“The mission found Khalid and Kawthar Abd Rabbo to be credible and reliable witnesses. It has no reason to doubt the veracity of the main elements of their testimony. The Mission also reviewed several sworn statements they and other eyewitnesses gave to NGOs about the incident and found them to be consistent with the account it received.”
Yesterday the United Nations’ fact-finding mission into the three weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip published its scathing report, harshly condemning Israel for its “disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.” Much of its conclusions are based on Palestinian witnesses, and the process in which the U.N. Human Rights Council investigators, led by Judge Richard Goldstone, selected these witnesses is unknown. There are clear systemic problems in relying on the testimony of many of the witnesses. Specifically, according to media reports, Hamas representatives accompanied U.N. investigators throughout much of their fact-finding visit to the Gaza Strip, casting doubt in particular on the credibility of witnesses aligned with Fatah.
The case of Khaled and Kawthar Abed Rabbo illustrates this predicament. Before Hamas’ violent takeover of the Gaza Strip, Khaled Abd Rabbo was a member of the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority police forces, and the Palestinian newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida identifies the Abed Rabbo family as loyal to Fatah. Yet, the Goldstone team fails to take into account Khaled Abed Rabbo’s reported loyalties to Fatah. Surely, in the context of intra-Palestinian violence, in which Hamas took advantage of the fighting with Israel to kill and maim Fatah opponents, the testimony of Abd Rabbo— who says that his three daughters and mother were shot in cold blood by an Israeli soldier on Jan. 7 — must be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Moreover, while the Goldstone committee “found Khalid and Kawthar Abd Rabbo to be credible and reliable witnesses [and] has no reason to doubt the veracity of the main elements of their testimony,” Khaled Abd Rabbo and his relatives have given more than a dozen different versions of what happened to them on Jan. 7, 2009. These multiple conflicting accounts appearing both in the mainstream media and a number of NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, are incompatible with the U.N. commission’s statement that “The mission also reviewed several sworn statements they and other eyewitnesses gave to NGOs about the incident and found them to be consistent with the account it received.”
A review of the earlier statements by witnesses given to both NGOs and journalists reveals not only that the witnesses were completely unreliable, but that the U.N.’s statements, to the contrary, are not credible.
Despite the many inconsistencies in the various testimonies and reports, the general outline of the Abd Rabbo story is that on Jan. 7, an Israeli tank unit approached the family home in Izbet Abed Rabbo, near Jabalya, in the northern Gaza Strip and ordered the family to leave the home. Several family members exited, waving a white flag. Outside the home were two soldiers standing next to a tank. A third emerged from the tank and shot at three sisters, killing 7-year-old Souad and 2-year-old Amal, and seriously injuring 4-year-old Amar. In addition, the soldier injured the girls’ grandmother, Souad.
An earlier CAMERA report focused on the inconsistencies in Abed Rabbo’s story as reported in media outlets. This analysis focuses on the inconsistencies between the Goldstone findings on the Abed Rabbo story versus earlier NGO investigations.
Fatah-Hamas rivalry in Abd Rabbo case is key, but omitted
The Goldstone report does not mention Abed Rabbo’s Fatah affiliation. In his Jan. 28 testimony, Khaled states: “We have nothing to do with Hamas and we were used to hav[ing] the Israeli army come into our area. So I thought this time we could stay in our houses. We had nothing to do with Hamas. We did not pose any danger to Hamas.”
Yet, a Jan. 27 from the Palestinian newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, reveals that the Abd Rabbo family are Fatah loyalists, that their land was taken over by Hamas for tunnels, arms caches, and rocket attacks, that the family was waiting for reparations from Hamas, and that they were afraid to speak out against Hamas:
The Abd Rabbo family kept quiet while Hamas fighters turned their farm in the Gaza Strip into a fortress. Right now they are waiting for the aid promised by the [Hamas] movement after Israel bombed the farm and turned it into ruins. . .
The hill on which Abd Rabbo family lives overlooks the Israeli town Sderot, a fact that turned it into an ideal military position for the Palestinian fighters, from which they have launched hundreds of rockets into southern Israel during the last few years. Several of the Abd Rabbo family members described how the fighters dug tunnels under their houses, stored arms in the fields and launched rockets from the yard of their farm during the nights.
The Abd Rabbo family members emphasize that they are not [Hamas] activists and that they are still loyal to the Fatah movement, but that they were unable to prevent the armed squads from entering their neighborhood at night. One family member, Hadi (age 22) said: “You can’t say anything to the resistance [fighters], or they will accuse you of collaborating [with Israel] and shoot you in the legs.” (Translation by Palestinian Media Watch)
Thus, the Abed Rabbo family are Fatah loyalists, their property was taken over by Hamas fighters, they were awaiting reparations from Hamas, they were afraid to “say anything to the ‘resistance,’” and Khaled failed to note the Hamas takeover of his area. Therefore, on what basis does the commission accept at face value his claim that there was no fighting at the time of the shooting incident? The report concludes: “The testimony of Khalid and Kawthar Abd Rabbo, however, shows that the Israeli armed forces were not engaged in combat or fearing an attack at the time of the incident.”
Was Khaled outside at the time of the shootings or inside his house?
Was Khaled outside or inside his home at the time of the alleged shootings of his three girls? Despite the U.N.’s claim that Abed Rabbo’s earlier sworn testimonies to NGOs are consistent with the Goldstone testimony, Khaled is not consistent on this key point. His respective testimonies to the Goldstone Report and Human Rights Watch, which is cited 33 times in the U.N. report, are contradictory as to whether he was inside or outside during the shooting. The Goldstone report claims that after hearing Israeli soldiers using a megaphone calling upon the family to leave their home, Khaled stepped outside along with his wife, three daughters, and mother. The report states (paragraph 771):
At about 12:50 p.m., Khalid Abd Rabbo, his wife Kawthar, their three daughters, Souad (aged 9), Samar (aged 5) and Amal (aged 3), and his mother, Hajja Souad Abd Rabbo, stepped out of the house all of them carrying white flags.
Indeed, this is what Khaled testified to the U.N. delegation on June 28. Yet, according to Human Rights Watch’s August 2009 “White Flag Deaths” report, Khaled said he was inside during the time of the actual shooting. The Human Rights Watch report states:
According to all three family members [Khaled, his brother, and his mother], around noon the family heard the tank outside their house and then a soldier on a megaphone calling on them to come outside. Afraid to send out any men, two women and three female children gathered at the door, at least three of them holding pieces of white cloth. They stepped outside and saw an Israeli tank about 10 meters away with its turret pointed at the house. On the front steps stood Khalid’s mother, Su’ad, 54, his wife, Kawthar, 26, and their three girls, Su’ad, 7, Samar, 4, and Amal, 2.
Likewise Souad Abed Rabbo, Khaled’s mother, told investigators from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, that she, her daughter-in-law, and three grandaughters — but not Khaled — exited the home following the soldiers’ call. The PHR-I report states:
Feb 2 2009. Souad Abed Rabbo told the team that on 7 Jan 2009 there were 30-40 people in the house in Jebel al Kashif. On the first day of the “ground invasion”, 4 Jan 2009, the Israeli tanks had already passed the house. Now they experienced tank shelling around the house and Israeli soldiers shouting that they should all come out of their houses. She, her daughter in law (married to her son Khaled) and her three granddaughters went out of the house, Souad and the daughter in law and her 7-year old girl each holding a white flag above their heads. The girls were Souad, 7, Samar, 4 and Amal, 2. Outside the house there was an Israeli tank. It had come from the west towards the house that was facing north. It was 11.30 –– 12.00. The tank was in the garden about ten meters from her, when she stopped to receive permission to leave unharmed. On her right side were the three girls, behind her was the daughter in law close to the door of the house.
Similarly, Khaled specifically told the Irish Times that only women and children went outside, and that he deliberately stayed behind to demonstrate the family’s civilian status:
“My three daughters, wife and mother went out carrying white flags,” Mr Abed Rabbo said. By sending the women out, the family sought to prove they were civilians.
Whether or not Khaled was inside or outside the home is not an incidental detail. It goes to the central question of what exactly he might have been able to see. Moreover, the very fact that Khaled has been inconsistent about whether he was inside or outside during the alleged shootings is enough to disqualify him as a reliable witness. To that end, Khaled’s claim in the Washington Post —“I was holding Amal when they shot her. My hand felt heavy and I dropped her, and I saw her abdomen open” — is notable. He does not repeat it in his testimony to the U.N. investigators, even though in that version he did claim to be outside during the shooting. The bottom line is that Khaled cannot simultaneously have held Amal while he watched her insides spill out and have waited inside to demonstrate that his family was civilian. Thus, he is lying in either one or both cases, and the U.N. investigators should have called him on this instead of dubbing him “reliable.
Other inconsistencies derive from this basic flaw in Khaled’s story. For instance, is it true that “Khalid and Kawthar Abd Rabbo carried their three daughters and mother back inside the house” as per the Goldstone Report, or that “The women and girls managed to scramble back inside the house, some of them bleeding badly,” as per Human Rights Watch? Or perhaps, “The grandmother retreated inside the house, while the father and mother moved the injured girls,” as per the investigation of Adalah, Al-Mezan and Al-Haq, which also all contributed to the Goldstone Report.
The Ambulance Incident
Again, despite U.N. claims that earlier testimony to NGOs was consistent with the accounts its own investigators received, this was not the case with respect to events surrounding Samieh al-Sheikh, the ambulance driver/neighbor, who said he tried to assist the Abed Rabbo family. According to the Goldstone report, Khaled and Kawthar
shouted for help and a neighboour, Sameeh Atwa Rasheed al-Sheikh, who was an ambulance driver and had his ambulance parked next to his house, decided to come to their help. He put on his ambulance crew clothes and asked his son to put on a flourescent jacket. They had driven a few meters from their house to the immediate vicinity of the Abd Rabbo house when Israeli soldiers near the Abed Rabbo house ordered them to halt and get out of the vehicle. Sameeh al-Sheikh protested that he had heard cries for help from the Abd Rabbo family and intended to bring the wounded to hospital. The soldiers ordered him and his son to undress and then re-dress. They then ordered them to abandon the ambulance and walk towards Jabaliyah, which they complied with. When the families returned to Izbat Abd Rabbo on 18 January, they found the ambulance in the same place but had been crushed, probably by a tank.
Yet, al-Sheikh told Human Rights Watch the soldiers “ordered him to get out of the ambulance and walk out of the neighborhood.” In that testimony, he did not make any mention of either his son or orders to undress. (In yet another version of what happened, al-Sheikh told Time Magazine “the Israeli soldiers beat me up.”) Moreover, Goldstone and Human Rights Watch contradict each other as to how the ambulance was destroyed. While Goldstone is uncle ar about what crushed the ambulance (“probably . . . a tank”), HRW definitely states that the ambulance was crushed under a destroyed house, where their investigators saw it:
When he returned to his home after the Israeli withdrawal on January 18, he said he found his ambulance crushed under his demolished house. Human Rights Watch observed the crushed ambulance under the rubble of al-Sheikh’s destroyed house on January 25.
Kawthar, Khaled’s wife, gives a different account about the ambulance’s fate. In her recorded testimony to the Goldstone committee, she says that the ambulance was crushed immediately when al-Sheik tried to help – not later, after he left for Jabaliya. She said:
My neighbor, uh, he’s an ambulance driver and he was, uh, worked to help patients and we called on him and asked him to help us with the ambulance but when the ambulance came out they crushed the ambulance. They hit the ambulance and did not allow it to reach us.
In another indication that the U.N. mission was grossly mistaken when it found “Khalid and Kawthar Abd Rabbo to be credible and reliable witnesses,” the Goldstone testimonies by the husband and wife team are not consistent with each other. Khaled spoke before the investigators on June 28 in Gaza. Kawthar’s testimony was given in a video. She was filmed with her daughter Samar at a Belgium hospital.
1) Which parent carried which daughter?
Khaled testifies that when the family left the home to reach a hospital: “I carried my daughter Suad, 3 years old [sic]. She was dead. I left the house. My wife carried Amal, 2 years old and she joined me.”
However, according to Kawthar: “I carried Suad and my husband carried Amal.” Also, Kawthar’s daughter Samar states in the video, “my father carried Amal.”
2) When did the family learn that Samar was injured and not killed?
Khaled testifies to the Goldstone commission:
Of course, we reached the Kamal Idwan Hospital and they confirmed that the three of them were martyred, that is Suad, 3 years old, Samar, 4, and Amal, 3 years old and but [sic] surprisingly enough they told me that Samar, no, she had survived and she was moved to al-Shiffa Hospital.
In contrast, Kawthar and Samar talk about an incident on the way to the hospital, which Khaled did not mention and which contradicts his testimony:
Kawthar: On the way, uh, this girl [Samar], we were, uh, in front of them and she was behind us with her uncle and a soldier saw her. So he told her uncle to throw her on the floor.
Samar: A soldier found me and told him, “Put her down.” He told my uncle, “Put her down. Throw her.” This is what he said and my father carried Amal. Amal is very small. She’s 2 years old, and a half, and my elder sister she is 7 and a half years old.
Kawthar: They didn’t see us as were running with our girls but when they saw her [Samar] they told her uncle, “Throw her down,” and then they were surprised to see that the girl was still alive. So they told the uncle, “Come back and get her.” So thanks be to God her uncle came back and got her after she was thrown on the floor and then he came back and took her.
Either the family knew that Samar was alive during the alleged incident with the soldier on the way to the house, or the family only found out once they reached the hospital. They can’t both be true. Again, either Khaled or Kawthar, or both, are lying.