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The Israeli army is putting humanitarian workers at risk in Gaza

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

Palestinians stand next to the remains of a car destroyed during fighting between Hamas militants and Israeli special forces in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, November 12, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinians stand next to the remains of a car destroyed during fighting between Hamas militants and Israeli special forces in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, November 12, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

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.

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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.



This is already happening, according to Ya’ari’s report, which detailed Hamas’ confusion following the incident. After the covert Israeli operation was exposed, Hamas security forces reportedly erected checkpoints and carried out arrests in Gaza.

“Hamas said, wait a second. Israel had a base inside Gaza with people, equipment, a Mercedes truck, a Volkswagen car, weapons? What happened here? How long was this going on? Are there other similar things happening?” Yaari speculated.

When Israeli security forces suspect Palestinian or foreign humanitarian workers are collaborating with Hamas, the Israeli press accuses the Islamic movement of “cynically exploiting” the protections and privileges given to humanitarian groups, even when many of those accusations eventually turn out to be baseless.

Palestinians wait to cross into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip after it was opened by Egyptian authorities for humanitarian cases, February 7, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinians wait to cross into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip after it was opened by Egyptian authorities for humanitarian cases, February 7, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

But instead of asking why the Israeli army does the same, instead of explaining to the viewers at home the real meaning of impersonating humanitarian aid workers, instead of asking how it is even possible for Israeli forces to operate deep inside the strip over a decade after “Israel left Gaza,” the media just moves on to the next news item. In the Israeli media, the IDF spokesperson and censor, respectively, decide what reporters report.

A look at what the Israeli media said it the wake of the botched operation and after Hamas started leaking details of it indicates that most journalists published exactly what the Israeli military spokespeople expected.

The Israeli army censor’s attempt to keep this story under wraps was not really about trying to prevent damaging information from reaching hostile elements in Gaza. Its main purpose was to conceal vital information from Israeli citizens. After all, the details revealed by Hamas had already been published by news outlets and on social media around the world. Photos supposedly identifying the Israeli operatives are out there for anyone to find. The entire world knew of the name of the Israeli officer who was killed while the Israeli media was forced to refer to him only as “M.”

Once again, the people kept under the dark cloud of censorship are Israeli citizens. And Israeli journalists are playing along.

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where a version of this article was originally published in Hebrew.

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    1. Artem

      “discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.” But it seems to be a LEFT direction

      Reply to Comment
    2. itshak Gordine

      There is no need for humanitarian workers in Gaza in my opinion. Hamas terrorists who hold this region under their control are receiving millions of dollars in international aid. Those who come to help this filthy regime under the pretext of “humanitarian aid” are its accomplices. While Egypt has closed its border with Gaza, it is terribly shocking that the State of Israel is allowing hundreds of trucks a day to help terrorists in Gaza while the population of southern Israel is suffering inhumanly following Hamas attacks.

      Reply to Comment
      • Sandra Duffy

        You are a know nothing savage

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          Absolutely not. Hamas is considered by almost all civilized states as a terrorist group. They receive millions of dollars in humanitarian aid for weapons-making, the construction of terrorist tunnels, among others. Sending humanitarian workers allows these terrorists to focus entirely on their criminal activities. It would be wiser to let them take care of their poors.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Yup. Know-nothing. And savage. Duffy is right.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            And why is the Israeli and settler council leadership not also a terrorist group?

            Israel Is the Terrorist
            Young Palestinians are not carrying out acts of terror- they are leading a desperate struggle against an army that is a thousand times stronger than they
            Ilana Hammerman

            Sending humanitarian workers and European aid into the West Bank has allowed these terrorists to focus entirely on their criminal activities and has funded their occupation for them and let them avoid the costs the occupying force is supposed to bear in regards to the protected persons occupied. The EU funds the occupation and reduces the cost to the occupier. It would be wiser to let the Israeli occupier take care of their poor.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Chris

      War is, for the most part, ostensibly waged in the name of peace. Military impersonating humanitarian officers not only endangers real humanitarian workers and can prevent critical aid from reaching those in need, it undermines a central component of peacebuilding. A key feature of humanitarian aid in conflict zones is that it does not matter which side you belong to – all people deserve to have their basic needs met and to live in dignity. A previous commenter completely misses the point when they accuse Hamas of being a terrorist agency – does that make Palestinians undeserving of basic aid? Hamas has nothing do with the Israeli military subverting humanitarianism in the region through deception (if the story proves true).

      Reply to Comment
    4. JW500

      Only bad part is the operation was exposed. The dolt who wrote this article fails to understand that Gaza and Israel are AT WAR. Gaza has committed terrible war crimes and terrorist attacks. During WW2 the US and allies were justified in using brutal and ruthless methods including firebombing cities and two nuclear bombs to end the War. Arabs are lucky the Jews don’t have the ruthlessness of the WW2 allies.

      It is standard practice for “undercover” agents to pose as something innocuous. Every country does it. If that is a “war crime” then driving 65 in a 55 mph zone is the same as murder.

      No one is kept in the dark. The people in Israel like those in America may not want to know all the seemly details of that must be done to protect them. For people like this author who don’t have the stomach to survive in the world, there are always the cattle cars…hop in.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        JW500: “…Gaza and Israel are AT WAR. Gaza has committed terrible war crimes and terrorist attacks. During WW2 the US and allies were justified in using brutal and ruthless methods…”

        This, transparently, is rot. Note the double standard. JW500 says it’s “WAR,” but the side with all the power gets to use “brutal and ruthless methods”—why, it’s the American Way—so JW500 would have us believe—but when the other side at “AT WAR” in this conflict, the side with vastly less power, uses asymmetric methods—because they are not morons—and asymmetric methods no different than Shamir and Begin and the Stern gang used in shaking off the British, or the Vietnamese used in shaking off the French, then those methods are “terrible war crimes and terrorist attacks.”

        That self-righteous double standard aside, the fact is, it not a “war,” it is a belligerent occupation, a hostile colonization, using settlers as a proxy in an army-backed land grab. The very term “war” is a kind of lie, because if it were a war, Israel, vastly more powerful, would be occupying Gaza City and Ramallah just as the Allies and the Russians occupied Berlin in 1945. If it were “a war,” Israel would not be sneaking around in the middle of the night taking land inch by inch, dunam by dunam, in all sorts of underhanded ways and pretending to do something else.

        I just showed, JW500, that your argument is bogus, a dishonest concatenation of propaganda terms used deceptively.

        Reply to Comment