On November 5, 2009 there was a confrontation at Brandeis University in Massachusetts between the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Dr. Dore Gold, and Judge Richard Goldstone. It dealt, among other things, with the affair of the al-Maqdamah mosque in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, about which two contradictory versions exist, that of Israel and that of the Goldstone Committee’s Report.
The Goldstone Report about Operation Cast Lead accuses Israel of an air strike on the mosque on January 3, 2009, which caused the deaths of “at least 15 Palestinians” who were in it at the time. During the confrontation with Dr. Gold, Goldstone claimed that 21 Palestinians had been killed, and he presented the attack as a salient example of Israel’s policy of deliberately targeting innocent civilians. However, Israel issued official documents stating that its Air Force did not attack the mosque and that the dead had been killed in fighting the IDF.
What really happened at the Ibrahim al-Maqdamah mosque, named for one of the heads of Hamas’ military-terrorist wing? The Goldstone Committee version is problematic because of its many essential failures and weak spots. The committee members relied exclusively on reports from “eyewitnesses” who did not see what was happening outside, especially at the entrance where the missile hit. Moreover, the committee was aware that all the Palestinian witnesses deliberately did not give any information about the activities of the terrorist organizations, because they were afraid of Hamas.
Therefore it is logically impossible to determine unequivocally that the Palestinian statements were “credible and reliable.” Another source of wonder is the dubious methodology used by the Committee in examining the circumstances of the event. The recorded statements of the Palestinian “eyewitnesses” posted on the UN website reveal that Committee members did not ask the Palestinians even one question about armed men or weapons in the mosque, or about what was happening in the open space in front of it.
The fundamental position of the Goldstone Committee was based on fallacious hypotheses. The Committee claimed that it found no evidence that the mosque was used for military purposes, and claimed that Israel presented a “false position” when it issued a Foreign Ministry report denying an attack on the mosque. However, in the same report read by the Committee members, there is unequivocal information supported by photographs of IDF forces seizing weapons in the Salah a-Din mosque in Gaza City during Operation Cast Lead.
The photos appended to the Foreign Ministry report clearly show various types of weapons and ammunition, including EFPs for attacking armored vehicles and a machinegun used to attack Israeli aircraft. The Committee did not explain why it chose to disregard the information completely, and its version becomes more entangled and incomprehensible in light of its admission elsewhere in the Report that it only visited two mosques in the Gaza Strip, because they were the two places the de facto Hamas administration permitted the committee to visit, since it wanted to exhibit the damage caused by the Israeli attacks.
The Goldstone Committee also failed by thoroughly examining the data. If Committee members had examined the names of the Palestinians killed at the Maqdamah mosque, they would have discovered that their identities and the membership of many of them in terrorist organizations contradicted the “eyewitness” claims that there were no terrorist operatives in the area, and contradicted as well the conclusions of the Report in that respect.
Seven of the 15 Palestinians killed at the mosque were members of terrorist organizations who had participated in fighting the IDF, most of them members of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military-terrorist wing, and a few of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Regarding one of them (Ahmed Abu Ita of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades), it was reported that he had gone to the Maqdamah mosque to meet “friends,” i.e., other armed terrorist operatives.
Disguised political agenda
Without noticing it, Committee member Desmond Travers exposed (harpers.org) the political agenda when he said that the claims regarding the use of mosques for military purposes reflected the Western perception in certain circles that Islam was a violent religion: “We also found no evidence that mosques were used to store munitions. Those charges reflect Western perceptions in some quarters that Islam is a violent religion… If I were a Hamas operative the last place I’d store munitions would be in a mosque.”
He is apparently saying that it is wrong to even mention the claim without examining the facts. The facts, which he and the rest of the Committee never examined, contradict his position. For Hamas, the most important function of the mosques in the jihad against Israel is repeatedly mentioned, beginning with its charter, through the remarks made by the organization’s senior figures, to the documentation of the military-terrorist activities of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
During the first and second Intifadas the mosques were used to identify and recruit suicide bombers and operatives for the various military-terrorist wings, to store weapons, and as meeting places for terrorist operatives, for pre-attack briefings and as stations from which to attack IDF forces.
Two particular events which were widely covered by the media should have been a heads-up for the members of the Goldstone Committee. In August 2007 Hamas “police” attacked the Ard al-Ribat mosque, located in the Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza City and controlled by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Two years later, and one month before the Report was issued, Hamas “police” and Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades operatives attacked the Ibn Taymmiyah mosque in Rafah, where armed operatives of the Jund Ansar Allah, a network affiliated with the global jihad, were located. The two attacks caused the deaths of dozens of Palestinians.
Moreover, the mosques in the Gaza Strip are engaged in a “suicide bombing competition” to determine which one bred the greatest number of bombers. The dubious title is held, apparently, by the Al-Khufla al-Rashidoun mosque in Jabaliya (not far from the Maqdamah mosque), which for years has been called the “fortress of the suicide bombers fighting for the sake of Allah.” According to the official Hamas forum, among the members of the mosque who were killed in 2000, 12 were Hamas suicide bombers and between 50 and 90 were Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades operatives. One of the most famous was Ibrahim Nizar Rayyan, who was trained and sent by his father the imam to carry out a suicide bombing attack in Israel. The Goldstone Committee also closed its eyes to that information.
A possible solution to the riddle
In light of the foregoing information, there is another scenario which can explain the circumstances of the attack on the mosque and bridge the gap between the positions of the IDF and the Goldstone Committee: Israeli intelligence discovered the intention of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades operative Ahmed Abu Ita to go to the Maqdamah mosque to meet other terrorist operatives there or nearby. The Israeli Air Force drone located him as he and the others arrived, but did not spot the civilians because they were inside the mosque praying.
During the narrow window of time the decision was made to attack the groups of armed terrorists near the mosque entrance. The missile launched hit them, killing some outright and damaging the mosque wall, killing Palestinians inside.
The Goldstone Committee, which did not accuse Hamas of war crimes (rather, it mentioned “Palestinian armed groups”) and rocket attacks, also did not examine the aforementioned scenario , which can easily be found in open sources, and did not even try to ask Palestinians witnesses if such a possibility could exist. Based on partial, biased information and without making an attempt to reach the truth, the Committee accused Israel of the deliberate murder of Palestinian civilians.
Israel made the mistake of not presenting the facts and sources to the public, within the limits of security, to dispel the accusation of war crimes raised by the Goldstone Report.