Wednesday, September 23, 2009

One of the most-exaggerated events of the Gaza war was the accusation that Israel had bombed an UNRWA school, killing some 46 people according to some reports.

As time went on, it became clear that the school itself was not hit except from shrapnel, and that the numbers claimed to have been killed were vastly exaggerated.

The Goldstone report, however, claims that 24 were killed near the school - in multiple paragraphs:
41. The Mission examined the mortar shelling of al-Fakhura junction in Jabalya next to a UNRWA school which at the time was used as a shelter housing more than 1,300 people (Chapter X). The Israeli forces launched at least four mortar shells. One landed in the courtyard of a family home, killing eleven people assembled there. Three other shells landed on al-Fakhura Street, killing at least a further 24 people and injuring as many as 40.
687. Three other shells landed on al-Fakhura Street, which was busy at the time, killing at least a further 24 people and injuring as many as 40.

In a few other paragraphs it refers to at least 35 people killed both near the Fakhoura school and the al-Deeb family (which indeed appears to have been a tragic accident.)

The question is, how did Goldstone get the idea that 24 were killed on al-Fakhoura Street?

The answer is here:
661. The three other shells that the Mission could identify as having landed at different places on al-Fakhura Street killed at least 24 people. The witnesses estimate that up to another 40 were injured by the blasts. The Mission has not been able to verify those figures, but having inspected the site and viewed the footage, it does not consider these numbers to be exaggerated.
In other words, the Goldstone Commission did not even attempt to enumerate the people allegedly killed on al-Fakhoura street, taking Palestinian Arab witnesses at their word!

How could the esteemed Commission have verified these numbers? Well, for one thing, they could have simply looked at the PCHR report of those killed in Gaza and counted the number of people said to have been killed near the al-Fakoura school.

PCHR uses two different characterizations of those killed in the area. The al-Deeb family is invariably described as living "Opposite to al-Fakhoura School/ Jabalia Refugee Camp/ Northern Gaza" and of being killed simply in "Jabalia Refugee Camp/ Northern
Gaza." The others seem to always be described as either having lived or having been killed "Near al-Fakhoura School/ Jabalia Refugee Camp/Northern Gaza."

There are only 12 people who are described that way.

They include:

#783 Belal Hamza Ali ‘Ubeid (17 years old) Member of al-Qassam Brigades
#771 ‘Ateya Hassan Mustafa al-Madhoun DFLP National Resistance Brigades
#773 Zeyad ‘Ateya Hassan al-Madhoun DFLP National Resistance Brigades

It is possible that PCHR was not consistent in its definitions, but this maps with the number of victims that the IDF claimed to have been killed outside the school.

The IDF and the JCPA list different victims for the school than PCHR does, and it is possible that there were more victims. However, it seems to be unlikely to be too many more. The Goldstone Commission claims that there were three mortars in the area, and generally mortars do not kill that many people.

JCPA says that other terrorist victims include:

  • Khaled Mohammed Fuoad Abu Askar (Abu al-‘Izz), an Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades operative, was born on December 12, 1989, in Jabaliya. At the age of 15 he joined the Muslim Brotherhood and was active in the Hamas student organization, which serves as a recruiting agency for the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. In 2006 he was accepted into fighting groups posted in front-line positions. He underwent an advanced military training course and was posted to a special unit of the north Gaza battalion where he participated in dozens of ambushes and fought against IDF forces. He served as a military instructor in the Imad Aqel battalion and supervised the ambush and suicide unit.
  • Raafat Abu Askar, a military-terrorist operative in the security services with the rank of warrant officer, killed in the attack near the Al-Fakhura school.
  • Osama Jemal Obeid, an Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades operative, killed in the attack near the Al-Fakhura school.17
  • Iyad Jaber Aman, an Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades operative, killed in the attack near the Al-Fakhura school.18
  • Abd Muhammad Abd Qudas, a Fatah operative active in Palestinian Military Intelligence, killed in the attack near the Al-Fakhura school.19
  • Atia Hassan al-Madhoun and his son, Ziyad al-Madhoun, operatives in the Brigades of National Resistance, the military-terrorist wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Atia was regional commander for Jabaliya. The two were the father and brother of Hassan al-Madhoun, one of the senior commanders of Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, who was lynched by Hamas in the summer of 2006. The two were killed in the attack near the Al-Fakhura school.20
If we accept the PCHR placement of victims, then 3 out of 12 victims were terrorists. If we accept JCPA's list, then some 10 terrorists out of (let's use Goldstone's) 24 people were killed. Either way, the number of terrorists killed is not consistent with the characterization that Goldstone gives; in fact Goldstone does not admit that any terrorists were killed in the incident at all.

Goldstone admits that there were some reports that there was mortar firing from Gaza militants, bringing two news reports from AP and British Channel 4 in footnotes (391), and also mentions that nine witnesses deny any firing from the area (para. 672.) Goldstone does not use this inconsistency to indicate that witnesses may be unreliable; instead the report says "the Mission accepts, for the purposes of this report, that some firing may have occurred that gave rise to the Israeli armed forces’ response."

Godlstone spends a bit of time pointing out inconsistencies between the initial Israeli reaction to the attack and subsequent reports. In fact, Goldstone uses these inconsistencies as proof that the Israeli version of events is not reliable. There indeed were inconsistencies between israel's initial reaction to the flawed reports of up to 50 victims in the school and the final report issued months later. However, there were also inconsistencies between how the UN initially characterized the attacks (saying over 40 were killed and that the school itself was attacked) and how it changed its tune afterwards, yet Goldstone does not question the UN witnesses' veracity in the face of these inconsistencies.

Even worse, one of the witnesses that Goldstone relies on heavily is Muhammed Fouad Abu Askar, whom it admits is a Hamas member in the footnotes (para 652) and whose son was a member of the al-Qassam Brigades (PCHR #782.)

Another relevant fact that Goldstone ignores was mentioned in the IDF report, footnote 263:
The IDF internal investigation provided important context for this incident. It revealed that Hamas often used 120mm mortars to attack Israeli towns and villages near the border of Gaza. Hamas terrorists had acquired significant expertise with these weapons and improved the accuracy of their technique; this tactic was central to Hamas‘ method of fighting the IDF in urban areas. Hamas‘ use of 120mm mortars posed a serious threat to IDF ground forces. Only a day before the incident in question, Hamas mortar fire had injured 30 IDF soldiers.
Goldstone describes the legal issues this way:
42. In drawing its legal conclusions on the attack against al-Fakhura junction, the Mission recognizes that for all armies proportionality decisions, weighing the military advantage to be gained against the risk of killing civilians, will present very genuine dilemmas in certain cases. The Mission does not consider this to be such a case. The firing of at least four mortar shells to attempt to kill a small number of specified individuals in a setting where large numbers of civilians were going about their daily business and 1,368 people were sheltering nearby cannot meet the test of what a reasonable commander would have determined to be an acceptable loss of civilian life for the military advantage sought. The Mission considers thus the attack to have been indiscriminate in violation of international law, and to have violated the right to life of the Palestinian civilians killed in these incidents.
In either of the two possible scenarios I mention, where either 3 out of 12 or 10 out of 24 killed were terrorists, it is far from clear that Goldstone's analysis holds water.

Given the facts that al-Qassam and DFLP terrorists were in the area, that mortar fire was coming from that area (according to reporters who interviewed witnesses), that the IDF responded without hitting the school itself, and that IDF return fire did indeed kill a number of terrorists far out of proportion to the report's characterization of a busy street with 150 civilians randomly scattered about (para. 698, using the Hamas witness again as their primary source,) it seems that Goldstone's legal analysis as to the military advantage of IDF returning fire is incorrect.

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