Sunday, March 09, 2008

The homemade rockets of the Atallah family (Hasbara failure #1)

The Los Angeles Times mentioned last week:
The Israeli military says it does not target civilian sites, but attacks by warplanes and tanks in the crowded strip make such casualties almost inevitable.

At least 10 people from three generations were in the Atallah household when the missile struck Saturday just before sunset.

Medhat Abdullah, a relative of the family, was at work nearby when he heard the news. He arrived to find the home almost flattened, the walls collapsed and the ceiling caved.

"It's a massacre. When you kill a whole family, what else do you call it?" he asked. "What am I supposed to do? Forgive [the Israelis]?"

Among the dead in the Atallah family were patriarch Abdel Rahman Atallah, 65, his wife, Suad, two sons and two daughters. One of Atallah's grandchildren, a 23-month-old baby, was pulled from the rubble alive but suffering from oxygen deprivation. The child remains in the intensive care unit of a Gaza City hospital on an artificial respirator.

The dead must be buried promptly according to Islamic custom, but relatives still hadn't recovered all the bodies in time for the funeral Sunday afternoon.

The final two bodies, almost unrecognizable, were pulled from the rubble after the funeral procession had already left, Abdullah said. They were wrapped in blankets and rushed to the cemetery.

Abdullah said there were no militant strongholds in the area, and no factories for making Kassam rockets.

One of Abdel Rahman Atallah's sons was a member of the Executive Force, a Hamas-led police unit, and may have been involved in launching rockets into Israel, Abdullah said. But that, he said, did not justify the missile strike.
It would appear that the Atallah family was either the target of an indiscriminate policy of punishing civilians, as the Palestinian Arabs would spin it, or at the very least they were the accidental victims from an Israeli airstrike gone awry. And, after all, a relative said that there was no rocket factory nearby, and why wouldn't you believe him?

The airstrike occurred on February 27. The LA Times article came out on March 3. Israel didn't come out with an explanation until March 6, and even then it was difficult to know exactly what event they were referring to:
The deliberate use of civilian homes to shield Hamas arms and explosives manufacturing facilities

Hamas frequently uses civilian homes in the Gaza Strip for the manufacture of rockets, explosives, antitank missiles and other arms being used against Israel. Rockets, explosives and other arms were also found in the mosque in Jabalya.

Weapons found in a mosque in Jabalya, including RPG rockets and hand grenades
Weapons found in a mosque in Jabalya, including RPG
rockets and hand grenades
(IDF Spokesman)

For example, a factory manufacturing dozens of Kassam rockets a day was located in the basement and first floor of a two-storey building. The terrorist responsible for the factory was housed with his family on that second floor. When Israel targeted the factory, destroying scores of rockets as well as the factory’s capability to continue producing those rockets, civilians in the house were unfortunately hit as well.

A Hamas explosives lab in the ground floor of a residential
building in Jabalya

A Hamas Kassam rocket manufacturing shop in the Darj
neighborhood of Gaza

The Israeli statement didn't explicitly say that the Atallah family is being referred to, but apparently it was them, as a line buried in a Ha'aretz (March 7) op-ed made clear:
Israel's explanation that civilian members of the Atallah family were killed in an Israel Air Force bombing because they chose to build an assembly line for Qassam rockets in their home did not penetrate the public mind.
Indeed it did not penetrate the public mind, because Israel itself didn't address it until nearly a week after the event and even then it only referenced it obliquely.

Israel is probably justified in destroying a rocket manufacturing plant in the middle of Gaza City where a family lives. Fair-minded people can debate this. But no one even had the chance of debate, because Israel never publicized the circumstances of this airstrike. By the time Israel mentioned it, the story about the poor martyred Atallah family was out.

By the time we find out the real circumstances - that this family had at least one Hamas member who built rockets in a factory in the basement, deliberately placed there in order to make his family into human shields - it is old news, the LA Times has already finished its sob-story piece. And we cannot blame the LAT because they literally had no Israeli response about the story four days after it occurred.

The IDF and Ministry for Foreign Affairs have dropped the ball time and time again on getting Israel's viewpoint out to the world - and to reporters - in a reasonable and consistent manner.

More examples follow.