Men accused in Israeli plot executed in Gaza despite protests

Palestinian human rights defenders have condemned the executions by Hamas authorities in Gaza of three men accused in the killing of one of the group’s senior military commanders on behalf of Israel.

Two of the men were hanged and one was shot by firing squad on Thursday evening.

The executions came swiftly, just days after a military field tribunal had issued the death sentences on Sunday, according to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

The three men were identified by their initials as 38-year-old A.L., from the town of Nuseirat, 44-year-old H.A. from Gaza City and 38-year-old A.N., also from Gaza City.

Mazen al-Fuqaha, a leader in the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, was assassinated in front of his home in the Gaza Strip on 24 March. Suspicion quickly turned toward Israel.

“Dangerous precedent”

Earlier this month, the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza said it had arrested three men involved in the killing. It said one, who had confessed to being the “direct executioner” of al-Fuqaha, had admitted to being recruited by Israeli intelligence.

It said two other men had confessed to being accomplices. The ministry also published a video it said showed the men, their faces blurred, making confessions. The video published on 16 May has been viewed more than 140,000 times.

Al Mezan said that the trial of civilians in front of a military field tribunal was a “dangerous precedent.” It added that the court’s sentence was final, offering no opportunity for appeal.

The fact that the trial and sentences were carried out in the space of a week indicated, Al Mezan said, that the procedures “lacked the most basic elements of a fair trial.”

The group added that the proceeding violated Palestinian and international law, including a provision that requires all death sentences to be ratified by the Palestinian Authority president. The current occupant of that office, Mahmoud Abbas, has not ratified a death sentence in a decade.

Right to a fair trial

Earlier, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights had condemned the tribunal’s conviction of the three men as “a violation of the right to a fair trial” and said that the 1979 “Revolutionary Penal Code” on which it was based is unconstitutional and violates Palestinian obligations under international law.

Also on Thursday, the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights had urged that the death sentences not be carried out, and that the men be retried in an appropriate court.

Al Mezan urged authorities in Gaza to end use of the death penalty and to afford anyone accused of a crime a full opportunity to defend themselves in a fair trial.

But Hamas authorities in Gaza strongly defended the death penalty as a measure to deter collaboration with Israel.

“Today’s executions demonstrate that Gaza’s security is a red line and anyone who touches it gets burned,” the interior ministry tweeted on Thursday. “There is no place among us for traitors.”

Since the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, there have been 38 executions, 36 of them in the Gaza Strip, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Twenty-five have been carried out without ratification by the PA president. The group noted that already this year 23 more death sentences have been issued in the Gaza Strip.

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So they use the same justification everyone else employs: national security.

In open sessions conducted in civilian court, uncomfortable truths frequently emerge. The trial process itself is a test of society's norms, in which the compromised status of so many becomes an issue, including the role of the authorities. Questions are asked, doubts raised, procedures challenged. But a military court is an uncompromising machine, its task to clear away the residue of uncertainty and reassert full control over a given problem. In that respect, it hardly matters whether these three men were guilty. Traitors have been rooted out and punished. A ritual cleansing has been conducted and a precarious order sustained.

Perhaps in keeping with the spirit of Hamas' recent declaration, it's time that the military administration of justice in these cases were replaced with a system that restores elementary rights to the accused. After all, the right to govern must be based on more than armed force, religious zeal and a sense of permanent emergency. Were it not so, the Israelis could advance an even greater claim to rule over the people of Gaza.

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Except they're not a nation, but rather a people living under a hellish siege and subject to an extremely well organized system of oppressive collaboration by Israel....allowed by the US and European countries. Still, I prefer due process.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.