Rumors of war: did hundreds of Hamas fighters surrender to Israeli forces?

Rumors of war: did hundreds of Hamas fighters surrender to Israeli forces?

Leaked videos and photos clearly indicate that a group of Palestinian men were captured and forced to strip. But who were they, and why were they there? Don’t believe the headlines. It turns out they were civilians, including boys as young as twelve and senior citizens. Among those seized were doctors, academics, shopkeepers, and construction workers.

by Kathryn Shihadah

At 9:13 pm Israel time on Thursday, Ha’aretz’s live blog made a stunning announcement:

IDF spokesperson: Many terrorists surrendered to Israeli army in Gaza Strip

The brief entry was unequivocal.

Israeli army spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on Thursday evening that many Hamas terrorists had surrendered to Israeli soldiers in Gaza.

“The IDF and Shin Bet have arrested and interrogated hundreds of suspects in terrorist activities, many of them, in the last day as well, surrendered to us,” Hagari said.

Photos of dozens of Hamas members who surrendered in the Jabalya area of the northern Gaza Strip were published earlier on Thursday.

According to Hagari, the IDF is detaining everyone to verify their identities. “We check who is connected to Hamas and who is not, and we detain and question everyone,” he said. A resident of Beit Lahia told Haaretz that the army had arrested all the young men in the area, including civilians.

Ha'aretz claims this photo depicts Hamas fighters who surrendered to the Israeli army on Thursday, in north Gaza.
Ha’aretz claims this photo depicts Hamas fighters who surrendered to the Israeli army on Thursday, in north Gaza. (photo)

A number of other news outlets also carried the story. Here are some of their headlines:

Over 150 Hamas terrorists surrender to IDF forces in Khan Yunis (Israeli i24)

Dozens of Hamas terrorists surrender to Israeli soldiers, report says (NY Post)

Images circulate of dozens of Hamas terrorists surrendering in Gaza (Jerusalem Post)

Israel Says It Detained Hundreds of Terrorism Suspects in Gaza (NY Times)

WATCH: Hamas terrorists captured by the IDF (Israel Hayom)

The New York Post piece included an extra detail: Israeli soldiers forced the “militants” to remove their “uniforms.”

The New York Times carried the story without photos, reporting, “Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief military spokesman, said in a televised briefing that many of the suspects under interrogation by the military and the Shin Bet domestic security agency had turned themselves over to the Israeli forces.” (The NYT reporter, Isabel Kershner, has a son who served in the IDF and may still be in the Israeli military.)

As of this writing, the stories are still up on all of the sites.

There was just one problem: the photos and videos do not depict Hamas terrorists, but innocent civilians.

At best, these are examples of sloppy journalism; at worst they are the oft-repeated anti-Palestinian tropes that Israeli and pro-Israel spokespeople have burned into the collective mind of mainstream media.

Many consumers of the news only skim headlines, so misleading headlines, whether accidental or intentional, are a dereliction of duty.

The facts are readily available. Here is the real story behind the photos and videos.

Hamas members or suspects? Surrendered or arrested?

Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari seems to be the source of some misinformation. According to TRT, when he was asked about the photos, he claimed they were “terrorists…surrendering.”

CNN reported Hagari as saying, “We’ve seen images of many captives, Hamas terrorists, that the IDF arrested during the ground maneuvering.”

He also said, “The IDF and Shin Bet have arrested and interrogated hundreds of suspects in terrorist activities.”

These statements are confusing and somewhat contradictory, but no one seems to have asked for clarification.

As the headlines above indicate, a number of new agencies (among them Israeli outlets) went with the seductive “Hamas terrorists surrendered.”

It is possible that some Hamas members surrendered, but apparently the photos and videos in question do not depict them.

Wait, militants or civilians?

The BBC provided another quote from Hagari. When asked about the video, he claimed that everyone detained was of military age.

That is to say, not known Hamas members, but males who are the right age (unlike Israel, Gaza does not practice forced conscription).

“We investigate and check who has ties to Hamas, and who does not,” he said. “We arrest them all and question them. We will continue dismantling each one of those strongholds until we are done.”

But – the videos and photos include boys as young as twelve and senior citizens. Among the those seized were also doctors, academics, shopkeepers, and construction workers. (A quick look at the shoes scattered in the road indicates these were civilians. Flip flops and sneakers are not the footwear of fighters.)

Not the footwear of Hamas fighters
Not the footwear of Hamas fighters

It’s not rocket science

It isn’t difficult to get this story right, but it does require a step that many mainstream journalists won’t take: talking to Palestinians – the people who know the facts because the stories happen where they live.

For example, the New Arab identified one of the captives as their own well-known journalist, Diaa al-Kalhout. He would not be part of a mass surrender of Hamas operatives.

His sister informed the New Arab that her brother had been “forced at gunpoint to leave his disabled seven-year-old daughter.” Kalhout’s brothers and other relatives were also arrested, forced to strip, and subjected to humiliating searches.

Many Palestinians in Gaza and around the world saw the photos and videos. Several were able to identify family members from the photos and videos. Others were present when the men were kidnapped.

A man who saw the kidnapping related how Israeli soldiers had used microphones to order men to leave their homes and the UNRWA schools where they were sheltering with their families, and threatened to shoot women in the area if the men did not comply. Ten of the man’s cousins had been taken away.

Other witnesses described Israeli soldiers going from house to house and through two UNRWA schools, rounding up men apparently at random, beating them, and forcing them to remove their clothes – shooting and killing at least 7 men who hesitated to strip.

The men were then apparently loaded into an Israeli military vehicles and taken away.

Palestinian civilians lined up in an unknown location, with Israeli soldiers guarding them
Palestinian civilians lined up in an unknown location, with Israeli soldiers guarding them (photo)

Some have since been released; the fate of the rest is unknown.

Husam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to the UK, described the video of the incident as “savage images of Israeli occupation forces detaining and stripping civilians taken from a UN shelter [which]evokes some of humanity’s darkest passages of history.”

Bottom line: Israel has once again lost control of the narrative. It is getting caught in its own web of lies, and many news outlets are buying the propaganda – no questions asked.

Meanwhile, Palestinian men have been humiliated and in some cases, killed. No doubt anger and resentment against Israel have grown, on the part of Hamas and Palestinians in general, not to mention people watching around the world.

Will the media who fell for Israel’s propaganda issue public corrections – and be less gullible next time?

And will Americans grow louder in their denouncement of Israel’s ongoing massacre and humiliation of the Palestinian people?

Kathryn Shihadah is an editor and staff writer for If Americans Knew. She also blogs occasionally at Palestine Home.



Enter your email address below to receive our latest articles right in your inbox.