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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Goldstone Report inaccuracies, part 19

The Goldstone Report talks about, and dismisses, Israeli accusations that Hamas used ambulances for military purposes. The entire section is very revealing as to the bias that the Commission had when investigating claims against Hamas. Here it is in its entirety:

2. Ambulances
470. The Government of Israel alleges that “Hamas made particular use of ambulances, which frequently served as an escape route out of a heated battle with IDF forces.”326 471. The Mission investigated cases in which ambulances were denied access to wounded Palestinians. Three cases in particular are described in chapter XI: the attempts of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) to evacuate the wounded from the al-Samouni neighbourhood south of Gaza City after the attack on the house of Ateya al-Samouni and after the shelling of the house of Wa’el al-Samouni; the attempt of an ambulance driver to rescue the daughters of Khalid
and Kawthar Abd Rabbo in Izbat Abd Rabbo; and the attempt of an ambulance driver to evacuate Rouhiyah al-Najjar after she had been hit by an Israeli sniper. In all three cases the Mission found, on the facts it gathered, that the Israeli armed forces must have known that there were no combatants among the people to be rescued or in the immediate vicinity.
Why is this paragraph here? The section is meant to discuss possible Hamas war crimes, but before Goldstone even starts looking at any evidence, he puts in this utterly irrelevant paragraph about alleged Israeli war crimes, whose only tangential relevance is the word "ambulances." The entire section this is under is called "VIII. OBLIGATION ON PALESTINIAN ARMED GROUPS IN GAZA TO TAKE FEASIBLE PRECAUTIONS TO PROTECT THE CIVILIAN POPULATION."

Before Goldstone even entertains the possibility of Hamas war crimes in context of ambulances, he feels compelled to throw in an unrelated dig at the IDF that he already covered at length elsewhere in the report. Is this supposed to be "unbiased?"

472. The Mission is aware of an interview reportedly given by an ambulance driver to an Australian newspaper, in which he describes how Palestinian combatants unsuccessfully tried to force him to evacuate them from a house in which they were apparently trapped. The same driver reportedly told the journalist that “Hamas made several attempts to hijack the ambulance fleet of al-Quds Hospital”. He also describes how the PRCS ambulance teams managed to avert this misuse of ambulances. According to this report, relied on by the Israeli Government, the attempts of Palestinian combatants to exploit ambulances as shield for military operations were not successful in the face of the courageous resistance of the PRCS staff members.327
For some reason, Goldstone doesn't refer to the actual article; the footnote refers to Israel's report. The paragraph vastly waters down the Sydney Morning Herald's article, using words like "reportedly" to dilute what was said:

Mohammed Shriteh, 30, is an ambulance driver registered with and trained by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.

His first day of work in the al-Quds neighbourhood was January 1, the sixth day of the war. "Mostly the war was not as fast or as chaotic as I expected," Mr Shriteh told the Herald. "We would co-ordinate with the Israelis before we pick up patients, because they have all our names, and our IDs, so they would not shoot at us."

Mr Shriteh said the more immediate threat was from Hamas, who would lure the ambulances into the heart of a battle to transport fighters to safety.

"After the first week, at night time, there was a call for a house in Jabaliya. I got to the house and there was lots of shooting and explosions all around," he said.

Because of the urgency of the call, Mr Shriteh said there was no time to arrange his movements with the IDF.

"I knew the Israelis were watching me because I could see the red laser beam in the ambulance and on me, on my body," he said.

Getting out of the ambulance and entering the house, he saw there were three Hamas fighters taking cover inside. One half of the building had already been destroyed.

"They were very scared, and very nervous … They dropped their weapons and ordered me to get them out, to put them in the ambulance and take them away. I refused, because if the IDF sees me doing this I am finished, I cannot pick up any more wounded people.

"And then one of the fighters picked up a gun and held it to my head, to force me. I still refused, and then they allowed me to leave."

Mr Shriteh says Hamas made several attempts to hijack the al-Quds Hospital's fleet of ambulances during the war.

"You hear when they are coming. People ring to tell you. So we had to get in all the ambulances and make the illusion of an emergency and only come back when they had gone."

While Mr. Shriteh's account shows that Hamas was unsuccessful in his case, he makes it clear that this was not an isolated incident and that Hamas tried (and, he implies, succeeded) on numerous occasions to use ambulances to transport its members.

473. This is consistent with the statements of representatives of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in Gaza who, in interviews with the Mission, denied that their ambulances were used at any time by Palestinian combatants. Finally, in a submission to the Mission, Magen David Adom stated that “there was no use of PRCS ambulances for the transport of weapons or ammunition … [and] there was no misuse of the emblem by PRCS.”328
There is a bit of sleight of hand going on here. Shriteh spoke of Hamas' attempts not only to commandeer PRCS ambulances but also hospital ambulances; MDA and PRCS are only speaking of PRCS ambulances. Other organizations also had ambulances in Gaza, such as Oxfam. It is probable that Hamas' own medical wing has ambulances as well.

474. While it is not possible to say that no attempts were ever made by any armed groups to use ambulances during the military operations, the Mission has substantial material from the investigations it conducted and the enquiries it made to convince it that, if any ambulances were used by Palestinian armed groups, it would have been the exception, not the rule.
When Hamas is accused of a war crime, Goldstone brushes it off as "an exception, not the rule." Nowhere in the report does Goldstone give Israel the same benefit of the doubt; on the contrary, the cherry-picked examples that Goldstone concentrates on specifically take the larger context out of the framing of the accusations. Potentially problematic Israeli actions are characterized as the rule and barely ever placed in the context of a complex military operation where thousands of decisions need to be made instantly; Hamas' crimes - when they are considered at all - are considered the "exception."

None of the ambulance drivers that were directly interviewed by the Mission reported any attempt by the armed groups to use the ambulances for any ulterior purpose.
Did Goldstone attempt to contact Mohammed Shriteh?

Moreover, of the ambulance staff members and their volunteer assistants that were killed or injured in the course of their duties, none was a member of any armed groups, so far as the Mission is aware.
Mr. Goldstone, allow me to introduce you to Anas Fadel Na’im: medic, nephew of Hamas' health minister, and al-Qassam Brigades member:


And another: Ra'afat Sami Ibrahim (Muharram), medic, whose Al Qassam Brigades obituary describes him as leaving his cell phone and personal belongings at the hospital right before he was killed, telling everyone that he would return as a "martyr."

Not to mention ‘Azmi Hisham ‘Azmi Abu Dalal, medic, Al Qassam member.

Or Ahmed Abdullah Salem Al-Khatib, nurse, and also PRC-Saladin Brigades field commander.

Or Ihab ‘Umar Khalil al-Madhoun, physician and al-Qassam member.

Or Issa Abdul Rahim Saleh, physician, who also shot rockets and planted bombs according to his al-Qassam obituary.

It appears that there were plenty of physicians and medics in Gaza who also happened to be members of armed groups. Yet Goldstone wasn't "aware" of any of them.

There are other facts that would make an objective observer question whether Hamas was using ambulances and military installations for combat purposes.

After the Gaza operation, while Goldstone's mission was underway, the Palestinian Ministry of Health charged Hamas with confiscating ambulances and medical equipment donated by Arab countries and converting them to military vehicles.

There were reports during the operation that Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar had escaped to Egypt in an ambulance.

Hamas had confiscated aid trucks, including medical aid meant for PRCS, both in 2008 and immediately after the operation.

Hamas even converted medicine bottles into Molotov cocktails.

Putting these facts together, all of which were reported in English-language media, should make one skeptical about Hamas' separation of medical and military tasks. Yet Goldstone simply waves away any of these concerns by implying that if the mission is not aware of them, there is no reason to believe them.

The overwhelming impression one gets is that Goldstone tried very hard to find any Israeli "war crimes" he could, but he wouldn't go out of his way to find anything wrong with what Hamas was doing. The mission, supposedly sent to do fact-finding, seems to have only taken the information that fell into its lap and didn't make any effort to do any independent investigation that would go beneath the surface.

Beyond that, this section shows that circumstantial and hearsay evidence was given great weight by Goldstone when it was against Israel and it was summarily dismissed, or ignored altogether, when it was against Hamas.

UPDATE: Mahmoud Abbas also accused Hamas leaders of using ambulances to escape to Egypt.