She sells artillery shells by the sea shore

The recent explosion on a Gaza beach, where eight Palestinians were killed, is proving to be a far more convoluted incident than anyone could have imagined. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis have offered explanations for what happened.

According to the Palestinians, it was an Israeli gunboat that fired its gun at the beach. No, it was a bomb from an Israeli aircraft. No, it was a tank round. No, it was an artillery shell. Regardless, it was the Israelis that did it.

Israel first said that it was not an intentional attack, but would investigate. Later, they said it may have been a stray artillery shell fired at a Qassam rocket firing poing several hundred yards away. Later still, they said it could not have been, as the blast occurred 15 minutes after they stopped firing — it must have been a Qassam rocket. Their final version was that it was a Palestinian mine buried on the beach.

The evolution of the stories is most enlightening. The Palestinians’ stories seem, to me, to represent a changing of the rationale to rebut evolving facts. There was a blast, so it must have been the Israelis. It was that boat over there. No? OK, it was an airplane. No? OK, it was a tank. No? It was an artillery shell. Look, we don’t care how they did it, the important thing is that they did it.

On the Israeli side, it’s a bit more of a logical progression, an evolutionary process. We don’t know what happened, but we certainly didn’t order it. OK, we’ve eliminated a bunch of possibilities — no boats, tanks, or aircraft fired in that area, but we did have some artillery shooting, so it might have been that. No, it wasn’t the artillery, because they stopped shooting 15 minutes before that, and nobody’s stupid enough to picnic around a dud artillery shell for 15 minutes until it goes off. But the artillery was firing at Qassam rockets a few hundred yards away, and those things are completely unguided — it might have been one of them. But no, we looked at some of the fragments we took from the victims, and they don’t match a Qassam, but seem to indicate a land mine of some kind.

So let’s look at some of the circumstantial evidence.

  • There was a Palestinian film crew on the scene that captured the grief-stricken girl who lost most of her family in the blast at the very instant she discovered she was the sole survivor.
  • Hamas immediately cleaned up the blast area, removing all physical evidence from the scene.
  • Hamas has announced the ending of their cease fire (which is a more obscene joke than any variant ever told of “The Aristocrats,” as there has been an unending stream of attacks since the “cease-fire” was first announced) and intends to resume attacking Israel.

Here’s a possible scenario: Hamas plants the mine in the sand, then sets up a rocket firing point nearby. They start shooting rockets into Israel. As is usual, Israel starts shooting back (filthy Jews!). The bomb goes off, killing a bunch of innocents nearby. The film crew, safely placed out of blast range, rushes in to document the dead and injured. Presto! Instant PR coup against Israel for blowing up a bunch of beachgoers. The only things they did wrong was set off the bomb a little late (perhaps no innocents were close enough when Israel was actively shelling the rocket emplacement) and letting some of the victims get taken to Israeli hospitals, where doctors could collect some of the fragments Hamas couldn’t get rid of.

But pesky things like actual proof aren’t stopping some folks. The Saudi Royal Rubber Stamp Cabinet issued a strong condemnation of Israel for having one of its warships shoot up the Palestinian beach (apparently they missed some of the latter revisions to the script). And the international media is giving the Palestinian and Israeli stories equal play, hoping to strike a balance on who to blame and sparing themselves the agony of doing actual investigating.

And the Palestinians have themselves a new symbol of their oppression. 10-year-old Houda Ghalia was wounded in the blast, which killed her father and five of her siblings. Footage of her anguish moments after the blast have been broadcast, repeatedly, around the world.

How amazingly fortunate that camera crew was on hand so soon.

(Dafydd ab Hugh and Sachi of Big Lizards have done yeoman’s work on this story — see their analyses here and here.)

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