Volunteers for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) operations in Gaza have testified to witnessing the summary execution of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers during Operation Protective Edge.
Esteemed journalist Max Blumenthal was given unfettered access to the worst hit areas of Gaza during the summer’s onslaught by Israel. He provided this testimony to the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in Brussels last week, as the world’s leading jurists and civil society members assessed Israel’s culpability for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The executions seemed to fall into two categories: humiliation, and functional.
Here is one example of the jocular nature with which Israeli soldiers murdered some Palestinians in Gaza:
Dan Cohen and I conducted an interview with two ICRC volunteers from Gaza, 25-year-old Ahmed Awad, and 24-year-old Ala’a Alkusofi, who worked with ambulance crews throughout the war, the video of which will be released in the near future. They recalled entering Khuza’a during the siege of the town to collect the body of Mohamed Abadla, a local man who had been tied to a tree by both arms and riddled with bullets. When they arrived at the execution site, a group of Israeli soldiers ordered one of the volunteers’ colleagues to exit the ambulance, walk five meters forward, then light a cigarette lighter. When he did so, they shot him in the heart and leg, killing him in front of his colleagues.
On the functional side, evidence gathered by Blumenthal points to “a clear pattern” of executions of Palestinians able to speak or understand Hebrew.
“Hesham Naser Shamaly, 25, described to me what happened when five members of his family decided to stay in their home to guard the thousands of dollars of clothing stocks they planned to sell through their family business. When soldiers approached the home with weapons drawn, Shamaly said his father emerged from the home with his hands up and attempted to address them in Hebrew. “He couldn’t even finish the sentence before they shot him,” Shamaly told me. (His father survived.)
In Khuza’a just east of Khan Younis, multiple witnesses described soldiers gathering locals in the center of town as they occupied the area on July 23, then asking if anyone spoke Hebrew. When a 54-year-old man stepped forward to answer in the affirmative, they shot him in the heart.
When I interviewed the Abu Said family in the southern city of Rafah, I found more evidence of the wanton targeting of Palestinian civilians who spoke Hebrew. Nineteen-year-old Mahmoud Abu Said told me when Israeli soldiers arrived at his family’s home on the city’s eastern outskirts, they immediately inquired if anyone spoke Hebrew. When his father, Abdul Hadi Abu Said, answered in the affirmative, they shot him in the chest (he miraculously survived).”
Beyond these deaths aimed to humiliate Gaza civilians, or eradicate Hebrew speakers, there were other clear war crimes — including the murder of a mentally disabled man.
At the eastern edge of the central area marked in orange Hebrew letters as “Soccer Field,” I met Mohammed Fathi Al Areer. His home was a virtual cave furnished with a single sofa. In Al Areer’s backyard, four of his brothers were executed. One of them, Hassan Al Areer, was mentally disabled and had little idea he was about to be killed. Mohammed Al Areer said he found bullet casings next to the heads of his family members when he discovered their decomposing bodies.
A further worrying aspect of Operation Edge was the wiping out of entire families in targeted attacks. During the Summer, 89 Palestinian families in Gaza were wiped out entirely, with not a single family member left. As of 24th August, the cessation of formal hostilities, at least 142 families had lost more than three family members in a single incident.
You can see this represented by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report of 9th September 2014.
According to Blumenthal’s evidence, one such family was found in the rubble of Khuza’a:
The ICRC volunteers told us they later found a man in Khuza’a with rigor mortis, holding both hands over his head in surrender, his body filled with bullets. They then discovered a family — men, women and children — so badly decomposed they had to bury them with a bulldozer in a mass grave. The vast majority of bullet wounds they found were to the head and chest.
Images of the of bodies of civilians of en ethnic group murdered in cold blood being poured into mass graves evokes the very worst memories of 20th century genocide. As such, 327 survivors of the Nazi holocaust (and their descendents) recently wrote an open letter, published in the New York Times and Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, condemning the ‘massacre’ in Gaza. They wrote:
“Genocide begins with the silence of the world”
The response from within Israel?
Something very wrong is happening in Israeli society. It is time to speak out. Our silence is complicity.
You can see the full testimony of Max Blumenthal below, and for access to the full tribunal click here.