A Palestinian man carries the body of a boy past another on Gaza City Beach. Photo by REUTERS/Mohammed Talatene
No one above ground should be surprised the Israel Defense Force, "the pride of the people," last week found itself innocent of wrongdoing in the killing on Gaza City's beach last July of four Bakr cousins aged 9-11, "four skinny children of fishermen, the beach boys of Gaza, wearing shorts, looking even younger than their years." Unlike many of Israel's atrocities against Palestinians, this one was witnessed and hauntingly reported by several journalists standing at a nearby hotel overlooking the beach. The Guardian's Peter Beaumont memorably described watching the boys playing soccer and hide-and-seek among fishermen's shacks until the first shell hit, when "four figures could be seen running, ragged silhouettes, legs pumping furiously...Those firing apparently adjust(ed) their fire to target the fleeing survivors." In the space of 40 seconds, three were severely wounded and four were killed. The dead cousins were Mohammad Ramiz Bakr, 11, Ahed Atef Bakr, 10, Zakariya Ahed Bakr, 10, and Ismail Mahmoud Bakr, 9.
After five months, and international outrage, the IDF's military advocate general ordered a criminal investigation be launched. Its findings, released last week, were that "the attack was not, according to the assessment of the operational entities, expected to result in any collateral damage to civilians or to civilian property...The Military Advocate General found that the professional discretion exercised by all the commanders involved in the incident had not been unreasonable under the circumstances." It also ordered "the investigation file be closed without any further legal proceedings - criminal or disciplinary - to be taken against those involved in the incident.” As the great Gideon Levy of Ha'aretz' furiouslynotes, "The spokesman of the most moral army in the world expressed his regret, while blaming Hamas, of course, for the killing of the children, for “cynical use of them” - Hamas, after all, had sent them to play on the beach." He adds, "Israel, which has the means of identifying the color of the underwear of assassinated individuals, claims that the IDF did not realize that the figures on the beach were children."
Only a handful of media outlets have reacted with not dismay or surprise but the bitter, mournful recognition that the killing of the Bakr children - and the whitewashing of it - was Israeli military business as usual, one more act of indiscriminate killing in a long, consistent pattern made savagely clear in last summer's Gaza assault, which wiped out homes, schools, mosques, neighborhoods and 89 entire Palestinian families. All told, Israeli might killed over 2,200 people, almost all civilians, including at least 500 children at an average rate of 10 a day. Despite widespread condemnation, no one in the Israeli military has been charged with any improprieties in those murders; investigations only come when Western journalists or politicians make noises of dismayed surprise at the slaughter - usually because someone was wielding a camera - and Israel always acquits itself in what have become hollow "damage limitation exercises."
While the Occupation endures, it daily becomes clearer, the Israeli military will continue to kill with impunity until the world, the media, the International Criminal Court or we the public stop it. Despite past failures and current limitations of the Court, many hold out hopes for the arrival later this month of its delegation to begin investigating Israeli war crimes against the Palestinians; a father of one of the boys killed on the beach says, "We are not afraid and we are confident we will win because the world is with us." Many others believe the mainstream media needs to stop repeating Israel's straight-faced lies about its crimes and demand accountability. Most powerfully, the truth-tellers, many heartbroken, need to be heard. Gideon Levy on the so-called "rules that bind IDF forces": "It turned out that the killing of the children on the beach was precisely, but precisely, according to the rules binding the IDF. It was so much according to the rules that no one is to be tried, not even by disciplinary hearing, not even for negligence, it was so proper. It was so proper that it makes one weep. That’s how IDF soldiers should act in the future, as well. In other words: Good for the IDF, good for the killers of those children, they acted just as they were required to. The pride of the people."