Policemen or Terrorists?

One of the more controversial moments of Operation Cast Lead happened in the opening days of the conflict, when Israel bombed a police graduation ceremony.

Israel’s position on the choice of target was that Hamas drew no distinction between its military and policing force, that the graduating police were overwhelmingly members of the Hamas military, and that the government had done little more than put active terrorists on the payroll.

The Elder of Ziyon has considered this question in detail.

In summary, what the Goldstone Report finds is that:

– the genesis of the police force was the creation in 2006 by Hamas of an Executive Force, which was described as the “nucleus of the future Palestinian army”. It was to be staffed with “3,000 new recruits from various Palestinian armed groups, including al-Qassam Brigades”, and would have a dual military and policing role.

– following the 2007 coup, it was announced that the Executive Force was to be integrated into the police force. Again, it was stressed that they would have a double role: as police officers and  “resistance fighters”.

– in October 2007, the security services were subdivided into various forces, including the clearly military National Security force and the Civil Police.

– during Operation Cast Lead, the police were given orders to “face the enemy, if the Gaza Strip were to be invaded”. By this, Hamas explained it meant “the police was to continue its work of ensuring that basic food stuffs reached the population, of directing the population to safe places, and of upholding public order in the face of the invasion.”.

Accordingly, Goldstone concludes that, despite the fact that the police force had originated in the Hamas military ‘Executive force’ just one year earlier, and despite the evidence that the police were ordered to “face the enemy”, and despite the overlap in membership between Hamas and the police force, the police were nevertheless a civil force.

Goldstone makes two important points:

– “[the Commission] believes that the assertion on the part of the Government of Israel that “an overwhelming majority of the police forces were also members of the Hamas military wing or activists of Hamas or other terrorist organizations”, appears to be an overstatement”

– that the Halevi study that documents the overlap between the dead police cadets and membership of terror groups assumes that merely because they were Hamas members, does not mean that they were members of the al-Qassam Brigades or another terrorist combat group. Moreover, it accepts the argument advanced by the Al Mezan Center that non-combatants are sometimes “adopted” by armed terrorist groups, and identified as one of their members, after death.

How credible is this finding?

I’m inclined to accept the Elder of Ziyon’s debunking of the Goldstone thesis.

First, the EoZ points to a statement by the Hamas spokesman for the Gaza police, who claimed that:

not a single policeman had been killed in combat during the armed operations, proving that the instructions [i.e. not to engage in combat] had been strictly obeyed by the policemen”

Goldstone apparently accepts this argument. However, the EoZ thinks it is nonsense:

Not only that, his “proof” is an absurd statement that no policemen were killed in combat (presumably during the ground invasion.) This is a lie. According to PCHR and my research, 16 policemen were killed from January 4th and on, 34 policemen were killed, and my research indicates that at least 16 of them were members of terror organizations.

Moreover, the EoZ has produced research which indicates that there was an overwhelming overlap between membership of active terrorist groups and the dead police cadets:

My research … has determined that at least 206 of the 242 policemen killed in Gaza were members of terrorist organizations or “military” groups. That is about 74%.

At least 83 of them were explicitly listed as members on the official Al Qassam Brigades website. Many others were listed as “militants” by Al Mezan, in Al Qassam Brigades forums, and in PFLP and Islamic Jihad websites. And ten of them were recognized as militants by the PCHR.

(About 15 of my count came from ICT and I have not corroborated yet on any militant website. Even so, it still leaves a vast majority of Palestinian Arab police as being actively affiliated with terror groups.

On the practice of  “adopting” non members, the EoZ has this to say:

It is true that some websites use the word “martyrs” when referring to women and children. However, my group’s original research was careful to ignore any sources that did this practice. I did not see a single women or child (less than 16 years old) being mentioned as a member of any armed group. Moreover, we were careful not to count people listed only as “shahids” and made sure that those we counted were called “mujahid” or similar terms, if not explicitly members of specific brigades.

In a nutshell, therefore, this is what Goldstone appears to make of the Gaza police. When Hamas won the parliamentary elections, they inducted their fighters into a military ‘Executive Force’. Until late 2007, the Executive force has both a policing and a military role, but was ultimately subdivided into a various civil and military divisions, including a civil police force. The civil police were ordered to “face the enemy”, but this only meant that they were to maintain public order, and in fact no police were killed while in combat. The fact that many of the police cadets were later listed as “mujahids” on the websites of armed terrorist groups proves nothing: because these groups ‘adopt’ dead civilians who were not previously their members.

Do you find this likely?

Goldstone did.

I would be astounded if no war crimes were committed by Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead. For example, although arguments can be made for the lawfulness of the use of white phosphorous as a way of producing smoke during a conflict, a human rights body can fairly conclude that its use in built up areas will inevitably cause terrible and avoidable injuries. Similarly, in all wars, there are incidents in which soldiers shoot at civilians: out of malice or fear or a mixture of both. These sorts of incidents deserve investigation and if appropriate, punishment.

However, the Goldstone Report goes well beyond that. It looks to me like a lynch mob, whose members had decided on the conclusion that they wished to reach before they heard the evidence.