Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Israeli shelling bears its ugly fruit (updated)

Original Post (June 11):

Over the past several months, Israel has repeatedly shelled "empty" areas of the Gaza Strip, in an attempt to scare off would-be launchers of Qassam rockets. Two days ago, this shelling bore fruit.

A farmer named Ali Ghalia took his family to one of these "empty" areas of beach to have a nice quiet picnic with his family. The family's picnic was blown apart, allegedy by a rocket or a shell fired by an Israeli gunboat, leaving 12 year old Huda Ghalia walking back and forth among the dead bodies of her family and wailing.

Here is an English translation of this heart-wrenchingly horrible story (hat-tip Digital Oasis).

12 year old Huda Ghalia Posted by Picasa

BEIT LAHIA (Gaza Strip), June 10, 2006, (WAFA)- The tears have not yet left the innocent face of the astonished girl, Huda Ghalia 12, who lost yesterday 7 members of her family while they were enjoying their weekend at the shore of Beit Lahia town, north of Gaza. Huda and her sisters and brothers were happy for enjoying their first weekend together without thinking of homework as they have just finished their school exams.

Ghalia family went to a semi-virgin area at the sea shore. The white sandy heaps and little wild plants scattered at the northern parts of the shore. The Ghalia family preferred to set closed to the shore. The children were so happy to play with water and the white and clean sand. Their mothers were happy to see the rare smiles on the faces of their sweets. Huda's father, Ali, 45, a farmer, cocked corn before playing cards with other family members. Hanadi, 18 month, was laying in her cradle while her mother, Hamdiyya, was shaking it smoothly.

These enjoyable moments did not continue for a long time. The Israeli navy gunboats shot two bombs between the enjoying people. Ali hailed a taxi and demanded the family members to evacuate the scene as soon as possible. They collected their luggage and the children collected their toys and left the dangerous place. Huda, who was lightly wounded in the arm, said that her family left the scene of bombardment and sat between the white sandy heaps, waiting for the taxi. "I was eating corn and my mother was breast feeding Hanadi, 18 month. Other children were playing with toys, and my sister Amani, 22, was hugging her baby, Mohammed," the astonished child said while she was crying. My sisters Sabreen, 3 was making domes with sand and Ilham, 7, was laughing at her. Ilham was trying to pick up a piece of corn and asked me not to be far because the taxi is coming.

"Suddenly, a rocket hit our family, I was far just several meters. The rocket fallen between my mother, father sisters and brothers, the dust was so intensive that I did not see any thing," she said while laying on her bed at Kamal Udwan Hospital.Seven members of the family were killed on the spot, the father Ali, 45, his son Haitham, 6 months, daughter Hanadi, 18 months, daughter Sabreen 3, daughter Ilham 7, daughter Alia 25 and Ali's second wife Raifa 26. Several other children and girls were wounded."I was so scared and fled away for several meters, and then I came back. I saw my brothers and sisters bleeding. I saw a head and hands but did not realise for whom they belong. I saw my father, he was dead and lied on the heap."Eyewitness, Moneer Ghabin, said that he saw the "unbelievable and horrible" scene at the sea soon after the bombardment.

"My friends and me have just arrived the sea to enjoy our week end, we heard a strong explosion, we went to inspect what happened, it was unbelievable and horrible," Ghabin said. "Huda was running between the sandy heaps as she was looking for something. She was moving like a shuttle between the parts of bodies of her family, she was scared, astonished, surprised and crying," Ghabin said. We visited, Saturday, Ghalia's family. Ayham, 20, the son of Ali, said that he was talking to his father just seconds before the crime. "When the shell hit us I do not know what happened, just after seconds I realised that my family was turned into a heap of flesh, unconsciously, I carried a hand or a leg I do not know to whom it belongs, I did not know what to do, and do not know why it was happened," Ayham said. We moved to the scene of the crime, yellow corn covered with red mud.

Pinky orange coloured shoes of children were among different toys scattered near a mattress saturated with blood.The white sand was turned into red mud where a tuft of little girl's hair and pieces of flesh were covered with a kite.Tens of people gathered at the scene gazing at the shoes and toys of children. They where astonished for what happened.Samir Kullab, 33, was carrying his bag leaving the shore. His children were following him when he said that the Israelis commit the crime because "they feel angry to see Palestinians enjoy their life".Kullab said that he did not know why it was happened and "promised" that he will never come or allow his children to come to see the sea again.

It is good to see that some of the most vocal and shocked-sounding media response to this horrible event was in the Israeli press, such as this article in Haaretz. The problem is that being shocked is just not enough: it must translate into action. Artillery shells are a blunt-force instrument - how many more orphans like Huda Ghalia does Israel need to produce before the Israeli government orders a stop to this indiscriminate method of killing its Palestinian neighbors?

For the solution to this cycle of violence, perhaps we can look no further than Huda's brother Aiham, one of only three family members to survive the attack:

Despite having lost nearly his entire family, Aiham refused to speak of revenge. "Every state and people has good and bad people. I know there are people in Israel who want peace and others who want war. It's not clear to me now how we will go on, we've lost everything," he said.
Source: Haaretz

I wish there were a few more people like Aiham on both sides of this conflict...

Update (June 13):

Since I wrote this post, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has been conducting its own investigation, and according to this CNN article, they are planning to announce an interesting conclusion:

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An explosion on a Gaza beach that killed seven people last week was caused by explosives planted there by Palestinian militants, not artillery fire from an Israeli navy gunboat, Israeli military sources said.

An Israeli commando unit used the beach to enter Gaza for a mission in recent weeks, prompting the militants to place the mines, the sources said.

Intelligence information gathered by Israeli investigators showed that Hamas quickly removed the remaining mines from the beach after the blast, the sources said.
A blast from a landmine is certainly a plausible explanation. After all, what the witnesses saw was a gunboat offshore, saw the explosions, and concluded (reasonably) that the explosions were from rounds fired by the boat. But, they did not actually see the rounds fired from the gunboat.

So, now we have a problem: the Palestinians believe that the Ghalia family were hit by a round fired by an Israeli gunboat (a plausible and logical explanation), and the Israeli Defense Force has concluded that the Ghalia family stumbled into a landmine (another plausible and logical explanation). Who is right? The problem is, there is so much distrust between those two sides that the Palestinians are not likely to believe the Israeli authorities, and vice-versa.

Big Pharaoh made a very good suggestion in his post earlier today: an international inquiry. Of course, such an inquiry would need to be conducted by someone who is viewed by both the Palestinians and Israelis as impartial, and it would help if both sides were to agree to a cease-fire while the inquiry is going on. As for which country to have run such an inquiry, a nation that has relations with both sides (such as Turkey, Jordan, or perhaps even Russia) would be high on the list, or a nation that has little engagement with either side (such as Japan or Brazil) may work well too. An inquiry by a truly unbiased commission would hopefully produce a result that could be accepted by both sides.