Mahmoud D.* was in the midst of his trial when war broke out.

In 2010, Hamas security forces seized Mahmoud from his home, accusing the 19-year-old of collaboration with Israel. Under torture, he confessed, then withdrew his admission in court. After four and a half years in Gaza City’s Katiba prison, Mahmoud’s case was before the justice system. Witnesses had testified in his favor, Mahmoud’s father said, and he was hoping to be reunited with his family and young son.

But no judge would ever rule on his guilt or innocence.

Amid the chaos and destruction of Israel’s war with Gaza in the summer of 2014, masked men took Mahmoud  and 10 others from prison in the middle of the night. “Revolutionary Courts” established by the Popular Resistance Committees, a coalition of armed Palestinian groups, accused the prisoners of collaborating with Israel. The men were publicly executed near Al-Azhar University.

One year after the executions, the families are still awaiting a formal investigation into the extrajudicial killings and for the security services to be held accountable. Hamas has both claimed involvement and denied responsibility. The only investigation underway concerns the alleged escape of the prisoners while being transferred from one prison to another. But the lawyers of the executed deny the prisoners escaped, while there is no official documentation at either the Interior Ministry or Katiba prison to back the Revolutionary Courts’ claim that the escapees collaborated with Israel.

The extrajudicial killings were not the first to be carried out during the 50-day war that left over 2,100 Palestinians dead. On August 5, five men were taken from Katiba prison and executed. The next round of executions came days after an Israeli attempt to assassinate Mohammed Al-Daif, commander of Al Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing. On August 20, fighter jets bombed the house containing his wife and son, killing them both, but not Al-Daif. On August 21, Israeli jets bombed a building in Rafah, killing Hamas commanders Mohammed Abu Shammala, Raed Al-Attar and Mohammed Barhoum.

The following day, Hamas stated that “Revolutionary Courts” had been established to deal with collaborators. After Friday prayers at the al-Omari mosque, masked men relayed the message. They then publicly executed six men.

Later that same day, a further 11 men, including Mahmoud, were executed in cold blood. Eight of the prisoners were charged with collaboration under the PLO Revolutionary Penal Code of 1979, but had not been formally sentenced by the military courts. One man had been sentenced to life imprisonment, another sentenced to death, but both men were awaiting appeals, while the last victim had been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. He had spent a third of his sentence in prison.

According to an Amnesty International report, which documented 17 extrajudicial killings in Gaza last summer, Hamas used the wartime executions to instill fear. Separately from the accusations of collaboration,  it used the confusion of war to settle scores, abducting and torturing supporters of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, according to Amnesty. The human rights group accused Hamas of war crimes in connection with the abductions, torture and executions.

After the killings, masked Hamas militants hung a paper above each victim’s head, signed “Palestinian Resistance”: “The traitor [initials of each of the victims provided]; most important clauses for convictions: provided information to the enemy about the locations of guards, tunnels, explosive devices, and homes of fighters, rockets which the occupation bombed and which resulted in many martyrs from resistance fighters. Based on this the revolutionary justice has been implemented.

Amnesty International’s report put the blame squarely on Hamas. Hamas has denied the allegations, stating the report was “politically motivated.”

Illegal Killings

Human rights and defense attorneys said the executions were illegal under Palestinian law.“The court acquitted one of those convicted of a murder charge, but sentenced him to 15 years on charges of collaboration with the enemy,” said Ghazi Abu Warda, who represented four of those killed. “To execute a prisoner who served one–third of his sentence by dragging him out of prison and killing him is illegal, immoral and a violation of the Constitution.” Citing the Palestinian Code of Civil Procedure, he said, “a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime.”Subhiya Jumaa, a lawyer at the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) in Gaza, agreed. Jumaa said the executions were “illegal and unjustified,” as prisons and courts were still operational during the conflict, negating the need for Revolutionary Courts.The PLO established Revolutionary Courts when in exile in 1979 to try Palestinian security forces as well as crimes carried out by civilians against military personnel. Following the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1995, which includes a security service, and Hamas’ security services in Gaza in 2007, the ICHR stated that the Revolutionary Penal Code of 1979 does not extend to civilians under the Palestinian Basic Law.Abdul Karim Shbair, a legal counselor, told 100Reporters that those executed had not been tried or given final judgment, and there had been no ratification of the court’s decision. “The executed detainees were imprisoned in a Gaza prison. The government, security and judicial organs as well as the prosecutors are legally responsible for the prisoners,” he said.Hani Radwan, the defense attorney of the four defendants sentenced to death, said if Revolutionary Courts and military tribunals had existed to try those executed, “the administrators of these courts must be held accountable.”“Who was behind these executions? What exactly was the tribunal’s decision and judgment before the executions were implemented? What was the legal basis for the executions? We need a legally responsible party to investigate the executions,” he told 100Reporters.Other officials in the judiciary, military prosecutors office and members of the Interior Ministry in Gaza condemned the executions, saying they had not been carried out in accordance with Article 129 of the penal code, which states: “The court must be formed by a decision of the Supreme Commander, and it must be formed of a chairman and two members, including at least one human rights activist.” Furthermore, Article 132 stipulates the legal right for the accused to be defended.

Escaped, then Executed?

Within the Hamas government, there was no single explanation for the executions.Iyad Al Bazm, a spokesman for Gaza’s Interior Ministry, which was under Hamas’ control, told 100Reporters that the killings were “illegal” and had been carried out during “exceptional circumstances.”At the same time, Bazm categorically denied that the prisoners had been forcibly taken from Katiba prison to be executed. He said an investigation was underway into the escape of the prisoners, who had then been arrested by members of the resistance before being executed as collaborators.“During the Israeli war on Gaza, we faced difficulties maintaining the security of detainees, so we transferred them to more secure places for fear of being targeted (by the Israelis). But during their transfer, some managed to escape, and they seemed to have moved to border areas and were involved in hostile acts against the people and the resistance. As a result, the resistance committees arrested and executed them,” said Bazm.According to Jumaa, “Information available to the [Independent Commission for Human Rights] tates that security officers transferred certain prisoners on August 5…and on August 22, security forces transferred 11 inmates.” The bodies of the executed were taken to Al-Shifa medical compound.There is no recorded documentation at either the Interior Ministry or Katiba prison proving that any detainees escaped during transfer. This is backed by testimonials of the families of the executed, in interviews with100Reporters.A.J., father of one of the executed, said that his son had been held for two years and could not have escaped on August 5. “My son did not escape from prison as on Thursday, 21 August, I went to the prison to give my son breakfast. I gave it to the guard, and he gave me back the pots. The next day I received a phone call saying my son had been executed, by 35 bullets.”The lawyers of the accused state that the prisoners did not escape from prison. Ehab Jaber, who defended five of the executed, said that the statement of a prison guard about the time of the execution proves that the detainees were forcibly taken from the prison and shot during the night by the resistance committees.

Without Pity

Members of Al Qassam Brigades, a military wing of Hamas, were not available for comment. But Ali Shashniya, spokesperson for the Popular Resistance Committees, said he could not confirm the escape of collaborators from prison or during transfer. “Such information is nonsense,” he told 100Reporters.In an “Abstract of Conviction” left near their bodies, the executioners accused the prisoners of giving the Israelis information about the whereabouts of Hamas fighters, the locations of their homes and families, the location of underground tunnels that crossed into Israel, as well as the placement of rocket launchers, rockets and explosive devices, many of which Israel destroyed, causing the death of number of militants. Accordingly, the statement said, “revolutionary justice” was meted out.Defense attorneys dismissed the accusations, saying that those killed had been investigated periodically by the security forces and military justice. The victims had been serving a prison sentence at Katiba prison in Gaza for years, and thus had no access to timely information about Hamas operations, or means of communication with Israel, they said.Shashniya said that last summer’s “Revolutionary Courts” were formed in the field in coordination with al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades and other “resistance groups” to try the suspects, but he said there was little appetite for actually going through with trials. The leadership of the Popular Resistance Committees approved Hamas’ executions, he said, and jointly coordinated with the Islamic group for them.“The Revolutionary Courts issued appropriate and suitable decisions,” said Shashniya, as “the court already had details of each of the accused (as collaborators), to the extent to which their hands were stained with the blood of our resistance fighters.”“The group responded positively to the suggestion to form tribunals, but also demanded to accelerate the executions of those criminals and murderers and kill them without pity,” said Shashniya.(*Mahmoud’s father asked that his real name not be published in this story, saying that the claim his son had collaborated was shameful for his family.)

Photos from top:   

Hamas militants surround the bodies of Palestinians after executing them in Gaza City August 22, 2014. Hamas militants killed seven Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel in a public execution in a central Gaza square on Friday, witnesses and a Hamas website said. The victims, their heads covered and hands tied, were shot dead by masked gunmen dressed in black in front of a crowd of worshippers outside a mosque after prayers, witnesses and al-Majd, a pro-Hamas website, said. Another 11 people suspected of collaborating with Israel were killed by gunmen at an abandoned police station in Gaza earlier on Friday, Hamas security officials said. REUTERS/Stringer.

Photos 2 and 3: Hundreds of Palestinians gather in street in downtown Gaza City after people received a fake message on social networks calling for them to attend a public execution of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel on August 22, 2014. Earlier in the day, Hamas gunmen executed 18 Palestinians  in two separate rounds of public executions. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX.

Palestinians gather around the bloodstains of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel after they were executed by Hamas militants in Gaza City August 22, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer 
Mohammed Othman

Mohammed Othman

Mohammed Othman is a journalist from the Gaza Strip. He graduated from the Faculty of Media in the Department of Radio and Television at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza in 2009. He has received a number of Palestinian and Arab awards, including first place at the Arab Press Awards in Dubai in the category of Youth Press during its tenth session in 2011 and the Press Freedom Award from the Palestinian Government Media Center during its first session in 2011. He also received the third place award for investigative reporting of corruption cases, organized by the Media Development Center at Birzeit University and the Anti-Corruption Commission in 2013.
Mohammed Othman

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