Israeli military changes story about al-Dalou airstrike–for the fourth time

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Gaza buffer
Two members of the Al Dalu family, Mohammad and Raneen Al Dalu were found under the rubble four days after the Israeli military airstrike that killed nine members of the same family, Gaza, November 22, 2012. (Photo by: Anne Paq/

It’s tough to keep up with the Israeli military’s spin.

Israel is changing its story about the airstrike that killed 10 members of the al-Dalou family and two others–again. Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich told Ma’an News Sunday that she has not identified the target the Israeli air force was trying to strike, and refused to to say who the target was in an interview.

This explanation goes back on what the same military spokeswoman told a different news agency: that the intended target of the November 18 airstrike was a man named Muhammad al-Dalou, who was a Hamas “terror operative” who also worked for the police in Gaza. But after Human Rights Watch cast doubt on the official Israeli story as to who al-Dalou was and said that the strike violated the laws of war, it appears that Israel is now changing its story again.

I summarized Israel’s changing explanations in an earlier post:

At first, the Israeli military claimed they were targeting the commander of Hamas’ rocket launching operations, a man supposedly named Yihia Abayah. But the al-Dalou family knew nothing of this person.

After it became clear that the strike had wiped out an entire family, Israel’s story was scrutinized. Haaretz reported November 18 that the air force “mistakenly bombed the home of one of [Rabiah’s] neighbors, Mohammed a-Dallo, killing 10 members of his family and two of his neighbors. Rabiah seems to have survived the attack.”

But Israel shifted its explanation again. The latest comes courtesy of Israeli army spokeswoman Avital Leibovich. The strike was deliberate, Leibovich told the Agence France-Presse in a story published November 27. AFP reports that “Mohammed Jamal al-Dallu, 29, a member of the Hamas police unit charged with protecting important people, was…killed in the strike, and the Israeli army said on Tuesday that he was the target of the raid.” Leibovich told AFP that “the father was a known terror operative affiliated with the military wing of Hamas” and that “there was no mistake from the IDF. It’s tragic when a terror operative is hiding among civilians but unfortunately it is part of Hamas and Islamic Jihad tactics.”

Human Rights Watch released the results of its investigation into the al-Dalou strike, and they concluded that the attack was a violation of the rules of war. And while Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich claimed that Muhammad al-Dalou was a “terror operative” with Hamas, the Human Rights Watch report says otherwise.

“Members of the Dalu family and neighbors interviewed separately said that Mohamed al-Dalu was not a member of any Palestinian armed group,” the report states. Furthermore, “the website of the al-Qassam Brigades regularly posts the names and biographies of its killed fighters, including 20 men from the eight days of fighting in November, but as of December 6 it had not posted any mention of Mohamed al-Dalu.” There’s also the fact, as Human Rights Watch reports, that al-Dalou’s police commander said that he “had worked every day during the latest fighting, and that he was not a member of any armed group.”

Ma’an News Agency went back to the Israeli army after the Human Rights Watch report was released. Here’s their account of the interview with Leibovich:

Questioned by Ma’an twice in the past week about the strike, Leibovich denied she had identified Muhammad al-Dalou as the target.

“What I said is that the targets we picked were not innocent civilians,” she said last Sunday.

Declining to comment on whether the intended target was killed, or the target’s name, she explained: “In this large scale operation there are many sites targeted, sometimes you can’t know ahead or you don’t know the result.”

Asked again for the target’s name after Friday’s HRW report, Leibovich told Ma’an: “Not everything is known at this point.”

Meanwhile, she continued to describe the target as a Hamas militant “who used the house as a hiding place.”

Leibovich said an army investigation was ongoing, and noted the al-Dalou family home was just one of over 1,500 sites hit during the war.

When asked if the al-Dalou strike might be prioritized as an incident for investigation due to the high civilian casualties, she said “we are looking at the operation as a whole, there are different types of investigations, different areas … with the airforce, intelligence.”

So Leibovich is now denying that she told Agence France Presse that the target of the strike was al-Dalou–even though that’s exactly what she said, according to the news agency. The Israeli military has a lot of questions it needs to answer when it comes to this case. 12 people, including four children, were killed. And given the constant changes in Leibovich’s and the Israeli military’s story, journalist and human rights researchers need to scrutinize any explanation very closely.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist and graduate student at New York University's Near East Studies and Journalism programs. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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