Encouraging developments at Amnesty

By Alex Brummer

Amnesty International is not known for its pro-Israel views. Indeed, it was a noisy critic of the role of Israeli forces during ‘Operative Protective Edge’ in Gaza in the summer of 2014. So it was greatly encouraging this week to see its latest report on the region in which the human rights group turned its attention to the abuses of Hamas. The report found that under the cover of the Israeli military action Hamas forces carried out a brutal campaign of abductions, torture, and unlawful killings against Palestinians in Gaza who were accused of collaboration with Israel.

The cross-communal NGO group (of which the Board of Deputies is a part) has spent a great deal of time engaging with Amnesty International in an effort to bring more balance to its deliberations on the Israel-Palestinian situation. The latest study suggests that by reaching out and engaging with NGOs, rather than holding them at arms-length, it is actually possible to make some progress.

The NGO group is very much aware that aid and human rights organisations have seen the Palestinian cause, particularly in Gaza, as a useful funding raising device. And have tended to focus on the impact of Israeli actions rather than the appalling human rights abuses that take place in the disputed territories.

The report ‘Strangling Necks’: Abduction torture and summary killings by Hamas forces during the Gaza/Israel conflict’ provides insight into the mind-set of Hamas. It may claim a democratic mandate but it operates a brutal regime which explains why Israel finds it so hard to deal with the Palestinian Authority now that Hamas has been brought back into the fold.

Among the key findings of the report were the extrajudicial execution of at least 23 Palestinians. It also chronicles the arrest and torture of dozens of others including political opponents in Gaza. ‘Hamas forces took the opportunity to ruthlessly settle scores, carrying out a series of unlawful killings and other grave abuses,’ says Philip Luther director of the Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa programme.

It notes that under the cover of Israel’s military operation the de factor Hamas administration granted its security forces free rein to carry out ‘horrific abuses’ including actions against people in its custody. It argues that these ‘spine chilling war crimes’ were designed to exact revenge and spread fear across the Gaza Strip. Many of those abused were publicly described as being punished for assisting Israel in an operation that was codenamed ‘Strangling Necks’ to target collaborators. Amnesty found, however, that at least 16 of those killed had been held in custody long before the conflict broke out and were summarily executed. None of those guilty of these apparent war crimes has been held accountable for their actions. This indicates that the murders were condoned by the Gaza authorities.

The Amnesty International report should be commended for drawing the attention of the world to the perverse nature of the Hamas regime, which according to military reports has been rebuilding its weaponry ready for a future assault on its Israeli neighbours. It is among the reasons that the Board of Deputies and other British community groups would like to see the civil administration in Gaza designated as a terrorist organisation.

Alex Brummer formally steps down as chairman of the Board’s International Division on May 31. He will be succeeded by newly elected senior vice-president Richard Verber

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