The Hostage and the Picnic
The U.S. media coverage of the ongoing Israel incursion into Gaza "has been irresponsible in not covering much about the prologue to the present violence, the Israeli military's bombing of civilians on a Gaza beach earlier in the month," says blogger Juan Cole.
The Israeli military denies they were responsible for the explosion that killed seven members of a Palestinian family on June 9. But there is no denying Cole's assertion that the story of the death of the Ghalia family was much bigger news in the Arab world than in the United States, thanks to a searing video taken by a Palestinian cameraman of the lone survivor, 10-year-old Huda Ghalia, screaming over the remains of her family. The video is available online, though viewers should be warned of its graphic content.
Hamas says the deaths of the Ghalia family justify the abduction of 19-year-old Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
With an eye on Palestinian public opinion, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Al-Jazeera yesterday that the Shalit's capture represented "a fulfillment of the duty to the girl Huda Ghalia whose family was killed in front of her eyes," according to Israel's YNet News.
The Israeli Major General who conducted the government's investigation of the explosion stands by his conclusion that the Israeli military was not involved.
"The investigation focused on six artillery shells fired by the IDF," said the conservative Israel News Agency. "The army says it is certain five landed about 250 metres (820ft) from the beach where the Ghalia family were sitting. One shell apparently misfired, but the explosion which ripped through the Ghalia family's picnic was at least eight minutes afterwards, the army says."
"Another senior Israel officer had concluded that it was a Hamas work accident where an explosion of a stockpile of Kassam rockets had caused the civilian fatalities," said INA.
Their headline: "Israel Proves Gaza Deaths Caused by Palestinian Terrorism."
That conclusion was unanimously dismissed by Arab editorialists. Al-Ahram Weekly in Egypt called it the work of the "Israeli army's disinformation mill." The Ghalia family was "slaughtered," said the Arab News in Saudi Arabia.
"For many Arabs, it is still hard to digest how the world leaders can tolerate a heart shattering crime such as the one committed by the Israelis against a happy family in Gaza and refrain from calling it by its true name: a cold-blooded crime," said the Gulf News in Qatar.
Four European newspapers undertook their own examination of the incident. Three questioned the Israeli version and one questioned the Palestinian version.
The Guardian concluded that "evidence from hospital records, doctors' testimony and witness accounts challenges the military's central assertion that it had stopped shelling by the time seven members of the Ghalia family were killed"
The Independent (by subscription) headlines their story, "Hospital casts doubt on Israel's version of attack that killed seven Palestinians."
"The Israeli Army has admitted to The Times that its official account of the explosion that killed eight Palestinians picnicking on a Gaza beach last week was flawed," said the London daily. "The account is also contradicted by a UN radio transmission."
"The army has told The Times that its report was flawed because it failed to mention two gunboat shells fired at about the time of the deaths. It insists, however, that they landed too far away to have been responsible."
The Sueddeutshce Zeitung (in German) questioned the account of Palestinian cameraman Zakarija Abu Harbed, calling the story "an example of how Palestinians sometimes bend the truth." (The Zionism-Israel Information Center, an independent Web site in Israel, has posted an English translation of SZ article here.)
"Harbed explains that he had been informed afterwards about the explosion and driven to the scene by the rescue medics in the ambulance," SZ reported. "In his pictures however, Harbed films the hysteria of the ten-year Huda, as if he were a witness of the detonation. Also he films the arrival of the medics, as though he was at the beach beforehand. Additionally, some of the dead and wounded are covered with cloths -- who did that?"
Mark Gerlasco, a former U.S. military intelligence officer who works for Human Rights Watch, concluded that the Israeli investigation is " incomplete because it excludes important evidence."
Human Rights Watch is calling for an independent investigation, as is the Palestinian Authority. Israel has expressed no interest in the possibility.
Meanwhile, the Middle East Times reports that Gazans looking for a respite from the ongoing Israeli military action to free Gilad Shalit are staying away from "the beautiful sand beaches" where the Ghalias perished.
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