12 Jun 2015

Gaza child deaths – the view from the shoreline

On 16 July the Israeli air force killed four children playing football on the beach near Gaza’s harbour.

Today Israel has exonerated its military from any criminal charges relating to the action. It says they were playing in a “compound” clearly identified in the minds of Gazans as an operational base for Hamas naval police.

The not guilty conclusion has been drawn after examining footage, presumably from the drones that circle constantly over that part of Gaza, from the viewpoint of the attacking aircraft itself, and from the very hi-resolution optical devices from ships patrolling offshore.

You can read the full account from Israeli military spokesperson Lt Col Peter Lerner here, and if you want, read the comments from Israelis calling for Gaza to be reoccupied, and slamming the IDF for admitting it was an F16, and not Hamas itself, who killed the boys.

Read more: Israel clears itself of wrongdoing over Gaza child deaths

We have no access to the IDF’s evidence, but here are the questions that hover in my mind. The Hamas naval police, and its elite scuba-diving units, would be seen as a high value target to hit.

Two days after I arrived the “compound” was hit again, at around 5am, with a massive precision guided missile.

The questions

If the Israelis believed a platoon of naval commandos was preparing to attack, given the high resolution imagery available, why did they not ask why it was happening in broad daylight?

Why did they not notice that the ingress route to this “compound” – in fact a small fishing hut – was via the beach and that the activity the boys had been engaged in was football?

Why did their telemetry not notice the difference between grown Hamas commandos – whose physique tends to reflect time spent in the gym – and those of 10-year-old boys?

Why after the first missile hit, killing the first boy, did the “realtime visual surveillance” not notice the difference between the way a child runs and the way a gym-toned military trained commando runs?

Teenage Gazans

Above all, the claim that the targets were legitimate because it was a “compound” clearly separated from the civilian beach is questionable to anybody who spent time there during the fighting. Hamas, who are themselves accused of war crimes by Amnesty International, all but disappeared underground, into the tunnels.

Two-thirds of Gazan society are children and teenagers. The common practice was for them to play and wander everywhere, enjoying the absence of barriers and sentries at all kinds of locations.

I did not at any time during my 10 days in Gaza see an operational Hamas base; no area was identifiable at ground level as an off-limits and clearly military compound.

Certainly the harbour was not.

I arrived in Gaza 10 days after the 16 July incident, on the first afternoon of the first ceasefire since the killing started.

I went to see the site where the four children had been killed and was surprised to see dozens of children swimming and bathing in the shallows, less than 100 metres from the spot where their friends had been killed.

Here's the picture I took.

It's a bit closer than the vantage point the drones and F16 pilot had, but you can judge for yourself how like a sub-aqua commando unit they look.


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