According to the Israeli media, the soldiers who took part in a botched intelligence operation in Khan Younis earlier this month were dressed up as humanitarian workers. If the details are true, it could put countless people in danger.
By Yael Marom
Israeli troops impersonated humanitarian workers in order to carry out an intelligence operation deep inside the Gaza Strip, according to details of the botched operation leaked by Hamas and reported by the Israeli media. If true, the operation could put bona fide humanitarian operations and employees at risk in the coastal strip, where two-thirds of the population is reliant on humanitarian aid.
The operation gone wrong, which left both senior Israeli and Hamas commanders dead, brought the two sides to the brink of war earlier this month.
The Israeli military censor forbade Israeli media outlets from publishing most details of the incident. After Hamas began leaking details of what happened, however, some Israeli journalists followed suit, primarily repeating the information released by Hamas, and presumably with the permission of the IDF Censor.
On Friday, Israeli journalist Ehud Yaari reported that the Israeli special forces team had entered Gaza through one of the two civilian crossings into the strip, either Erez or Rafah, with forged documents. “They rented a house in Gaza and operated under the guise of a humanitarian aid organization,” Yaari said on a primetime news broadcast.
A day earlier, Walla! News reporter Amir Bohbot published the following account, also presumably with the approval of Israel’s military censors:
Palestinian reports indicated that the special unit’s operations were part of a longer, broader operation. For that purpose, the unit rented a building and a yard in the Gaza Strip from a Palestinian police officer who did not know with whom he was dealing. Members of the special unit told the officer that they were running a humanitarian aid organization that specializes in distributing food to the needy in Gaza.
“For this purpose, the unit operated undercover as Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to distribute aid and managed to get into the homes of Hamas members. According to the [Hamas] reports, some of which appeared on social networks, the special unit successfully planted [technologically] advanced devices to collect signals intelligence in sensitive locations such as entrances to tunnels, rocket launching sites, and the homes of senior Hamas members.
The reports in the Israeli media missed the story entirely: if Israeli soldiers did, in fact, impersonate humanitarian aid workers for the purpose of carrying out military operations, that could be a war crime. It could also endanger the lives of actual humanitarian aid workers.
“If the details are true, this behavior could be considered a blatant violation of international humanitarian law, which says that it is forbidden to use symbols of humanitarian organizations for military activity,” said attorney and human rights activist Eitay Mack.
“It could endanger those who actually operate in these organizations,” Mack added. The Israeli army has effectively justified any paranoia or suspicions Hamas and others might have of humanitarian groups.