Huda Ghaliya, in an iconic image that was broadcast worldwide following the death of her family in Gaza in 2006. (TV image from Ramatan News Agency)
Earlier today Phil posted on Shani Boianjiu’s story “Means of Suppressing Demonstrations”, which appears in the current New Yorker. Phil referred to it as “Israeli army literature.” He didn’t know how accurate he was.
Boianjiu’s story begins:
Lea, the officer, had stopped feeling her own body. She lay on top of an anti-sniper barricade, holding up a page from a newspaper, blocking the stars. She had to stretch out her arms to hold the wide page above her head.
“Oh,” she said.
“The Army didn’t do it,” Tomer said. He flicked his cigarette butt down onto the asphalt of Route 799. He was talking about Huda, the little Palestinian girl on the beach. The picture in the newspaper showed her screaming on red sand, amid the body parts of the seven people who had been her family.
“I know,” she said. “This is a manipulation.”
The world said that the Israeli Army had done it with artillery fire, but the Israeli Army knew that the family had been killed by a dormant shell that Palestinian militants had left by the sea.
“The little Palestinian girl on the beach” is a real person. Huda Ghaliya was in sixth grade when her family was killed on the beach in Gaza, and her photo was broadcast around the world. The New York Times reported at the time:
Eleven-year-old Huda unwittingly became a symbol of Palestinian pain and loss during an afternoon picnic with her family on a hot day when a cameraman captured her shrieking “Father, Father, Father!” as she hovered over the bloody bodies of 13 dead or wounded members of her family, hit by what was apparently an errant Israeli artillery shell.
Similar to Muhammad Al-Dura’s death in 2000, Huda’s story quickly became a propaganda battle. The Israeli goverment claimed, as does Boianjiu, that Huda’s family was killed by a Palestinian munition in the beach. However, Human Rights Watch had researchers on the ground and followed the incident closely.
From “Investigate Gaza Beach Killings” (6/14/06):
Human Rights Watch researchers currently in Gaza interviewed victims, witnesses, Palestinian security officers and doctors who treated the wounded after the incident. They also visited the site of the explosion, where they found a large piece of unoxidized jagged shrapnel, stamped “155mm,” which would be consistent with an artillery shell fired by the IDF’s M-109 Self-Propelled Artillery.
Human Rights Watch spoke to the Palestinian explosive ordnance disposal unit who investigated three craters on the beach, including the one where the civilians were killed. According to General Salah Abu `Azzo, head of the Palestinian unit, they also gathered and removed shrapnel fragments consistent with 155mm artillery shells.
Eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch described between five and six explosions on the beach between 4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., the time frame when the IDF fired artillery onto the beach and when the seven civilians were killed. Two survivors said they heard the sound of an incoming projectile and saw a blur of motion in the sky before the explosion that killed the seven civilians. Residents of northern Gaza are familiar with the sounds of regular artillery fire.
Doctors also confirmed to Human Rights Watch researchers that the injuries from the attack, which were primarily to the head and torso, are consistent with the heavy shrapnel of artillery shells used by the IDF. Doctors said the shrapnel they removed from Palestinian patients in Gaza was of a type that comes from an artillery shell.
According to readings from a Global Positioning Satellite taken by Human Rights Watch, the crater where the victims were killed was within the vicinity of the other artillery craters created by the IDF’s June 9 artillery attack and was the same shape and size. One crater was 100 meters away from the fatal crater, and the rest were 250 to 300 meters away.
Some Israeli officials have suggested the explosion may have been caused by a mine placed by Palestinian militants, rather than one of their artillery shells, despite the fact that they cannot account for the final landing place of one of their six shells.
However, according to on-site investigations by Human Rights Watch, the size of the craters and the type of injuries to the victims are not consistent with the theory that a mine caused the explosion. The craters are too large to be made by bounding mines, the only type of landmines capable of producing head and torso injuries of the type suffered by the victims on June 9. Additionally, Palestinian armed groups are not known to have, or to have used, bounding mines; the Palestinian government bomb squad said it has never uncovered a bounding mine in any explosive incident.
From “More Evidence on Beach Killings Implicates IDF” (6/15/06):
A digitally dated and time-stamped blood test report of a victim treated at a Palestinian hospital that admitted wounded from the June 9 killings on a Gaza beach suggests that the attack took place during the time period of an Israeli artillery attack, Human Rights Watch said today. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have denied responsibility for the killings, saying that although they fired six artillery shells onto the beach between 4:32 p.m. and 4:51 p.m., the fatal incident must have occurred after that.
Human Rights Watch first challenged this conclusion, concluding that the IDF most likely caused the killings, in a press release based on an investigation by its researchers in Gaza.
Human Rights Watch researchers examined the computer-generated record from the Kamal Adwan hospital, which documents the blood test of a victim from the beach incident being taken at 5:12 p.m. on June 9. Furthermore, hand-written hospital records log patients from the incident as having been admitted starting at 5:05 p.m. If the records are accurate, based on the time needed to dispatch an ambulance and drive from the hospital to the beach and back, this suggests that the fatal explosion took place at a time when the IDF said it was firing artillery rounds. Both sets of records also directly call into question the account of the IDF that ambulances did not reach the beach until 5:15 p.m. that day.
Altering the records would require re-setting the computer’s clock and re-writing pages of the hospital’s admissions log. Human Rights Watch researchers said that the pages they saw documented patients un-related to the beach incident, followed by two pages of victims from the beach. The first of those were admitted at 5:05 p.m. The researchers saw no evidence that the times might have been altered.
Israeli military officials have also suggested the explosion, which killed seven members of the Ghalya family and wounded many others, might have been caused by a mine. But Human Rights Watch researchers also examined blood-crusted shrapnel given to them by the father of a 19-year-old male who suffered abdominal wounds in the beach explosion. They determined that the shrapnel is a piece of fuse from an artillery shell.
Finally, from “Gaza Beach Investigation Ignores Evidence” (6/20/06):
The Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) investigation of the Gaza beach explosion that killed eight Palestinian civilians and wounded dozens is incomplete because it excludes important evidence, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch researchers met yesterday with Israeli Major-General Meir Kalifi, who led the internal IDF investigation, to discuss its findings. After the meeting, Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for an independent investigation into the deaths.
The meeting revealed that the IDF’s conclusion that it was not responsible for the deaths on the beach was based exclusively on information gathered by the IDF and excluded all evidence gathered by other sources.
Boianjiu uses this discredited Israeli investigation to ground her story where Palestinians cynically attempt to garner sympathy through staged encounters with the Israeli military. Boianjiu’s story is fiction, but the context is pure hasbara.
Ironically, Boianjiu responded to our earlier post over Twitter, chiding us that we didn’t understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction:
@Mondoweiss 3 of them do in my *fiction! They also come wearing mattresses and lab goggles. Do you believe Harry Potter is really a wizard?
— Shani Boianjiu (@ShaniBoianjiu) June 19, 2012
Boianjiu’s narration of the deaths in Gaza is about as truthful as Harry Potter, but unlike that bespectacled wizard, her fictions are in the service of obfuscating a very real tragedy and an ongoing oppression.