Israel has nothing short of a disaster on its hands with yesterday’s bloody massacre of eight Palestinian beachgoers enjoying a day with their family at the seaside. Yesterday, there were seven victims but the NY Times reports that the body of an eighth washed ashore earlier today.
Israeli government sources say that it’s likely that an errant shell fell 400 meters off course and landed amongst a Palestinian family. However, the IDF isn’t prepared to say what precisely happened and how. According to Haaretz:
“We still do not have an exact analysis of what happened there,” military sources told Haaretz on Saturday. “The most reasonable explanation that has been heard is that it was a firing of a shell which veered off its path, however all data relating to the pinpoint location of the shells’ landing are not consistent with this [theory].”
IDF figures show that six shells were fired in the direction of open fields in the northern Gaza Strip near the time of the explosions. The six shells, however, landed hundreds of meters from the site of the blast.
IDF officials requested that the Palestinian Authority provide exact information as to the location of the explosion and the time it occurred, however the PA has yet to accede.
Conversely, the odds that a Qassam rocket caused such extensive damage appear extremely slim. It is difficult to see why Palestinians would attempt to launch an explosive device from the Gaza coast, an area visited by hundreds of civilians.
I find it laughable that the IDF is asking the PA for the time and location of the explosion. Israel has the best surveillance system in the Middle East. Doubtless it has video reconnaissance footage of the entire incident. With such resources, why the hell would it need the Palestinians to confirm what it already knows. It’s yet another insult to one’s intelligence.
If six IDF shells were fired at the precise time when the family was killed and they all hit their intended target as the IDF sources seem to say, then what the hell happened? Where did the shell come from? Yesterday, the army suggested outrageously that perhaps a Palestinian bombmaker had an accident. The concluding paragraph above implies that perhaps the IDF is now trying to say that an errant Qassam rocket fired by Palestinian militants (which are notoriously inaccurate and unreliable) hit the civilians. Both of these explanations lack credibility and insult the intelligence.
In fact, I’d like to take the issue one step further. Sol Salbe, an Australian progressive Zionist Mideast analyst wrote this:
It may well be the case that somebody in the IDF (if not higher) has decided to scuttle the Palestinian Prisoners Document by pressing Hamas button till it reacts.”
I know Sol to be a usually careful, thoughtful writer about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But this does seem conspiracy-crazy and far-fetched. That being said–how does an Israeli artillery shell land 400 meters from its target? That’s something like a half-mile off target and the artillery is not firing at the target from a great distance. It just doesn’t seem plausible unless someone screwed up royally and criminally.
But what if an artillery gunner or entire battery has extreme right-wing sympathies and decides that it’s going to take matters into it’s own hands? Someone willing to do such a thing would also know that Israel has a terrible record of investigating and punishing such deadly incidents. So that would make you likely to get away with such an act.
Peretz has appointed a general to open an investigation. Big deal. They almost never lead anywhere or accomplish anything. But who knows, maybe this time it will be different. But I’ll tell you something–Israel needs answers. Real answers and not bullshit like the Palestinians did it themselves. The world demands answers too.
Haaretz carries eyewitness accounts of the actual incident. This is depressing, infuriating, grisly reading but we MUST read it, we must confront this horror if we ever hope to stop it:
Eyewitnesses reported that a barrage of shells landed on the northern coast of the Gaza Strip on Friday at approximately 5:15 P.M. local time, causing the deaths of seven members of the Ghalia family and injuring close to 40 others, among them many children as well as five other members of the Ghalia family.
Ayham Ghalia, 20, told Haaretz that, initially, a hollow shell landed almost 300 meters away from the family, causing a loud noise which prompted beachgoers to begin to flee the scene. Ghalia’s family, however, did not manage to run away in time.
“Suddenly, an explosive shell landed on us and his us directly,” Ghalia said. “I got up and I couldn’t believe it. Body parts were [flying] in every direction. My sister’s hand was dismembered. My father was already dead, lying face down on the sand.”
One of the television cameras at the scene shot footage of seven-year-old Huda Ghalia running in the sand in search of a family member who was still alive.
Upon discovering her father’s dead body, she screamed: “My father is dead, my father is dead.”
Prime Minister’s Daughter Demonstrates Against Gaza Bombing
I’m delighted to read the Ynetnews report that Ehud Olmert’s daughter, Dana Olmert, was also so outraged by the incident that she joined a leftist demonstration previously planned outside the IDF chief of staff’s home. She joined 200 other Israeli peace activists protesting against Israel’s punitive policies against the PA and Hamas:
The demonstrators chanted slogans such as “Tzahala [the chief of staff’s neighborhood] residents, there’s a murderer in your neighborhood,” and raised signs calling on the government to “put a stop to the murder of civilians” and stating, “Halutz is a killer, the intifada shall prevail.” Activists also shouted, “neighbors, ask Halutz why he’s killing children and how many.”
I applaud Ms. Olmert’s courage in taking a public stand diametrically opposed to that of her father’s government. It takes guts and I’m glad she has them. But why were there only 200 demonstrators? What would it take to bring 100,000 demonstrators to his house? Dropping a nuclear weapon on Gaza??
Meanwhile, Hamas’ military wing has angrily announced the resumption of hostilities against Israeli targets. The Qassams are now flying from Gaza against Israeli targets. But they are not what Israelis really fear since they are more nuisance than anything else. Sol Salbe reports that the Israeli independent online news site, Inyan Merkazi commented on the latest events:
Expect our buses to start blowing up again
And it grieves me to say: they will, they will.
Abbas Sets July 26th for National Referendum
Mahmoud Abbas announced today that the national referendum on the Prisoner’s peace plan would take place on July 26th. All I can say is that after this outrage, the fact that Abbas is plowing ahead with the referendum shows he has guts. He believes that despite the incredible anger within the Palestinian polity against Israel that the peace plan will still carry the day. I hope he’s right.
Apparently, Aaron Miller, a former Clinton Mideast analyst, warns in the Times that the Prisoner’s plan may be a trap for Abbas:
….The referendum could commit the Palestinians to positions that would make a final peace treaty even more difficult to achieve, which could give Israel more justification to move ahead unilaterally. The basis of the referendum…is a step back from previous commitments by the Palestine Liberation Organization that Mr. Abbas heads.
While the prisoners’ document speaks of a Palestinian state, it is much less explicit about a two-state solution than the Oslo accords and United Nations resolutions that the P.L.O. has accepted on behalf of the Palestinians. The document also insists on the continuation of resistance to the Israeli occupation outside the 1967 boundaries and the right of return of all refugees and their descendants who fled or were pushed from their homes in the 1948 war.
As such, the document itself does not meet the standards that the international community insists Hamas meet: to recognize the right of Israel to exist, renounce violence and accept previous agreements.
“The prisoners’ document is a kind of fantasy,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator for the United States who is now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. Mr. Abbas, he said, “will find himself locked into positions he’s already renounced, in particular the support for armed struggle and a less explicit recognition of Israel’s right to exist, all of which was laid to rest before or should have been.”
The document, Mr. Miller said, “locks him into positions and potential partners — Hamas and Islamic Jihad — that undermine the very approach that made him such a credible interlocutor with the Israelis and will undermine his credibility in Jerusalem and Washington.”
I’m sorry but this to me is punditry run slightly amok. A number of Israeli and American progressives have raised objections to the plan on the grounds that it lacks this or that. What all of the objections neglect to take into account is that the plan is not intended as a final status document. Rather, it is a first draft, an opening position. What negotiation between two opposing parties ends with an agreement that reflects precisely the opening position of one side or the other?
What Miller loses sight of in his comment is that what is really important about the Prisoner’s plan is that it attempts to lock Hamas into positions it has never embraced before regarding acceptance of Israel and a reduction in violence. Everyone knows that the majority of Palestinians accept Fatah’s (and NOT Hamas’) positions regarding making peace with Israel. But Hamas has never even come close. With this document, the two groups (if Hamas can ever be persuaded or compelled to accept it) will have moved infinitely closer to each other. This creates a more unified and stable Palestinian position regarding Israel and makes peace more possible than it has ever been.