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How can Human Rights Watch conclude an Israeli didn’t want to kill 4 boys on the beach?

on 30 Comments

israelkills4I usually take the side of Human Rights Watch against its critics on both the left and right, but this piece below deserves criticism. On the whole it’s a good and useful piece, pointing out the flaw in Israel’s claim that it tries hard to avoid civilian casualties. Unfortunately, however, the piece also claims that it’s hard to believe that Israeli forces would try to kill children. It’s all well and good to stick closely to the facts and not make charges one can’t prove, but there’s no reason to lean over backwards as HRW does in this case: “Dispatches: Explaining Four Dead Boys on a Gaza Beach.  The Israel Defense Force has an answer to the shelling yesterday [July 16, pictured above] that killed four children near the Gaza City port.”

Here’s the offending portion–

“Atrocious as much of the Israeli bombing campaign of Gaza has been, it is hard to imagine Israeli forces deliberately trying to kill Ismail Bakr, 9, and his three cousins, Ahed, 10, Zakariya, 10, and Mohammad, 11, with an apparent missile attack, particularly when they were directly in front of a hotel full of foreign journalists.”

Okay, why exactly is it hard to imagine individuals in the Israeli military deliberately trying to kill Palestinian children, journalists present or not? Other militaries contain murderers. Is it because Israelis are special? One doesn’t have to think that every Israeli member of the armed forces is a cold-blooded child killer, but clearly many have behaved brutally in maintaining the occupation. A few Israelis could perfectly well have decided to take a potshot at some kids on the beach for sport, knowing full well that they would probably not be punished for it.

How many members of the IDF spend long periods in prison for war crimes? And so what if journalists saw it? Just claim that it was a tragic mistake. Without a careful investigation by the Israelis themselves (yeah, right), how would anyone be able to tell for sure?

I don’t know whether the killing of the children was deliberate, or “merely” the result of reckless and indiscriminate fire, but neither does HRW. There is no reason to assume the best when children are killed in such a suspicious fashion.

Donald Johnson

Donald Johnson is a regular commenter on this site, as "Donald."

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30 Responses

  1. Justpassingby on July 18, 2014, 2:53 pm

    “I usually take the side of Human Rights Watch ..”
    See this:

    • Donald on July 18, 2014, 3:13 pm

      I heard about that–I assume Roth meant that as a condemnation of Maliki and his repression towards the Sunnis, and was not trying to say ISIS is a good group. In fact, HRW has said that ISIS is guilty of crimes against humanity.


      I hope this doesn’t turn into a comment thread where we argue about whether HRW is really the sum total of all human evil. For the most part, they do good work. They’re a little too close to the American establishment, but in a way that makes them more useful for reaching people like those who write for the NYT or read it.

      But they aren’t perfect.

      • Justpassingby on July 18, 2014, 3:26 pm

        Really? IMO They havent been so much for palestinians if you check their reports. Also this is typical of them:

      • Donald on July 18, 2014, 6:26 pm

        I read Finkelstein’s pieces about them yesterday. HRW is more cautious in describing Israeli war crimes than they should be, but they do describe them as war crimes. Unlawful Israeli airstrikes kill civilians

        I feel some frustration with them, as expressed in my post above, but all the same, they are quoted as condemning Israeli acts in the mainstream press. You want perfection and so do I, but they still criticize Israel’s acts as criminal and it’s silly to say otherwise. Rather like trying to pretend that HRW is pro-ISIS, in fact.

        The Israelis and the hasbara corps certainly don’t see HRW as their friend–one of the regular hasbarists here was bashing them the other day. One of their founders Robert Bernstein threw a famous hissy fit over the fact that they were criticizing Israel a few years back. Roth and others politely eviscerated his column.

      • sanjeevsemail on July 18, 2014, 10:46 pm

        Can you please point out where Human Rights Watch describes Israel’s insane depredations as “war crimes”? “Unlawful Israeli airstrikes” is not synonymous with “war crimes”.


      • Justpassingby on July 19, 2014, 3:22 am

        I dont seek perfection I seek honesty which imo they dont have.
        The word “criminal” doesnt mean anything.

  2. Empiricon on July 18, 2014, 3:14 pm

    Perhaps I can help the HWR author with his “imagination”
    Not guilty. The Israeli captain who emptied his rifle into a Palestinian schoolgirl

    • tree on July 18, 2014, 5:07 pm

      More to help HRW’s “imagination”:

      Photo of a T-shirt printed for members of an IDF elite unit who had completed sniper training, reads “The smaller they are – The harder it is!”.

      Quote cited from the same source:

      Sniper: “They forbid us to shoot at children”.
      Journalist: “How do they say this?”
      Sniper: “You don’t shoot a child who is 12 or younger”.
      Journalist: “That is, a child of 12 or older is allowed?”
      Sniper: “Twelve and up is allowed. He’s not a child anymore, he’s already after his bar mitzvah. Something like that”.
      Journalist: “Thirteen is bar mitzvah age”.
      Sniper: “Twelve and up, you’re allowed to shoot. That’s what they tell us”.
      Journalist: “Under international law, a child is defined as someone up to the age of 18.”
      Sniper: “Up until 18 is a child?”
      Journalist: “So, according to the IDF, it is 12?”
      Sniper: “According to what the IDF says to its soldiers. I don’t know if this is what the IDF says to the media.”

      — Amira Hass’ interview with an IDF sniper, explaining why so many Palestinian children were killed in the first weeks of the intifada, when the IDF was largely confronted by stonethrowers. Published in Ha’aretz, Don’t shoot till you can see they’re over the age of 12, 20 November 2000.


      …According to Rafi, an officer in the Shaldag, an elite unit connected to the air force, the whole mission was about revenge. “The commanders said kill as many people as possible,” he said.

      He and his men were ordered to shoot anyone who appeared to be touching the ground, as if they might be placing a roadside bomb, or anyone seen on a roof or a balcony, as if they might be observing Israeli forces for military reasons, regardless of whether they were armed.

      Asma Moghayyer, 16, and her brother Ahmed, 13, were shot as they went to collect clothes from a rooftop washing line. The Israeli army insisted the children had been blown up by a roadside bomb. However, journalists visiting the morgue saw only single bullet wounds to the head.

      The truth, said Rafi, was that they were shot by an Israeli soldier following clear orders to shoot anyone on a roof regardless of their role in the conflict.

      Rafi says that his overriding impression of the operation was “chaos” and the “indiscriminate use of force”. “Gaza was considered a playground for sharpshooters.”

      — Israeli Soldiers Tell of Indiscriminate Killings by Army and a Culture of Impunity by Conal Urquhart; 6 Sept 2005.

      I could go on an on with examples of the deliberate killing of children by the IDF. HRW clearly lacks “imagination”.

  3. Maximus Decimus Meridius on July 18, 2014, 3:30 pm

    The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont – who has been very pro-Israel until now, and who witnessed the beach massacre – specifically said that the gunner turned around and deliberately targetted the boys. He also said that he and other journalists were frantically trying to warn the gunners that they were only kids. There was also half a minute between the first and second blast which killed 3 of the boys, which is more than enough time to get a good look. Doesn’t the start-up nation provide its naval gunners with binoculars?

    Also, what the hell would khamas militants be doing on a beach, in the full light of day, with half the world’s press and Israeli gunboats just offshore? Absurd. HRW is whitewashing Israeli war crimes – again.

    • jenin on July 18, 2014, 4:04 pm

      I agree 100% Maximus. I have very little doubt they were targeted. Maybe it wasn’t Netanyahu’s plan (he’s only slightly more subtle about his desire to wipe out the Palestinian people) but surely some individual or several soldiers did this on purpose.

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius on July 18, 2014, 4:32 pm

        There have been numerous occasions when the IDF have targetted Palestinian kids for fun. And that’s not at all surprising when you think that Israelis are raised in a culture of hatred for Arabs, where all Arabs are seen as enemies just waiting to kill any Jew if they get the chance. Add that to the fact that IDF soldiers almost never suffer any consequences for killing Palestinians, and you have a climate where murders like this are seen as quite acceptable. Except this time, the world’s press was there. Which makes it an awkward PR problem for Israel, but not a moral quandary that too many ‘liberal Israelis’ will lose any sleep over.

      • Bumblebye on July 18, 2014, 6:47 pm

        Maybe someone should send HRW a copy of Torat HaMelech. They’ll understand how righteous such murders are then.

  4. justicewillprevail on July 18, 2014, 3:42 pm

    Unfortunately it’s not hard to imagine at all, because it has happened too many times.

    A commander orders a soldier to shoot a boy:

    • Kay24 on July 18, 2014, 4:39 pm

      Thanks for linking jwp, that was awful. It truly shows the brutality against little children, and the disregard for Palestinian lives. They have targeted a lot of children in this war killing so many. You’ve got to wonder how people of a certain nation, have the tendency to show such evil, and inflict suffering in such a sadistic manner, on people they have demonized, and hold under a very brutal occupation. It must be what they are being taught in schools, homes, and how their government behaves. The dumb hasbara minions have tried to make the Palestinians look bad, but the truth is, it is merely a projection of their wickedness.

      • Mooser on July 18, 2014, 7:43 pm

        “You’ve got to wonder how people of a certain nation, have the tendency to show such evil, and inflict suffering in such a sadistic manner, on people they have demonized, and hold under a very brutal occupation.”

        I know how you feel. Many of the British actions in their Asian colonies, and towards the Irish, are completely inexplicable to me.

  5. just on July 18, 2014, 4:03 pm

    aargh! Of course it was deliberate! They’re only pissed that it was caught by the journalists! Hate for all Palestinians are what fuels this revenge.

    They just smashed up the home of the Abu Khedir family and arrested family members!

    Aaron David Miller just spewed caca on MSNBC.

  6. annie on July 18, 2014, 4:05 pm

    A few Israelis could perfectly well have decided to take a potshot at some kids on the beach for sport

    i wrote an article about israeli military sport hunting for children once. they lay in wait, then ambush. that’s what it’s come to, or coming to. i don’t think you can carryon an occupation for decades and not have these kinds of mental escalations in at least a segment of the population. that’s how a society accepts genocide, the dehumanization. it’s partly as a result of the video game culture too.

    it’s not responsible analysis to just say “it is hard to imagine Israeli forces deliberately trying to kill” children. well, then that’s a problem for HRW. they better start imagining, because it is real.

    who could forget the crosshairs photo? that was real. these people definitely exist.

    • Donald on July 18, 2014, 6:30 pm

      Good points from you and tree and others. I’m defending HRW in some comments above, but all the same, this lack of imagination is absurd.

  7. chocopie on July 18, 2014, 6:39 pm

    In Harper’s magazine, Oct 2001, journalist Chris Hedges’ “Gaza Diary” describes Israeli soldiers enticing and then shooting and killing Palestinian children in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in Gaza. There is no doubt that IDF deliberately targets civilians and children. They enjoy shooting refugee children. Plenty of supporting testimony from Breaking the Silence confirms it.

  8. Stephen Shenfield on July 18, 2014, 7:42 pm

    There is also plenty of relevant evidence in the testimony collected from Israeli soldiers by the “Breaking the Silence” organization. For instance, there is testimony about soldiers deliberately goading kids to throw stones so that they can then shoot them down. They do this because they are bored and crave some “action” (i.e., killing).

    Why do decent humanitarians like HRW find these things so hard to “imagine”? The individuals who write such things must simply not know very much about Israeli realities. Those who have made an honest study of even some of the numerous available sources do not need to “imagine” — they know. But NGO reports are edited by generalists who know little about any particular issue. Perhaps, being such nice people themselves and lacking personal experiences that would help to disillusion them, they just cannot grasp the motives that inspire the behavior of sadists. And I suppose they view the Israelis as “Jewish” and associate Jewishness with sensitivity and gentleness — an archaic view from pre-Zionist times that seems to survive somehow from sheer inertia.

    • Donald on July 19, 2014, 12:22 am

      “And I suppose they view the Israelis as “Jewish” and associate Jewishness with sensitivity and gentleness ”

      Which would be a type of racism, actually, though one aimed at the rest of humanity, which lacks this sensitivity and gentleness. Only Israelis, it seems, can enforce apartheid in kind, gentle, and sensitive way–the rest of humanity tends to do these things with brutality and thuggishness.

      My own guess is that the writer was looking over his shoulder at critics within the US and so this was a type of self-censorship. HRW can write nasty things about the human rights record of an enemy country and nobody important in this country will object. But Israel is a special case–criticize them and one of HRW’s own founders (Robert Bernstein) goes ballistic.

  9. Citizen on July 18, 2014, 9:00 pm

    Chris Hayes, tonight, on the 4 boys murdered on the beach.

    Mark Regev, Israeli spokesman four Bibi: We don’t target civilians.

    Hayes: Almost 300 Palestinians dead, 75% civilians. (UN)

    Democracy Now correspondent in Gaza–via phone: a load of stories he tells. It’s really bad. 71 Gaza kids dead, many more psychologically traumatized.

    Regev: Boys on beach killed, appears to be an accident. Israel apologizes.

    Hayes: UN now says 77% of Gaza killed were civilians.

    Regev: HAMAS is using human shields. UN said they’ve used a school.

    Hayes: UN also said it was an abandoned school and the first example of such.

    Regev: Not true.

    Hayes: Isn’t there a moral threshold?

    Regev: Yes, Israeli rules of engagement say so.

    Hayes: Reports Israel still repeatedly bombing hospitals.
    Regev: They are using human shields and shooting at us from the hospitals.

    Hayes: Your government said invasion would be limited to attacking tunnels, now it’s widening.

    REgev: Our goal is ultimately defensive. Our goal is no more rockets fired at Israel.

    Hayes: People unlucky to be born in Gaza; there’s no dignity or statehood for them.

    Regev: Their problem is HAMAS. Women get beat up for dressing incorrectly. We hoped when we left Gaza it would be peaceful, there was every reason for hope. But HAMAS took over with medieval directions. Root cause is HAMAS regime, which is like ISIS in Iraq; extreme ideologies.

    Hayes: People in WB have no more hopes than those in Gaza even though PA has worked with Israel.

    Regev: In any peace there must be security arrangements. There’s so many extremist Arab groups.

    Hayes: HAMAS says this started with the roundup of HAMAS people by Israel.

    Regev: What started the violence was the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens and their murder.

    Hayes: What evidence is there HAMAS did it? They said they did not.

    Regev: We named the two individuals involved, and PA security confirmed. HAMAS needs no excuses to kill my people.

    Hayes: It’s strange the two suspects have yet to be indicted or brought to justice.

    Regev: We are trying to bring them to justice; we have to find them just as happens in US with criminal suspects.

    People of Gaza are furious for HAMAS turning down peace or cease fire offer.

    • Donald on July 19, 2014, 12:24 am

      I didn’t have the stomach to watch that–I can’t stand seeing political types lie about atrocities.

  10. Rusty Pipes on July 18, 2014, 9:32 pm

    As though the Press being present has deterred the IDF. There have been far too many cases of the IDF aiming at reporters, like the AlJazeera woman covering non-violent protests in the West Bank or Anthony Shadid, shot by the IDF while wearing a vest clearly identified as Press. Israel just wiped out a building in Gaza well-known to be a press center for foreign journalists. The NBC reporter was playing soccer with these kids minutes before they were targeted by the Israeli gunboat.

  11. seafoid on July 19, 2014, 9:58 am

    Irish times reported that one of the kids murdered in the wednesday massacre was froma very poor family. His wardrobe amounted to 2 tshirts and one pair of trousers. 47 years of pauperisation. Zionism is an evil ideology.

    • just on July 19, 2014, 10:07 am

      An all too often overlooked fact…ergo the hasbara lines that “they” look well- fed, have “5 star hotels” and “shopping malls”…

      • seafoid on July 19, 2014, 12:42 pm

        Meanwhile jon s flies to the US on holidays. That kid’s family could have been ethnically cleansed in 1948 from where he lives now. Jon probably has more than one pair of trousers. The only way to prolong the injustice is to dehumanise the people of Gaza.

        Hamas are only asking for the siege to be lifted and for gazans to be allowed go to east jerusalem, not the US.

  12. DICKERSON3870 on July 19, 2014, 2:52 pm

    RE: “How can Human Rights Watch conclude an Israeli didn’t want to kill 4 boys on the beach?” – Donald Johnson

    A PRELUDE: Is this one of those “brain teasers”? I never can make hide nor hair of those things.

    LONG STORY SHORT (as the über-obnoxious Nancy Grace is wont to say): Human Rights Watch has been “captured” in a way very analogous to what is often referred to as “regulatory capture” when it happens to a governmental entity like the SEC, FDA, NLRB . . . Need I go on ad nauseam (like Nancy Grace would)?
    Human Rights Watch (as opposed to Amnesty International) is about as concerned with human rights as the Sierra Club is concerned with the environment, or AARP is concerned about retirees, or . . . Need I go on ad nauseam (like Nancy Grace does)?
    I better get a move on, because I left my pet fox in charge of the hen house, and he seemed just a little bit to anxious to babysit them. I
    thought I would at at least have to bribe him with a beggin’ strip or two, but he practically chased me out the door.
    The more I think about it, I’m getting a really bad feeling about whether it was a good idea for me to leave him in charge.

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