The Israel Defense Forces will soon release new findings about a strike near the Ibrahim al-Maqadma Mosque during last year’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, in an effort to refute the Goldstone Report’s claim that it targeted civilians.
The report cited this incident as key evidence for its accusation that Israel deliberately targeted civilians during the operation.
The new evidence is based in part on Hamas and Islamic Jihad reports which show that more than half the casualties in the strike were armed members of these two groups.
The strike near the mosque, situated on the northern outskirts of the Jabalya refugee camp, occurred in January 2009, shortly after the IDF began its ground offensive. It killed 15 and injured 40, and was widely reported by the media and human rights groups.
Yet five internal army panels set up by Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to investigate the IDF’s actions during Cast Lead initially said there was no evidence that Israel had attacked the site at all. In April 2009, when the panels’ findings were presented to the media, and again in a July report to the United Nations, Israel claimed that not only was there no air strike at that location, but that some of the Palestinians who allegedly died in the strike were actually members of Hamas who were killed in ground battles with the IDF.
But the UN committee headed by Richard Goldstone, which visited the location and talked to eyewitnesses, concluded in its September report that a strike had taken place, and that it deliberately targeted civilians, in contravention of the laws of war.
In lectures he has given since then, Goldstone has repeatedly cited this example to prove his claim that Israel intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians in Gaza. During a panel discussion at Brandeis University, for instance, he said that of the 36 incidents his committee investigated, this attack affected him the most, because it occurred at a time when 300 people were praying at the mosque.
In response to the Goldstone Report, the IDF set up another investigative panel, headed by Brig. Gen. Yuval Halamish, to examine the specific incidents mentioned in the report, including the mosque attack.
Now, sources close to the Halamish probe say, the IDF is planning to release a revised report that, for the first time, will confirm that the air force struck a target near the mosque. However, it will claim, the target was a group of armed Hamas operatives who were meeting near the mosque’s entrance.
Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan Dahoah Halevi, who investigated the Goldstone Report’s findings for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, found that web sites affiliated with Hamas had reported that four of those killed were veteran fighters of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing. One of them, Ahmed Hamad Abu Ita, 25, had been ordered to deploy in accordance with a preexisting Hamas plan, the web site said, and had gone to the mosque to meet with other fighters.
It is possible that this information was intercepted by the IDF, and this led to the strike.
Also among the dead were two members of the Al-Quds Battalions, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, and another Hamas member who was 16 and was in the group’s youth wing.
The Hamas reports said that all six of the adults had been involved in attacks on Israel both prior to Cast Lead and during the ground offensive.