Israeli bombing of the Gaza beach (2006)

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The Gaza beach blast was an incident on June 9, 2006 in which eight Palestinians were killed and at least thirty others injured in an explosion on a beach near the municipality of Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip.[1][2] The aftermath of the incident was captured on video and showed a distressed eleven-year-old girl, Huda Ghaliya, reacting to the loss of family members, most of whom were killed in the incident. The footage of Ghaliya, which received considerable media attention, was broadcast on news networks around the world, making her a symbol of Palestinian suffering.[3] The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung questioned the reliability of the video footage.[4][5]

On 9 June 2006, between 4:31 and 4:50 p.m., Israeli artillery and a navy gunboat fired 8 artillery shells at the beach, with two shells landing 200 metres away from the family.[6] The Israeli army and Israeli officials initially took responsibility.[2] A subsequent investigation by the Israeli Defence Forces concluded that the explosion was not caused by the shelling of the beach and blamed it on a Palestinian land mine.[7][8][9] This investigation was criticized by Human Rights Watch[10] and The Guardian.[11] The IDF acknowledged a flaw in the report in that it omitted mention of two 76mm naval shells, the IDF maintains had landed too far away to have caused the explosion. At this point, the IDF acknowledged that the cause of the blast may have been an unexploded 155mm artillery shell from an earlier shelling, but suggested it might have been used as an IED by Palestinians.[2]

Huda Ghaliya's sister Ilham was reported in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz as saying her father caused the lethal explosion when he handled unexploded ordnance left behind from a previous incident,[12][13] however other sources list her as one of the immediate victims of the explosion.[14] Her brother Ayham, in an interview with the same newspaper, said the explosion was caused by an incoming shell.[15]

Victims[edit]

Seven members of the Ghaliya family — Ali, 43; Raisa, 36; Alia, 24; Ilham, 15; Sabrin, 7; Hanadi, 2; and Haytham, 8 months — were killed by the blast. Along with 7-year old Huda, survivors included her mother, Hamdia, and an elder sister.

Three of the wounded sisters and a brother received treatment in an Israeli hospital.[16] Ayham Ghaliya, 21 years old, and Ralia Niham, who was seriously injured in the blast, were treated at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv.[17][18]

Adham Ghaliya was injured by shrapnel and, after treatment in the Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva, received medical attention in the United States. One other Palestinian civilian was also killed.[19]

Investigations[edit]

The Israeli army claimed it was targeting Qassam rocket launchers, shelling the beach 250 metres away from the blast, ten minutes prior to it. An Israeli military investigation later concluded that the family was not hurt as a result of the Israeli shelling.[20] The Times and Human Rights Watch expressed doubts regarding the IDF investigation, saying that it failed to account for two shells fired from an Israeli naval vessel at the same time as the explosion and called for an independent inquiry into the deaths.[10]

On June 16 it was reported that Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst and battle damage assessment expert at Human Rights Watch,[21] had examined a piece of shrapnel removed from the abdomen of one of the victims and had concluded that the shrapnel was part of an artillery fuse.[22]

Israel Defense Forces[edit]

An IDF investigation into the deaths concluded, on 13 June 2006, that one piece of shrapnel removed from the body of Amneh Ghaliya did not match the metal signature of Israeli munitions, and that IDF shells or missiles would have left larger craters than found on the site of the incident.[23] The report suggested the blast was probably caused by an explosive device buried in the sand, but did not determine whether it was planted by Palestinians (as the IDF committee head speculated but could not confirm) or was an old IDF explosive.[24]

The IDF explained that six cannon shells were fired in the vicinity. The landing spots of last five were identified as being 250 meters away from the incident, but that of the first was not determined. The army is nevertheless convinced that the first shell, which they say was shot at least eight minutes prior to the fatal blast, could not have fallen on the beach almost half a kilometer away from its intended target.[5][24] Major General Dan Halutz, IDF Chief of Staff and former Israeli Air Force Commander was reported as saying "We can say, surely, that the IDF is not responsible for the incident," and that, "We checked each and every shell that was fired from the sea, the air and from the artillery on the land and we found out that we can track every one according to a timetable and according to the accuracy of where they hit the ground."[24]

On 17 June, The Times (of London) reported that the Israeli Army had told them its report was flawed, in that it failed to mention two gunboat shells fired at 4:24pm and 4:55pm. According to the IDF the two shells landed too far away to have been responsible. A UN radio transmission describing "casualties" in the area at 4:33pm was identified by the head of the IDF inquiry commission Major General Meir Klifi as related to "an earlier incident" near the abandoned settlement of Dugit.[8]

In a 19 June press release, Marc Garlasco, the senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, declared the IDF investigation not credible, citing its complete reliance on information gathered by the IDF and exclusion of all evidence gathered by other sources.[10] Garlasco said “An investigation that refuses to look at contradictory evidence can hardly be considered credible. The IDF’s partisan approach highlights the need for an independent, international investigation. [...] If the Israeli allegations of tampered evidence are to be believed, many Palestinians would have to have engaged in a massive and immediate conspiracy to falsify the data. The conspirators – witnesses, victims, medical personnel and bomb disposal staff – would have had to falsify their testimony, amend digital and hand-written records, and dip shrapnel into a victim’s blood. It beggars belief that such a huge conspiracy could be orchestrated so quickly.” The press release also pointed to inconsistencies in the IDF analysis of the shell fragments.

In response to the call for an independent, international investigation of the incident.[10] IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said there was no possibility of such an investigation.[24]

Palestinian bomb squad[edit]

A spokesperson for the Palestinian Interior Ministry described the Israeli report as "a lie and an attempt to escape moral responsibility for the massacre of a completely innocent family."[24] Colonel Saleh Abu Alozom of the Palestinian bomb squad said multiple fragments from the copper shell casing of an IDF 155mm artillery shell of the type fired towards the area on the day in question had been recovered from the beach .[25]

Shrapnel removal[edit]

The victims had initially been treated by Palestinian doctors who removed almost all shrapnel from the bodies of victims before they arrived at Israeli hospitals for treatment.[26] Representatives of the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center said that Palestinian doctors at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, who had treated a woman wounded during the blast, had made unnecessary cuts all over her body in an effort to remove all the surgically reachable shrapnel. The Israeli hospital said they had never before received a patient from which all possible shrapnel had been removed."[27]

Human Rights Watch[edit]

On 30 June, the Human Rights Watch presented a report, concluding that the evidence collected by HRW researchers and independent journalists on the ground in Gaza indicates that the civilians were killed within the time period of the shelling. That evidence included computerized hospital records that showed children injured at the beach were treated by 5:12 p.m., and hand-written hospital records that showed they were admitted at 5:05 p.m. HRW concludes that in light of the 20-minute round trip drive between the hospital and the beach, this evidence suggests that the blast that caused the family’s death occurred during the time of the IDF shelling.[2][28]

Marc Garlasco,[21] the senior military analyst and battle damage assessment expert at Human Rights Watch, said that the nature of the injuries was not consistent with the Israeli explanation of an explosion originating from a buried object,[29] and said in his report that shrapnel 10–12 cm in diameter scattered in an area of 90 meters had been found around the explosion sites, some stamped with the number "55" and the word "mm".[2] [25][30] On 16 June it was reported that he had examined a piece of shrapnel from the abdomen of a Palestinian boy and had concluded that the shrapnel was part of an artillery fuse.[22] According to The Times, "after seeing the details of an Israeli army investigation that closely examined the relevant ballistics and blast patterns, (Garlasco stated) that he had been wrong and that the deaths were probably caused by an unexploded munition in the sand. But this went down badly at Human Rights Watch HQ in New York, and the admission was retracted by an HRW press release the next day."[31]

Following this report, the IDF conceded that the cause of the blast may have been a 155mm shell, which it argued may have been placed on the beach by Palestinians as an IED, or that it may have been an unexploded Israeli shell from an earlier shelling, that was triggered by the IDF barrage further down the beach that afternoon.[2]

In a meeting with IDF investigator Major General Klifi on 19 June 2006, the IDF and Human Rights Watch agreed that it is possible that unexploded ordnance from a 155mm artillery shell fired earlier in the day could have caused the fatal injuries.[10][32] According to the HRW report, the IDF fired more than 80 155mm shells in the area of the beach on the morning of the incident, and sand would increase the possibility of a fuse malfunction leading to a dud shell that may have sat in the sand waiting to be set off. The report says the shelling between 4:31 p.m. and 4:50 p.m. could have triggered a dud shell, as could the human traffic on the beach that afternoon.

HRW has repeatedly called for an independent investigation.[2][33]

Media reports[edit]

Guardian report[edit]

On 17 June The Guardian published the findings of their own investigation into the incident, casting doubt on Israeli claim that army was not to blame.[11] The report included interviews with some of the people that were on the beach that day and concluded with the following statements from Human Rights Watch's Marc Garlasco: "The likelihood that the Ghalia family was killed by an explosive other than one of the shells fired by the Israeli army is remote," and the Israel Defense Forces' Capt Dalal: "We're not trying to cover up anything. We didn't do the investigation to exonerate ourselves. If it was our fire, we'll say it." However, according to The Times, Garlasco reversed his opinion after further examination of the evidence, concluding that the blast was "probably caused by an unexploded munition in the sand." [31]

Süddeutsche Zeitung report[edit]

On 16 June 2006, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that the Israeli Army had assured that fragmentation found in one of the treated patients could not match any weapon used by the Israeli army.[34] It also questioned the reliability of the video footage following the incident, alleging that one of the dead bodies next to Huda's father is later seen alive and carrying a gun. Citing alleged cases of Palestinian doctoring of video footage, the report suggested that both the footage and the site of the blast may have been manipulated.

Channel 10 report[edit]

On 19 June Israel's Channel 10 television's Shlomo Eldar reported that shrapnel from an Israeli shell was discovered in the body of one of the Palestinians wounded in the blast (twelve-year-old Adham Ghaliya). An IDF spokesman responded that "Unfortunately, Channel 10 persists in publicizing falsehoods despite having been given the true facts".[35]

Ha'aretz report[edit]

On 5 January 2009 Ha'aretz's military correspondent Amir Oren reported that Ilham Ghalia, who was treated for her injuries at Israel's Ichilov hospital, said that the explosion was caused by her father's manipulation of unexploded ordnance found on the beach.[12] According to Oren, the admission was shelved by the Israeli government and the IDF. Other sources list Ilham Ghalia as one of the immediate victims of the explosion.[14]

Reaction[edit]

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, initially referred to the event as a "bloody massacre" and demanded international intervention.[36] The Defense Minister of Israel Amir Peretz sent the Palestinian leader a letter of condolence,[37] but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected any calls for an international investigation into the tragedy,[38] and Ha'aretz have reported current UNSC president Ellen Margrethe Løj refusing to convene the council to discuss the incident unless Palestinian attacks on Israel were also considered, arguing that the blast did not occur in a void and that Israel was responding to terror instigated by others.[39]

Israeli reaction[edit]

Following the conclusion of the Israeli investigation, defense minister Peretz said, "We showed the necessary restraint in light … of the international uproar that resulted, but it's over." In addition, the IDF have rescinded their temporary halt of shelling and airstrikes in the Gaza strip.[40] Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed condolences for the deaths, but did not accept responsibility for the casualties. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni agreed and suggested that "There is a situation in which maybe … this was an explosive that was put on the beach for future attacks on Israel."[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 'Palestinians killed on Gaza beach', BBC Online, June 9, 2006 "Seven people, including three children, have been killed by Israeli shells which hit a beach in the northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials say."
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Human Rights Watch, Indiscriminate Fire , June 19, 2006
  3. ^ 'Different views of Gaza deaths', BBC, June 19, 2006
  4. ^ German paper doubts Gaza beach reports
  5. ^ PM: No int'l inquiry into Gaza blast
  6. ^
    • Human Rights Watch [1] , June 19, 2006
      - "Maj. Gen. Meir Kalifi, head of the IDF's investigative team, reported that the IDF fired six artillery shells plus two naval shells at a beach in northern Gaza between 4:31 and 4:50 p.m. According to hospital log books, the first patient arrived at Kamal `Udwan Hospital at 5:05 p.m. Given that it takes about twenty minutes to drive from the hospital to the beach and back, the blast likely occurred within the timeframe of the Israeli shelling. [...] Kalifi said these last two shells landed 200 meters away from the fatal blast."
    • 'Eyewitness: Gaza beach shelling', BBC Online, June 9, 2006
      - "Gaza journalist Sami Yousef was at the beach in the north of the territory on Friday, when a series of artillery shells hit the sands, killing seven people and injuring dozens."
  7. ^ a b Israel set to deny role in Gaza beach killings", Reuters, 13 June 2006 (mirror)
  8. ^ a b Stephen Farrell, Israel admits shell report flaws, Times Online, 17 June 2006
  9. ^ "The army, Klifi said, has also accounted for five of the six shells that were fired in the area Friday evening before the beach explosion. None of them exploded nearby, he said, adding that the one shell that was not accounted for was fired before the five others and more than 10 minutes before the blast." [2]
  10. ^ a b c d e "Israel: Gaza Beach Investigation Ignores Evidence"
  11. ^ a b The battle of Huda Ghalia - who really killed girl's family on Gaza beach?
  12. ^ a b Not really a war Haaretz, opinion
  13. ^ EJC, Israeli Press Review of 22/6/06[dead link]
  14. ^ a b * Carnage on the beach leaves truce hanging by a thread, The Independent, 11 Jun 2006, "In the shelling, which all but wiped out the Ghalia family as they were waiting on the beach for a taxi to take them home, Hadeel's 15-year-old half sister, Ilham, was decapitated [...] "
  15. ^ [3]
  16. ^ "Palestinian girl keeps a painful secret" by NBC News correspondent Martin Fletcher, June 19, 2006
  17. ^ No shrapnel found in Gaza victim's body, Ynetnews, June 6, 2006.
  18. ^ Gaza beach blast victim wakes, The Jerusalem Post, June 20, 2006.
  19. ^ Al Jazeera English - News - Caught On The Wrong Side
  20. ^ "IDF: No details deleted from Gaza blast probe". Ha'aretz. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  21. ^ a b Bio of Human Rights Watch's Marc Garlasco, Mother Jones Radio, October 2, 2005
  22. ^ a b Shrapnel clue to Gaza beach shelling
  23. ^ Peretz: Friday's Gaza beach shelling 'not our doing' , Jerusalem Post, June 13, 2006
  24. ^ a b c d e IDF probe: Gaza beach blast not caused by wayward army shell, Ha'aretz, June 13, 2006
  25. ^ a b Martin Chulov, Shrapnel "proves shell was Israeli", The Australian, 16 June 2006
  26. ^ Gaza beach blast: Possible scenarios, 11 June 2006
  27. ^ Siegel-Itzkovich, Judy (June 21, 2006). "PA doctors cut victim needlessly". Retrieved 2006-06-21. 
  28. ^ Israel: More Evidence on Beach Killings Implicates IDF, Human Rights News, 15 June 2006
  29. ^ Israel: Investigate Gaza Beach Killings, Human Rights Watch, 13 June 2006
  30. ^ Israeli Channel 10: Shrapnel of Israeli Shell in Body of Injured in "Gaza Beach Massacre", International press center, 20 June 2006
  31. ^ a b scandal engulfs Human Rights Watch The Sunday Times, March 28, 2010
  32. ^ Gaza beach blast victim wakes, Jerusalem Post, June 20, 2006
  33. ^ HRW: We can't contradict IDF findings Jerusalem Post, 19 June 2006
  34. ^ Der Krieg der Bilder, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 16 June 2006
  35. ^ IDF rejects as "lie" new report linking shelling, Gaza beach deaths, Ha'aretz, 20 June 2006
  36. ^ Death on the beach: seven Palestinians killed as Israeli shells hit family picnic, The Guardian, 10 June 2006
  37. ^ Abu Mazen convoca un referéndum sobre la creación de un Estado Palestino mientras su pueblo clama venganza contra Israel, Diario ABC, 10 June 2006 (in Spanish)[dead link]
  38. ^ Olmert rejects international probe into Gaza beach deaths, AFP, 18 June 2006[dead link]
  39. ^ Shlomo Shamir, [4], Ha'aretz (in Hebrew)
  40. ^ Hamas "mined Gaza beach", The Australian, 14 June 2006[dead link]