Israel Should Not Be Presumed Guilty of Gaza Beach Deaths

Much has been reported about an explosion on a Gaza beach on June 9, 2006 which killed 7 people, including 3 children. There has been a video shown repeatedly of a young girl wailing with grief there, coming upon the dead body of her father. Palestinians and their supporters have responded by blaming Israel and insisting that it was a deliberate “massacre” of civilians by Israel.

Many in the press are presuming that Israel is responsible for the deaths, but there is no proof of this, and the media and the world community should not rush to judgment. According to Ha’aretz military correspondent Amos Harel, an Israeli investigation has determined that it is highly unlikely that an errant Israeli shell was fired at the time of the explosion on the beach.

Israel’s initial response was to offer medical help, to offer condolences, and apologize should it turn out that they were responsible for a missile going astray, stressing that they work hard to minimize any harm to civilians. They said they were investigating because they were not aware of firing at that area at that time. Nonetheless, many reports about the incident have been saying that it is “presumed” that Israel is responsible. Why? Based on what proof?

The Israelis investigating the incident have narrowed it down to several possible scenarios, with an errant Israeli shell being fired at the time of the explosion the least likely, since the Israelis had stopped firing approximately 15 minutes before the Gaza beach explosion. More likely causes are, according to the June 12 Amos Harel article on the IDF investigation:

* Unexploded IDF ordnance: In the past months the IDF has fired hundreds of shells in the area of Friday’s incident. In some instances, Palestinian civilians were killed when they touched the unexploded shells including youths who sought to dismantle the ordnance in order to sell the metal. Israel has no means of pinpointing the location of the unexploded ordnance from previous operations.

* Detonation of a Palestinian bomb: Less than two weeks ago Israeli naval commandos operated in the northern Gaza Strip and ambushed a team of Qassam rocket operators. The Palestinians reported that groups of divers had arrived by sea, and militant forces announced that they would find ways to prevent any similar operations in the future. The possibility does exist that areas near the beach were mined and that the family members accidentally set off an explosive device that was intended to destroy a team of Israeli special-forces troops. Possible evidence of this hypothesis are Palestinian eye-witnesses who said that Hamas militants rushed to the site of the blast on Friday evening to collect remnants of the explosives.

…The key to solving the mystery will be in the analysis of the remnants of the shell or bomb that killed and injured the civilians. Three of those injured are hospitalized in Israel. If they were hurt by shrapnel, its origins can be determined.” (Ha’aretz article, “IDF Hard-pressed to Pinpoint Cause of Gaza Beach Deaths“)

It should also be recalled that:

* The Palestinians have in the past blamed Israel for deaths that were caused by their own bombs or weapons going off by accident or landing in the wrong place.

For example, a 10-year-old Palestinian girl was killed in January of 2005 by celebratory gunfire as several Palestinians departed for their pilgrimage to Mecca. Her death was initially blamed on the Israelis by PA and UN officials.

In another case, in November of 2001, a Palestinian security official initially blamed the death of 5 Palestinian children on an Israeli tank shell hitting a school, but later recanted.

* Palestinian rocket fire aimed at Israeli civilians has at times fallen short or gone astray and damaged Palestinian homes and killed Palestinians. For example, according to :

“…on the afternoon of 8 February 2006, an armed Palestinian group launched a locally made rocket from the town of Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip at an Israeli target across the border. The rocket went astray, hitting a house belonging to Saber Mohammed Abdul Dayem, nearly 300 meters from the launching site. The rocket hit the southern part of 3-storey house, where 10 people live, said the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR.). Fire broke out, terrifying the family-members. The rocket exploded in the family’s living room and destroyed all their furniture. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

This incident was not the first of its kind. On 2 August 2005, Palestinian armed groups launched three locally made rockets at Israeli targets. One of them went astray and hit a house belonging to the family of Al Ashqar east of the town of Beit Hanoun, also in the northern Strip. Fifty-year old Al Ashqar and his 6-year old son, Yasser, were killed. Nine other civilians, including five children, were also wounded in the attack. ”

The press should be more clear in its reports that the cause of the deaths is unknown and that Palestinian allegations should not automatically be believed because:

* According to a June 11th AP article,

“Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, the head of Israel’s southern command, said Sunday the military had proof it wasn’t responsible [for the Gaza beach deaths]. He said the [Israeli] military suspended artillery fire 15 minutes before the explosion at the beach, Army Radio reported” (AP article, “Israeli airstrike kills 2 Hamas militants” by Ibrahim Barzak, AP Writers).

* the Palestinians have not allowed any kind of professional independent investigation of the evidence to determine what actually caused the explosion.

The video taken by an Arab news agency (Ramattan) of an inconsolable young girl wailing as she discovers her dead father, has been played and replayed on Arab news stations several times an hour. Photos from the video as well as clips have appeared on TV stations and newspapers around the world, instantly becoming an iconic image similar to that of 12-year-old Mohammed Al Dura who was said to have been shot to death by an Israeli soldier in September 2000. As it turned out, however, Al Dura was almost certainly shot by Palestinians, if he was shot at all. (See BACKGROUNDER: Mohammed Al Dura, or Anatomy of a French Media Scandal )

While no one is questioning whether the young girl lost members of her family, many are now questioning how a video camera was at the scene within seconds to follow the daughter across the sand and capture her grief upon finding her dead father or how no one seems to console the child, including the photographer, how there is no evidence of a crater or blood near the bodies. Were the bodies moved, was the girl asked to reenact her discovery for the camera, was the video staged? Palestinian Media Watch has already demonstrated that the clips aired on official Palestinian Authority TV have been edited and falsified by including unrelated video of an Israeli missile boat firing at Gaza earlier in the day, creating the impression of Israeli responsibility. Al Jazeera similarly includes scenes of the supposed Israeli “strike”.  Yet some are accepting these inserted clips of an Israeli missile boat as the direct cause of the deaths.

Remarks by Prime Minister’s media advisor Ra’anan Gissin are of interest. As noted in a June 11 Jerusalem Post article by Herb Keinon, entitled “Gissin: Don’t blame Israel first”:

Israelis are doing themselves a gross disservice, and playing into the hands of the Palestinians, by presuming that an Israeli shell caused the deaths of seven Palestinian civilians Friday in Gaza, Prime Minster Ehud Olmert’s Foreign media advisor Ra’anan Gissin said Sunday.

“We are repeating the same mistakes of the past in taking responsibility when there are other possibilities about who is responsible,” Gissin said.

He said that Friday’s tragedy on the Gaza beach may indeed be similar to the shooting of Mohammed al-Dura in 2000, the “Jenin Massacre” in 2002, and the killing of 21 people at the Jabaliya refugee camp last September. While the Palestinians originally pinned the blame for all these incidents on Israel, it has since turned out that al-Dura may have been killed by Palestinians, that there was no “Jenin massacre,” and that the deaths in Jabaliya were caused when Hamas activists “mishandled” explosives at a mass rally.

Gissin said that Israel should immediately have raised doubts after Friday’s incident about the Palestinian version of events that placed the blame squarely on Israel.

“We jumped to conclusions before the evidence, and we immediately assumed that it was probably an Israeli shell,” Gissin said. “But we don’t know that for a fact. The Palestinians moved in and destroyed all the evidence. People should be asking themselves, ‘why?’ “

Just as Israel is conducting an investigation, Gissin said that the international community should also be demanding that the Palestinians conduct an investigation. But rather than doing that, he said, the Palestinians are removing evidence from the scene.

“We look at the area as a battle zone,” Gissin said, “while the Palestinians view it as a crime scene, and are interested in making the evidence look like Israel carried out an atrocity,” he said.

Gissin said that the evidence “didn’t add up” in Jenin to equal a massacre because there were not enough bodies, and in Jabaliya there were too many witnesses to what happened to buy the Hamas line that the explosion in 2005 was the result of missiles fired by an IDF helicopter.

“But now we have a classic case where there is no real evidence, and all we have is a picture of a crying girl on the beach,” Gissin said of Friday’s incident in Gaza. “Nobody knows how the people there were killed. If it was an Israeli shell, why didn’t the Palestinians invite the press to see the remnants of the shell, why have they been so quick to remove the evidence?”

Gissin bemoaned a situation where he said that instead of waiting for the investigation, the Israeli press jumped to the conclusion that it was an errant Israeli shell and reflexively began calling for an end to artillery fire on Gaza.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, meanwhile, said that considering the circumstances, Israel weathered this particular storm in the foreign media “fairly well.”

Regev said that none of the serious international news outlets blamed Israel for intentionally targeting the civilians, and that most mentioned that Israel expressed regret and set up an investigation of the incident.

Regev said that the Foreign Ministry and IDF coordinated Israel’s reaction after the incident and that there were two main messages:

*That Israel regretted the incident and expressed sorrow for it; that it deems the loss of innocent civilian life unacceptable; but that it was not taking responsibility because an investigation into exactly what happened was continuing.

*That the violence in Gaza is a result of Palestinian extremist groups continuing to launch rockets on Israel even though Israel pulled out of Gaza 10 months ago and has neither a single settler nor soldier there.

Regev said that this message did not emphasize the possibility that the Palestinians may have been responsible for the blast, because no one at this point knows exactly what happened. Israel, he said, did stress that it was investigating the incident, and that it was premature to draw conclusions.
UPDATE, July 12: The Jerusalem Post is now reporting that the IDF probe investigating the deaths of seven Palestinian civilians from an explosion on a beach in Gaza on Friday evening concluded that chances were slim that the accident was caused by IDF shelling, basing their findings on an inconsistency between the shrapnel found in the body of one of the wounded babies and the metal used in IDF artillery, and the absence of a crater at the site of the explosion, as would be expected if an IDF shell had landed there.


The Western press, however,  have misreported the story, presuming, based on zero evidence, it was an errant Israeli shell. For example:

BBC News reported on its Web site:

"Seven people, including three children, died on Friday when Israeli shells hit a beach in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials say."

The reporter qualifies the remark by adding "Palestinian officials say", but they include several more quotations from Palestinians blaming Israel who use words such as "massacre." The article has only one sentence from the Israelis saying they are "investigating," making it sound like Israel is investigating how it happened, not if it happened as a result of their actions. The article makes no mention that the Israelis were not even sure if the explosions were from Israel's weapons at all. No doubt at all is cast on the Palestinian claims that Israel is responsible. (For full article, click here.)

And a BBC radio broadcast, "World: Have Your Say" accepts that the videos shown in the Arab world that include the "Israeli strike" are real and asks whether the Western media is sanitizing the truth when showing clips that omit the strike.

The New York Times, for its part, has been placing disproportionate emphasis on the incident, with several articles over the past three days, including a human interest story about the girl (June 12, 2006), and a huge above-fold color photo from the video that spread across four columns. (June 10, 2006).

In another article "Hamas Fires Rockets Into Israel Ending 16-Month Truce" (June 11, 2006), bureau chief Steven Erlanger writes that six members of the Ghaliya family "were killed when the Israeli shell struck the beach where they were having a picnic." And in "Errant Shell Turns Girl Into Palestinian Icon" (June 12, 2006), reporter George Azar writes:

Eleven-year-old Huda unwittingly became a symbol of Palestinian pain and loss during an afternoon picnic with her family on a hot day when a cameraman captured her shrieking "Father, Father, Father!" as she hovered over the bloody bodies of 13 dead or wounded members of her family, hit by what was apparently an errant Israeli artillery shell...

Nowhere in these articles is any doubt raised as to who fired the deadly weapons. It is presumed that Israel is at fault. And there is no curiosity about how a camera got to the scene before the girl discovered her father's dead body or if indeed the cameraman asked the girl to reenact her discovery.

The press and the public should reserve judgment and not make hasty assumptions.

And if Israel is indeed responsible for the deaths, it should be noted that Israel in no way intended to harm civilians and is sorry if it did cause the deaths. In contrast, the goal of the Palestinian terrorists (including the current Palestinian legislative leaders) is to intentionally harm Israeli civilians, and they celebrate and gloat when Israeli or Jewish children are injured, maimed or murdered.

The explosion on the Gaza beach may have been an accident involving either Israeli or Palestinian weaponry, yet it garnered huge press coverage. The frequent Palestinian rocket attacks against the Israeli civilians living in Sderot, however, is entirely intentional and barely reported upon. The attacks are nothing short of attempted serial murder and it is interesting that there is so little outrage from the world community.

Stay tuned for updates!

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