The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reportedly covered up the killing of six Palestinians, including a baby, after “mistakenly” shelling an area housing Bedouin farmers in an operation in the Gaza Strip during the 11-day war in May.
The incident, which apparently has not received any publicity, was known to the army, according to Haaretz. The paper said the army never reported it, and after a two-and-a-half-month investigation, an IDF spokesman stated only that the artillery unit had “learned professional lessons.”
On the evening of May 13, ahead of the IDF’s launch of ‘Operation Lightning Strike’ to collapse Hamas tunnels in the Strip, heavy artillery fire was directed at “open areas” in the northern portion of the Strip as part of a supposed diversionary tactic to trick the militant group into taking shelter in the tunnels.
Some 500 shells were reportedly fired in the barrage – with no warnings issued to the area’s residents to vacate their homes. The paper reported that the civilians were not warned of the impending attack, “as is customary during combat in Gaza.”
However, some of these shells were fired into the al-Karya compound, an agricultural site near the city of Beit Lahia that, according to Haaretz, “should have never been in the army’s sights.” One shell is alleged to have directly struck the temporary structure where the Abu Daya family lived.
The paper reported that Nasser Abu Fares Abu Daya, the family patriarch, told Jerusalem-based human rights group B’Tselem that “the whole place was full of blood.” After the “smoke and dust” cleared, he spoke of finding his daughters’ bodies “in pieces,” while his sons were wounded.
Abu Daya lost three of his daughters and his nine-month-old grandson in the attack, Haaretz reported. The neighboring Ayash family told B’Tselem that they had gathered together to celebrate the Eid-al-Fitr festival that evening when the shelling began.
“None of the residents of al-Karya evacuated their homes, because we are near the border and there are no Hamas positions in the area,” said Isamail Ayash, whose sister died after being struck by shrapnel.
The day after the attack, then-IDF spokesman Brigadier General Hidai Zilberman reportedly briefed the press about the army’s accomplishments the previous night.
“Some 450 munitions were fired at 150 targets in 35 minutes,” Zilberman apparently said, without going into what had happened in the al-Karya compound.
Speaking about the army’s investigation into the incident, an unidentified IDF spokesman told the paper that the details were being “examined by the General Staff investigation system.”
“The incident was investigated on a command and professional level by the Ground Forces and the Southern Command. Following the investigation, professional lessons were learned that have already been instilled in the 215th Firing Brigade,” the spokesman said.
According to testimonies obtained by the paper, a handful of low-ranking soldiers had been suspended for a limited time but soon returned to their positions. In addition, a battalion officer was shifted to a training position. No senior officer was either punished or dismissed after the investigation.
Last week, the NGO Human Rights Watch called on the International Criminal Court to launch an inquiry into alleged war crimes committed by Israeli and Palestinian armed forces during the conflict in May. It said Israeli authorities had demonstrated a “consistent unwillingness” to investigate reports of alleged war crimes.
In its report, HRW said it had observed three Israeli airstrikes in which 62 civilians were killed but there was “no evidence of military targets in the vicinity.” It also claimed that Israel had provided no evidence to support its claim of tunnels and an underground command center in al-Wahda street in Gaza City, where an airstrike levelled three multi-story buildings and killed 44 civilians.