Palestinian human rights defenders condemn execution by Hamas

Palestinian human rights defenders are condemning the killing by Hamas of one of the resistance organization’s own members in Gaza.

On Sunday, the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, announced it had executed Mahmoud Rushdi Ishteiwi.

In a brief statement on its website, Qassam said that the slaying of Ishteiwi implemented a death sentence issued by “the military and Sharia judiciaries of Qassam Brigades for behavioral and moral excesses that he confessed.”

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), which gave Ishteiwi’s age as 35, condemned the slaying and called on the “attorney general to investigate it and take all necessary legal measures to ensure justice.”

“Killing Ishteiwi in such a way constitutes an assault on the rule of law and might institutionalize a serious case of extrajudicial execution,” PCHR added.

According to its investigation and information given to PCHR by Ishteiwi’s sister Buthaina last July, her brother was arrested in January 2015 on suspicion of “collaboration with the Israeli forces, misappropriation of funds and behavioral excesses.”

“Prosecuting collaborators with the Israeli forces is necessary, and the Palestinian armed groups play an important role in such prosecution,” PCHR stated. “However, only official authorities should open investigations and hold the perpetrators to account.”

Following news of Mahmoud Ishteiwi’s execution, Buthaina Ishteiwi told the Wattan news outlet that she believed her brother had been killed due to a dispute with his superiors.

While PCHR’s statement on Ishteiwi suggests that collaboration may have been one of the accusations against him, the Qassam Brigades statement announcing the execution does not make that claim.

Typically, when Hamas has announced killings of alleged collaborators, it has not published their names, supposedly to spare their families the public ostracism that comes with such a grave accusation.

Split authority

Under the laws of the Palestinian Authority, death sentences issued by courts can only be carried out after ratification by the PA president.

The West Bank-based PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has not ratified any death sentences in a decade.

Hamas has however continued the use of the death penalty in Gaza.

The surprise victor in legislative elections in 2006, Hamas took control of the internal governance of Gaza in 2007 after fierce battles with Abbas’ rival Fatah party, which refused to hand over power.

This has meant in practice that most areas of governance, including the judicial system, have been split.

According to PCHR, a total of 172 death sentences have been issued since the PA was established in 1994, of which 30 were in the West Bank and 142 in Gaza.

Eighty-four death sentences were issued since Hamas took over in Gaza in 2007.

Up to 2010, according to PCHR, about half the death sentences were for homicides and about half for collaboration with Israel.

Earlier this month, a military court in Gaza, ostensibly operating under the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Revolutionary Penal Code of 1979, sentenced four individuals to death by hanging on accusations of collaboration with Israel, according to the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

And last week, Hamas reportedly arrested a woman on suspicion of spying. The woman allegedly used a condolence visit to the families of Hamas fighters recently killed in tunnel collapses to try to glean sensitive information.

Rule of law

Collaboration is seen by Palestinians, as it has historically been seen among all occupied populations, as a serious threat to life and safety as well as to the operational security of resistance organizations.

Israel makes intensive efforts to recruit informants, preying on the misery that its nearly nine-year siege of Gaza and repeated devastating assaults have generated.

“Everything starts and ends with money,” an agent from Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, Shin Bet, which recruits Palestinian informants, told the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz in 2014.

But Israel also tries to coerce collaboration in other ways, including blackmailing patients who require difficult to obtain permits to travel to Israel for life-saving medical treatment.

Israel has also periodically dropped leaflets over Gaza with telephone numbers for would-be Palestinian informants to contact its agents.

Hamas, for its part, has used a number of means to try to combat the phenomenon, from public information campaigns to executions, occasionally carried out gruesomely in public, as happened during Israel’s summer 2014 assault.

It has not been rare for revolutionary and resistance groups in different countries to resort to such brutality against alleged collaborators.

But however serious the threat from informants, Palestinian human rights defenders have been adamant that even wartime collaboration must be dealt with according to the rule of law.

Both PCHR and Al Mezan have moreover long advocated the total abolition of the death penalty in all cases.

In the short film at the top of this article, titled “Against the Death Penalty” and released in December, PCHR highlights its campaign to end the practice once and for all.