole basis that they were allegedly Hamas members.
I do not know the methodology of the Halevi report referenced here, but my research (using similar methods) has determined that at least 206 of the 242 policemen killed in Gaza were members of terrorist organizations or "military" groups. That is about 74%.

At least 83 of them were explicitly listed as members on the official Al Qassam Brigades website. Many others were listed as "militants" by Al Mezan, in Al Qassam Brigades forums, and in PFLP and Islamic Jihad websites. And ten of them were recognized as militants by the PCHR.

(About 15 of my count came from ICT and I have not corroborated yet on any militant website. Even so, it still leaves a vast majority of Palestinian Arab police as being actively affiliated with terror groups.

This is the key fact: a police force that (at the very least) tolerates its members as also being terrorists loses its status as being worthy of protection. Perhaps not according to a strict interpretation of international law, but for all practical purposes the fact that the police also did traffic duties does not make them any less militant, any more than an army doing police duties would be immune from attack.

Goldstone however copies an argument against this logic from the Al Mezan Center:
421. Furthermore, it appears from the response to the Mission from the Orient Research Group
Ltd. describing its methodology that its information on police members’ alleged affiliation with
armed groups was based to a large extent on the websites of the armed groups. In this respect,
the Mission is mindful of a recent report by a Palestinian human rights NGO drawing attention to
the “issue of the ‘adoption’ of killed persons by resistance groups; i.e. declaration by a political
or armed group that the person killed was one of their members. Often, when persons, including
children, are killed by actions of the Israeli armed forces , political and/or armed groups ‘adopt’
them as ‘martyrs’ placing their photographs on their websites and commending their contribution
to resisting occupation. This does not mean that those persons killed were involved in resistance
activities in any way. The families accept this ‘adoption’ of deceased family members for
various reasons including the willingness of resistance groups to provide financial support to the
families and pay for funeral costs of the persons killed.” As the NGO concludes, “these cases
require in-depth investigation on a case-by-case basis in order to determine every person’s status
according to his actual affiliation”.283


It is true that some websites use the word "martyrs" when referring to women and children. However, my group's original research was careful to ignore any sources that did this practice. I did not see a single women or child (less than 16 years old) being mentioned as a member of any armed group. Moreover, we were careful not to count people listed only as "shahids" and made sure that those we counted were called "mujahid" or similar terms, if not explicitly members of specific brigades.

In other words, Goldstone accepted the poor argument of Al Mezan without checking it against the specific entries mentioned. It also ignored my email to the Commission that listed my data and methodology. Its logic of throwing out any evidence that proved the police to be a sham front for terrorists, and accepting any evidence that claimed otherwise, is problematic indeed.