2014 Gaza war beach bombing incidents

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2014 Gaza war beach bombing incidents
Part of 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict
2014 Gaza war beach bombing incidents is located in the Gaza Strip
Khan Yunis
Khan Yunis
Gaza City
Gaza City
2014 Gaza war beach bombing incidents (the Gaza Strip)
2014 Gaza war beach bombing incidents is located in State of Palestine
Khan Yunis
Khan Yunis
Gaza City
Gaza City
2014 Gaza war beach bombing incidents (State of Palestine)
LocationKhan Yunis and Gaza City, Gaza Strip
Date9 and 16 July 2014
Attack type
Airstrike, naval fire
VictimsPalestinian youth
PerpetratorsIsrael Israel Defense Forces

The 2014 Gaza war beach bombing incidents refers to two incidents that took place during the 2014 Gaza War on 9 and 16 July. In the first incident, Israeli missiles killed nine Palestinian children and young adults while they were following the 2014 FIFA World Cup on TV; in the second, four Palestinian children were killed by Israeli naval fire while playing on a beach.

The second attack was conducted in front of hotels that sheltered foreign journalists, several of whom witnessed the Israeli shelling, and at least one of whom described the targeting of the children as intentional.[1] Several eyewitnesses have remarked that, even at a distance, it was clear that the targets of the Israeli attack were children.[1][2]

According to an Israeli investigation, the second was a 'tragic mistake'.[3] But the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, reviewing the evidence, found that the Israeli military had failed in its obligations to adopt feasible measures to avoid or minimize incidental harm to civilians.[4]

9 July

On 9 July, a semi-final match between Argentina and the Netherlands was broadcast as part of the 2014 FIFA World Cup knockout stage. In the 48 hours since the outbreak of hostilities, Israel had launched an aerial blitz that struck over 750 locations in the Gaza Strip.

On a beach in the al-'Izbeh area of Khan Younis, roughly 30 metres from the shoreline and 200 metres from housing, around a dozen Palestinians had gathered at the Fun Time Beach café (Waqt al-Marah) to watch a broadcast of the game. The café, owned by the al-Sawalli family,[5] and, according to a local PNA-employed policeman, Wael Soboh, not a military area,[5][6] was a makeshift arrangement covered by cloth, umbrellas and palm leaves, furnished with plastic chairs and a converted container which served as the kitchen. The portable television was powered by a generator.[7][8] All of the victims were avid soccer fans.[9] It was customary for the two Sawalli brothers, who would be killed in the strike, to break the Ramadan fast at the café, which was also considered a safe place. The other victims also used the café's services for the iftar meal, to break their fast,[6][10] though a survivor said that youths had also come to the café because it had a generator for its television, and there had been an electrical outage earlier in Khan Yunis.[7][9][11] Palestinians like many in the Arab world, it was reported, could follow the games by courtesy of the Israeli broadcast service.[12] The youths were aware that the Gaza Strip was being bombed, but heard no aircraft in their vicinity, and were relaxed.[5]

Half an hour into the match, at 11:30 p.m., an Israeli missile blasted the flimsy roof of the improvised café[7] cratering the site and killing 3 sets of brothers and a cousin,[7] Two 15-year-olds were killed, and 3 people were wounded, including a 13-year-old boy.[13] The missile's impact was such that it left a hole so deep seawater seeped in from underground to fill it.[9] The body of Salim Sawalli could not be found immediately, but later the following day bulldozers managed to find his remains, bringing the death toll to 9. Gaza's emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra commented: "Israel won 9-0". A bystander Ahmed al-Aqad made a similar quip: "And the result from this match here? The Jews won 9-0,".[9] Another 15 people were wounded.[6]

Those killed were: Ahmed Astal (18), Suleiman Astal (16), Musa (16, a cousin of the Astals), Mohammed Ganan (24), Ibrahim Ganan (25), Hamdi Sawalli (20), Ibrahim Sawalli (28), Salim Sawalli (23, body not recovered) and Mohammed Fawana (18).

IDF investigation

The IDF said it was investigating this incident and another bombing with substantial civilian casualties on the same night roughly three hours later in Khan Younis Refugee Camp which killed 8 members of the Al Haj family.[14][15][16][17] Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor stated that Hamas was exposing Palestinians to Israeli attacks by operating "within houses and streets and neighborhoods which are populated with civilians,... exposing these civilians to retaliation and to backfire."[18]

Israel said the incident was designed as a precision strike with the missile aimed at a single terrorist, and Peter Lerner, the IDF spokesman, said that in such operations, no warning is given. No information was forthcoming as to the identity of the putative terrorist in their midst.[8]

Responses to Israel's preliminary investigation

Human Rights Watch, after an investigation, cited the case as an apparent example of Israel targeting civilian structures and people in violation of the laws of war. No evidence had been provided that civilians watching a soccer match had been engaged in terrorist activities.[13]

16 July

Just after 4 p.m. an offshore Israeli naval vessel fired two rounds into a beachfront area in Gaza City's harbour. The port was closed that day, after Israel had prohibited fisherman from venturing out to sea.[19] The four friends had gone to the beach to play in a cooler area; they met some journalists there, one of whom played some football with them. One journalist also told them the area was dangerous.[20] The first shell hit a fishermen's jetty. Several boys were playing in the area at the time. On the explosion at the jetty, they all fled but were unable to outrun the second shell, which landed in their midst and killed 4 boys aged between 9 and 11, all cousins in a family group forming part of the extensive Bakr clan.[21] This brought the Palestinian death toll through a week of hostilities to 213, among whom 43 were children, according to Hamas; 1,600 had been wounded. Israel in the same period suffered one fatality, Dror Hanin, killed by a mortar shell near the Erez Crossing.[22] According to survivor Hamad Bakr, the boys were playing hide-and-seek at the time.[1] NBC News Foreign Correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin testified on his Twitter account that just a few minutes before the shelling, he came across the boys while returning to his hotel from the office, playing in a sidestreet and kicked a football with the children, who then went down to the beach to continue playing.[23][24]

The killed were:

  • Ismail Mohammed Bakr (9)
  • Zakaria Ahed Bakr (10)
  • Ahed Atef Bakr (10)
  • Mohamed Ramez Bakr (11).[21][24]

The injured were:

  • Hamad Bakr (13) with shrapnel wounds in his chest. His father's fishing boat was located at the site.
  • Muntasir[25] (Motasem) Bakr (11) wounded in the head and legs
  • Mohammad Abu Watfah (21) hit in the stomach by shrapnel.[1]
  • A fourth person, a man in his 30s, was also hit in the stomach.[1]

Several journalists were present during the incident, and some directly observed it at approximately 200 metres distance from the Al-Deira hotel. After the jetty explosion, the four, 3 of whom were visibly children at that distance, jumped from the harbour wall and ran frantically across the open space towards the safety of the hotel, waving and shouting as they raced past beach tents, in the direction of the journalists in the hotel. Within 40 seconds, according to Peter Beaumont of The Guardian, a second shell, lobbed after the aim was apparently adjusted to target the fleeing survivors, exploded in their midst.[1]

Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, commented: "The story with these four boys is a tragedy (...). Let's be clear, the Israeli military does not target civilians".[23]

At the funeral soon afterwards, Abdel Kareem Bakr, an uncle of the victims, said: "It's a cold-blooded massacre. It's a shame they didn't identify them as kids with all of the advanced technology they claim they're using." An IDF comment stated that while it was investigating the incident, a preliminary analysis indicated that Hamas terrorist operatives had been targeted, and that the civilians were victims of "a tragic accident."[1] NBC almost immediately ordered its reporter Ayman Mohyeldin to leave Gaza, citing security concerns given the imminence of an Israel ground invasion. He was replaced by another NBC foreign correspondent, Richard Engel.[24]

Israeli internal investigation and the United Nations Commission response

The Israeli internal investigation into the incident was concluded 11 months later in June 2015. After a thorough review, involving extensive interviews with IDF soldiers and officers who planned and executed the operation, analysis of many documents, video footage, and attempts to interview Gazans allegedly witnesses to the incident (who refused to be interviewed but three supplied affidavits)[26] the official IDF result cleared itself of culpability. According to Peter Lerner, the firing targeted a Hamas Naval Police and Naval Force "compound", used exclusively by militants, and closed off from the rest of the area by a fence. It added that it had attacked a weapon-storage 'container' inside the compound a day earlier. From aerial observation operational staff had concluded Hamas figures were entering the area to conduct a military action, and authorization was given to fire a missile after one of the identified figures entered the container and after 'a civilian presence in the area' had been ruled out. The missile struck the target, and a second was fired at the fleeing figures. It concluded that, 'It should be stressed that the figures were not identified at any point during the incident, as children'[27] The credibility of its own internal investigations, Israel maintains, renders any International Criminal Court review, as the Palestinian Authority is seeking, unnecessary.[19] The reason why children were there was, it stated, 'unclear'.[26]

The United Nations Commission into the 2014 conflict examined the evidence, from the IDF's own documents and independent analysis of field reports, and concluded that the IDF had failed to take the appropriate precautions stipulated by the rules of protecting civilians in a conflict. The stature of the boys was small compared to adults; no IDF soldiers, potentially exposed to danger, were in the area as the ground invasion had not yet got underway; no other persons were in imminent danger, and therefore there was no urgency in launching a strike. The IDF, it concluded, could therefore have taken more exhaustive measures to verify whether or not the targeted people were militants. Lastly, the compound was located in the centre of a city with a half a million residents, between a public beach and a fisherman's area, close to international hotels lodging journalists, facts that would not rule out the possibility civilians might in the area. The assumption was made that the targets were militants based on their presence in a particular area, a premise that 'reversed the presumption of civilian status'. The internal IDF investigation did not appear to have questioned many people who were direct witnesses to the incident.[4]

Response by foreign journalists present in Gaza

Journalists said what had been struck by the shelling was a small dilapidated fisherman's hut. Peter Beaumont, who was present, said the investigators made no attempt to take a statement from him personally, that no one had observed militants in the area at the time. Further, the breakwater was readily accessible through a side lane, is located on one of the busiest sectors of a public beach, and used regularly by both fishermen and sunbathers. The container did not appear to have military supplies. What is not clear, Beaumont said, is why the IDF failed to identify the figures as children playing on a beach.[27] Writing for The Globe and Mail, Patrick Martin, who was also present that day, said the report's description did not tally with the fact that the "compound" described as spanning "the length of the breakwater of the Gaza City seashore" was mainly used by fishermen: fishing boats, not Hamas naval vessels, are tethered all along it, as satellite images reveal. People in the area would have most likely been fishermen, or children, not militants, he concluded.[19] Paul Mason, who was present in the area some days later, asked why with overhead drone footage and high-resolution optical devices from ships off-shore, the IDF was unable to distinguish 10-year-olds from physically fit scuba-diving commandos preparing an attack. Why should such an attack take place in broad daylight?[2]


Photojournalist Dan Cohen paid a follow-up visit in June 2015 to the Bakr clan.[20] They now live on the edges of the Shati Refugee Camp, The surviving son, Muntasir, regarded by his family as a "living martyr", bears shrapnel in his head, suffers severe trauma, as yet untreated, requiring treatment not available in Gaza, and is prone to violence, having attempted suicide and attacked his siblings. At the time of Cohen's visit, the family could not afford the psychiatric medicine Muntasir required. The clan is affiliated politically with Fatah, and the family says Hamas has done nothing to help them out since the incident.[20] According to the boy's account:

"We barely started playing when the first missile exploded right next to my cousin Ismael," he said. "We started running away and then I told them 'lets go back and get Ismael then we'll run away again.' When we did that another missile exploded right next to us. My brother and my nephew died because they let go of my hand. Two missiles exploded around me. It was foggy when we were running, I turned around and saw my nephew and brother lying on the ground."[25]

Before the war, he intended following his father's footsteps, to become a fisherman, but now wishes to become a militant.[25] Eight other members of the family died six months later, in an attempt to escape from the Gaza Strip and reach Europe. A cousin, Mowfaq, decided after the boys' funeral to lead his family out, since though unscathed by the conflict so far, he considered that the future held no guarantees for their safety. He and 8 of his family members, mostly children, escaped via Egypt, took a boat from Dalmietta and, close to Malta, drowned along with 500 others, when the vessel was rammed by another smuggler's launch.[28]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Peter Beaumont, 'Witness to a shelling: first-hand account of deadly strike on Gaza port', The Guardian 16 July 2014.
  2. ^ a b Paul Mason, 'Gaza child deaths – the view from the shoreline', Channel 4, 12 June 2015.
  3. ^ Mackey, Robert (August 11, 2018). "Secret Israeli Report Reveals Armed Drone Killed Four Boys Playing on Gaza Beach in 2014". The Intercept.
  4. ^ a b Report of the detailed findings of the Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict, United Nations A/HRC/29/CRP.4 22 June 2015.
  5. ^ a b c 'Bilal al-Astal recounts bombing that killed 9 in Gazan café, where he and others were watching a World Cup match,', B'tselem.
  6. ^ a b c 'World Cup fans killed in Gaza as bomb hits café', Middle East Eye 10 July 2015.
  7. ^ a b c d Robert Tait, 'Half of Gaza's dead 'are women and children', The Daily Telegraph 10 July 2014.
  8. ^ a b Fares Akram, In Rubble of Gaza Seaside Cafe, Hunt for Victims Who Had Come for Soccer, The New York Times, 10 July 2014.
  9. ^ a b c d John Davison, 'World Cup fans killed as Israel raid hits Gaza café' Archived 2018-08-28 at the Wayback Machine, Yahoo News 10 July 2014.
  10. ^ 'World Cup fans killed as Israel raid hits Gaza café' Archived 2018-08-28 at the Wayback Machine, Ma'an News Agency 10 July 2014.
  11. ^ Max Blumenthal,'The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza', Nations Books, 2015 p.27.
  12. ^ Associated Press, 'Arabs watch World Cup courtesy of Israel', Ynet 9 July 2014.
  13. ^ a b Israel/Palestine: Unlawful Israeli Airstrikes Kill Civilians', Human Rights Watch, 16 July 2014.
  14. ^ Kashmira Gander, 'Israel-Gaza crisis: Eight killed in Gaza Strip cafe while watching World Cup semi-final', The Independent 10 July 2014
  15. ^ Aron Heller and Najin Jobain, Israel escalates aerial offensive on Gaza.', Yahoo News 10 July 2014.
  16. ^ Aron Heller, 'Airstrikes Leave 80 Dead In Gaza; Still No Israeli Fatalities', TMP News July 10, 2014,
  17. ^ "Israeli Offensive on Gaza Continues: 69 Palestinians Killed, of Whom 60 Are Civilians, Including 22 Children and 13 Women, and 469 Others Wounded, Mostly Civilians, Including 166 Children and 85 Women; Driver of Press Vehicle Killed; 70 Houses Destroyed" Archived 2015-06-21 at the Wayback Machine, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 10 July 2014.
  18. ^ Kia Makarechi, 'Israel's Attacks on Gaza Intensify, ABC News Admits Mistake', Vanity Fair 10 July 2014.
  19. ^ a b c Patrick Martin, 'Globe reporter recalls air force strike on Gaza beach that killed four boys', The Globe and Mail 12 June 2015.
  20. ^ a b c Naomi Zeveloff, 'A Year Later, Palestinian Family Mourns 4 Boys Killed on Gaza Beach,' The Forward 14 July 14, 2015
  21. ^ a b Jethro Mullen and Ben Wedeman, 'They went to the beach to play': Deaths of 4 children add to growing toll in Gaza conflict', CNN News 17 July 2014.
  22. ^ Ayman Mohyeldin, Paul Ziad Nassar, 'Innocent and Gone: Israeli Strike on Gaza Kills Four Children', NBC News 17 July 2015.
  23. ^ a b 'Four boys killed on Gaza Beach', All In with Chris Hayes 17 July 2014. 2:52 minutes in
  24. ^ a b c Glenn Greenwald, 'NBC News Pulls Veteran Reporter from Gaza After Witnessing Israeli Attack on Children', First Look Media 17 July 2014.
  25. ^ a b c Dan Cohen, 'The living martyr, a visit to the Bakr family in Gaza Israel/Palestine', Mondoweiss June 19, 2015
  26. ^ a b "Gaza beach attack: Israel 'struck boys in error'", BBC News 12 June 2015.
  27. ^ a b Peter Beaumont, 'Israel exonerates itself over Gaza beach killings of four children last year', The Guardian, 11 June 2015
  28. ^ Kim Sengupta, 'Tragic story of Gaza family drowned on a smugglers' boat trying to escape death and destruction that claimed four of their relatives', The Independent 7 January 2015.