Saturday, June 10, 2006

Condolences

The scene at the beach (AFP), from an article with the questionable
headline "Massacre sur une plage" [Massacre on a beach]

I heard the terrible news on the radio sometime on late Friday afternoon: seven Palestinian civilians had been killed on a beach in Gaza. All of the victims, which included a number of children, were apparently related. At the moment, the circumstances of their deaths are still not entirely clear, although preliminary findings of an IDF investigation indicate that they were caused by an errant Israeli artillery shell (Ha'aretz). Israeli air force and navy bombardment has been ruled out as a cause. However, there is also a slight chance that accidental Palestinian fire or a “work accident” might have been the cause (Ha'retz). In any case, my condolences go out to the surviving family members.

After initial reports of this tragedy, the IDF immediately suspended further artillery shelling until a military inquiry reporting to Defense Minister Amir Peretz concludes its work by Monday night. The IDF also apologized, stating that it “regretted the strike on innocents.” However, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz cautioned – and this was apparent in an Israeli radio interview given shortly after the first news – that the army was not taking responsibility for the incident until the end of the investigation (Ha'aretz). He further emphasized that the shelling had been in response to Qassam rocket attacks on Israel, and reiterated the IDF’s responsibility to protect Israeli citizens.

A few people in Israel have criticized the artillery shelling of the Gaza strip that began a few months ago after a number of Qassam rockets hit civilian targets in Sderot and other southern towns. But these critical voices make up a very small minority. For one, until now there have been very few civilian casualties as a result of this shelling. Secondly, in the wake of the complete withdrawal from Gaza, even most of the Europeans have realized that the Qassam rocket attacks on Israeli civilians living in the green line are simply unacceptable. Thus, until now, Israel has been able to shell and bomb rocket launching sites and terrorists on their way to missile attacks on Israel without much condemnation. Unfortunately, anti-Qassam measures taken by Israel have still proven relatively ineffective, though there had been some improvement in the past week. The tragic accident of last Friday, however, is likely to renew calls on Israel to limit its responses to Qassam fire, which is likely to put Israel in a dangerous predicament. Such calls also obscure the simple truth that if Palestinian militants were not engaging in rocket attacks on Israel, the IDF would not have been shelling Gaza in the first place.

In Europe, the French delivered the harshest condemnation of Israel, calling the bombardment of the beach “disproportionate” and deploring Israel’s actions. There was little understanding for Israel’s need to defend its own population against deliberate targeting by the Qassam launchers.

Of course, France’s outrage did not come close to the efforts of various Arab statesmen to use the accident to slam Israel. Lebanon and Syria together denounced the shelling as a “massacre.” The Syrian Foreign Ministry said that the attack "confirms once again that Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people were continuing, unrestrained, under the eyes and ears of the international community."

These kinds of declarations joined the images broadcast on Al Jazeera and other Arab television stations from the horrible scene. They as well as the Palestinian Hamas government are being quite clear in presenting the Israeli shelling as deliberate, which the use of the term massacre also implies. Hamas wasted no time in calling the “Israeli massacres” a “direct opening battle” that would merit a “tough, strong and unique response” (Ha'aretz) .

Never mind that Hamas had already re-started direct involvement in Qassam firing in the week before the accidental shelling of the beach. Furthermore, after the killing of the Popular Resistance Committee leader Jamal Abu Samhadana on Thursday night, after an Israel Air Force strike on a PRC training camp (apparently, it was not a targeted assassination – Samhadana was in the wrong place, at the wrong time), Hamas already declared that “the cease-fire no longer exists” (Ha'aretz).

After what happened on the Gaza beach, Hamas, attentive to public opinion that it is helping to whip up further by presenting this as a deliberate slaughter of civilians, is likely to return to full-scale attacks on Israel. In any case, all too many people across the globe are all too willing to believe that Israel killed these innocent civilians in cold blood. Furthermore, at a time when terrorists in Iraq are killing dozens of innocent Muslim civilians every day, it must be cathartic to finally attribute a "murderous massacre" to Israel – even when it is clear to all objective observers that it was not a massacre at all but an accident.

In Egypt, insinuations that Israel had deliberately set out to kill the civilians were more moderately expressed; but they led Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit to make the ludicrous declaration that

The use of force by Israel in the Palestinian territories is a principle unacceptable in itself [because] responsibility for security in the territories is entrusted to the Palestinian Authority.

So Israel should just sit back and wait for the PA to do something when Palestinian terrorists fire rockets at Israelis.

Danny Rubenstein believes that the images of a Palestinian girl crying over her family members’ bodies, imploring mourners not to leave her alone will incite similar anger as the footage of the boy Mohammed al-Dura who was shot in his father’s arms at the beginning of the intifadah. BTW, it is very likely that he was actually shot by Palestinian gunmen not by IDF soldiers – the boy and his father were caught in crossfire.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military has offered to evacuate the wounded (who number nearly 40 people) to Israeli hospitals. One nine-year-old boy has been transferred to Israel for treatment (Ha'aretz).

Reactions in the European press have been relatively balanced, and in some sense overshadowed by the fight between Abbas and Haniyyeh about the referendum on the “prisoners’ document.” Le Monde referred to an “explosion qui a tué sept Palestiniens sur une plage à Gaza vendredi” [an explosion that killed 7 Palestinians on a beach in Gaza on Friday], emphasizing that the IDF was investigating, but also citing Abbas as denouncing “ces massacres sanglants … symbole d’une guerre d’extermination” [these bloody massacres…symbols of a war of extermination] – truly an outrageous statement. Le Figaro referred to “la bavure israélienne qui a cause la mort de sept civils palestiniens” [the Israeli error/blunder that caused the death of 7 Palestinian civilians]. The newspaper further stressed the regret expressed by Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

In Germany, on the other hand, the Süddeutsche Zeitung spoke of “einem israelischen Angriff auf eine palästinensische Familienfeier” [an Israeli attack on a Palestinian family celebration]! The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also referred to an Israeli "attack" on a beach.

1 comment:

John said...

The Lebanon Daily Star headline (Saturday, June 10) reads:
"Israeli fire rakes Gaza beach killing 14 people"
In the article itself, though, they note that it was seven people who were killed in this incident. I'm not saying that this makes it, G-d forbid, any less tragic, but these kinds of headlines don't inspire much confidence in Arab reporting.