Thursday, June 11, 2009

Gaza beach tragedy, June 9 2006, the anniversary of a blood libel

Three years ago on June 9th 2006 in the midst of exchange of fire between Israeli defense forces and Palestinian armed groups in the northern Gaza Strip, a tragedy struck the Ghalya family from Beit Lahiya, when explosive of an undetermined origin tore them apart killing 7 wounding many more, on beach not far from the battles zone.
The blame was instantly put on Israel by the international media the UN and ofcourse the Palestinians themselves, followed by a controversial and problematic Human Rights Watch report. Below is a critique of that report, which I wrote closer to the events. But a must see is also the second draft investigation.
It is important to note that since then they had amended somewhat their report, putting emphasis on the ability of the 155mm shell to cause upper body injuries, but avoided the main points of the criticism leveled at them including their own admission in their inability to challenge IDF findings.

Gaza beach blast:
Critical review of the HRW statement.

Four emerging holes regarding HRW statement on the Ghalya family tragedy of June 9th 2006.

On June 9th 2006, during an ex change of fire between armed Palestinian forces, who fired Qassam rockets at Israeli civilian targets, and the Israeli forces firing back at them in order to protect those Israeli communities, a blast on the beach destroyed the Ghalya family of Beit Lahiya. The source of the blast was unknown, both sides accused each other, those supporting the Palestinian side rely on a report made by Human Rights Watch, HRW. But how reliable is that report?

It has without doubt four holes; the last three of them are quite disturbing:

1 - The fragment of the 155mm
This fragment, found 200 meters from the scene of the blast, is used to argue that an Israeli shell was responsible, but this finding can also serves to affirm the IDF claim that the shell that fell closest to the Ghalya family fell 250 meters from them.

2 - Upper body injuries.
The statement, which says that outside of a shell only a bounding mine can cause upper body injuries, is plain wrong. The explosive belt of the suicide bomber with it's shrapnel jacket, which the Palestinians armed organizations had used constantly throughout this round of hostilities, is specifically designed to maximize injuries, upper body injuries included.
There are hundreds of Israelis who are walking evidence as to how untrue that statement is.

On this matter see also the film "In the mind of a suicide bomber" from the History Channel, also the x ray project.

3 - The shell's blast.
Examining the blast from behind the desk can get very limited results, but by comparison with similar incidents an assessment can be made, one that raises some doubts over the 155mm charge.
This however is Going down Gruesome Lane; and as such is an emotionally excruciating undertaking. But the truth is in the details, and in this case the details are heart braking. Turning horrific tragedies into mere indicators is an uncomfortable experience to any normal person on this earth, but without indicators to the strength the blasts there is no way to make comparison. And on the web most of the information available from which we can learn or assess strength of such blasts is about their victims. Therefore I apologize for any inconvenience that will be caused by the next paragraphs. There is simply no other way. This is going to be extremely uneasy.
According to HRW the culprit responsible for the Gaza beach blast is a 155mm Israeli shell.
On February 5th 1994 a 120mm mortar shell hit the open market in Sarajevo, killing 66 to 68 people and wounding around 200. According to testimony the main cause of death was the blast and not the shrapnel. One testimony from this link says:

"There are trucks of dead, there are legs, arms, heads -- as many as you want," said a wounded young man while waiting for care at Kosevo Hospital.
And from this link:

"Some people were literally torn apart. Heads and limbs were ripped off bodies," said one eyewitness.
Now, there are differences between this case and the Gaza beach blast, an open beach setting versus an open urban settings, and far more people, hundreds of them, in Sarajevo. Which is why we turn to a third tragedy:
On Saturday March 2nd, 2002 a suicide bomber from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, (Fatah affiliate) blow himself among the crowds of worshipers attending a bar - mitzvah ceremony and other pedestrians, at the ultra orthodox neighborhood of Beit - Yiszrael in Jerusalem. The setting is similar to Sarajevo, open urban with crowds of people on the street. The results are different, 9 dead and 51 wounded.

The thunderous blast shook downtown Jerusalem and sent flames leaping from a car that caught fire. Blood covered a wall of stone at the nearby Mahane Israel seminary; where up to 1,000 Jews gather every Saturday evening. "I heard an explosion, and I went down and saw a baby carriage with a dead baby beside it and other dead people," said Shlomi, who was in Mahane Israel when the bomb exploded. "We arrived at the site and saw scenes of horror: young children, old people, women, lying in the road without hands, without legs, blood everywhere and enormous destruction all about," said Eitan, a volunteer with Magen David Adom who helped evacuate the wounded. "Only some had the strength to scream or cry. The quiet was the thing I remember most... This was one of the worst attacks I can remember."
The blast in this horror, though powerful, was unable to rip off heads and produce "a truck load of dead and body parts", which suggests that it was less powerful then 120mm shell, 9 dead versus 68 is a huge difference even if there were less people on the street during the Jerusalem blast. It was powerful enough though to throw babies of their carriages, as indicated from the testimony above and the headlines in other Israeli newspapers of the day, such as Yediot Achronot, and to throw them from their parents arms, see here:

Ronit Ilan, Ezra's sister, decided to change her dress before the journey home, and so went back inside Mahane Israel, taking her six-year-old daughter with her. Her husband Shimon was standing outside, with their 12-year-old boy Lidor; the father was holding their 18-month-old daughter Oriah. Lidor was about to give his father the keys to the family car when the blast went off. The baby girl went flying in the air. Both children were killed.
Yet the testimony from the Gaza beach blast suggests that that blast, which was supposed to have been more powerful then the Sarajevo blast, was unable to throw a baby of his carriage:

"Their legs I could see inside. Their intestines I could see spilling out," said Mohammed Sawarka, 28, who rushed to the scene to help. "A 1-month-old child was dead inside its carriage." He also found a hand in the sand.

An infant slain in his carriage by a bomb is as horrific and heart breaking as that of an infant slain and thrown from his carriage by another bomb. But from the physical point of view these are different stories, different effects, suggest different causes. And what this gruesome indicator, a baby in or out of his carriage, tell us is that the Gaza beach blast was unable to throw a baby of his carriage, though both blasts were able to decimate an entire family, the Nehmad family in Jerusalem and Ghalya family in the Gaza beach; and with similar injuries, turn limbs and shrapnel.
The most powerful blast, a 155mm shell, had produced the least powerful result, horrific as it is. The simplest explanation is that it wasn't the most powerful blast of the three, but the lesser one, hence not a 155mm shell.
Could other factors in the different settings have affected the results so dramatically, as to have the most powerful blast produce the lesser result? Theoretically it is possible, but what could that be?
Crowded open urban settings are different then that of open beach settings. But are they that different as to affect those closest to the blast?
The Israeli experience suggests that is not the case.
When buses and restaurants blow up - closed crowded settings, people flow out throw the windows and doors. When streets blow up by similar bombs - people flow everywhere.
So the question remains:
What could have spared a 1-year-old child in his carriage from a nearby blast of a 155mm shell but not from the shrapnel of that shell, which had killed him?
What measurements of the blast's strength HRW took?
Or have they skipped that?
When investigating a blast, finding its strength is the most elementary part of the investigation, and it has to be a thorough one; yet HRW makes no reference to that and no indication that a thorough examination had taken place. If this is indeed the case it is an incompetence rivaling the unfortunate shrapnel statement.

4 - The Independence of the HRW report.
HRW calls for an independent inquiry into the tragedy at the Gaza beach, yet it's own investigation relies a lot on Palestinian sources, Palestinian Doctors who gave them the shrapnel, or what was supposed to be the shrapnel, and bomb disposal experts from the PA.
Shouldn't an independent inquiry suggests that it is HRW own experts who must review each of the details, medical, physical, chemical, etc., and not just review the scene after it had been cleaned?

In a supplement to that report HRW added two more arguments for their accusation. The first is a computer log from the Kamal Adwan Hospital, which counters, challenges the IDF computer log, but does not disprove it; it is simply a case of one computer versus another. And even if we are to accept the Palestinian computer log, what’s in it to exclude the possibility that during that time a Palestinian bomb had also exploded on that beach? Nothing.
The second is a piece of shrapnel given by the father of one of the victims, which they determined it to be of a piece of a fuse from an artillery shell. This can also point both ways because it can also be a part of debris gathered from passed shelling and turned into shrapnel in a Palestinian made bomb.

Is it possible that Israel was responsible for this tragedy? Yes!
Just as possible as the Palestinians - the HRW report is simply too flawed to be considered reliable.
It uses evidences that can go both ways; its opening statement is completely void from reality, so much so that it makes hundreds of Israelis, victims of Palestinians violence, nonexistent. Because if the weapons that killed and maimed them do not exist, how can they exist?
And there is no indication that a thorough investigation was conducted, not of the strength of the blast, not medical, the Israeli claim that shrapnel was removed from the wounded needlessly was ignored. The fuse fragment mentioned above, is another piece of evidence that requires a follow-up. Even without the evident lack of independency, this report is completely incompetent.

Final words:
All this can be ignored or it can be answered, it's up to HRW and their supporters and followers.
But we must all understand and internalize this: human rights are the most fundamental core values for a healthy human society. Values we must all aspire to regardless of our political views, trusts and mistrusts. To ensure that we must regard human rights organizations as critical to our well-being - and so to their credibility. And when that credibility is tainted, be it a small taint or large one, it must be answered by those who truly value human rights, or else the cause sufferers and with it the rest of us. And when a human rights organization forgets its own values, forgets the hundreds of Israeli victims, violated deliberately by a Palestinian fragmentation weapon, that cannot be a small taint.

More criticism of Human Rights Watch:


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