UN: Gazan fire may have killed BBC journalist's baby

Report on Operation Pillar of Defense blames Palestinian rocket launchers for death after Israel said targeting civilians.

Jihad al-Masharawi  (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)
Jihad al-Masharawi
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)
Palestinian rocket fire may have killed the 11-month-old son of BBC journalist Jihad Misharawi during the Gaza conflict last November, according to the draft copy of a United Nations report on Operation Pillar of Defense.
The photo of an anguished Misharawi holding his son Omar’s small, shroud-wrapped body in the hospital on November 14, the first night of the eight-day war, became symbolic of the tragic toll the conflict took on Gazans.
Separately, a photo of a smiling Omar Misharawi was circulated on Facebook and Twitter, including by those who wanted to accuse Israel of war crimes and intentionally targeting civilians during that conflict.
But in a surprising turn of events, the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Navi Pillay last Wednesday issued a preliminary report on the operation blaming Palestinian rockets in Gaza for the child’s death.
In the report, which Pillay is scheduled to present to the UN Human Rights Council on March 18, she stated: “On 14 November, a woman, an 11-month-old infant, and an 18-year-old adult in Al- Zaitoun [in Gaza] were killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.”
On Monday, in the wake of media reports, her office (OHCHR) clarified that the baby cited in that report was Omar Misharawi. OHCHR said its results were not conclusive, but that field research its staff had conducted in Al- Zaitoun in December appeared to indicate that a Palestinian rocket had fallen on the Misharawi home.
Field workers visited the home and spoke with eyewitnesses, according to OHCHR.
It noted that Misharawi’s home was located near an area used by armed Palestinian groups to launch rockets against Israel, and as such it was also targeted by Israel’s air force.
Jihad Misharawi told the BBC that he believed the UN report was “rubbish,” saying the UN had not contacted him about the report and that Palestinian groups would apologize to the family if they had been responsible.
According to Pillay’s report, the IAF executed over 1,500 air strikes on Gaza, while the navy conducted another seven strikes and shot 360 mortar shells into the Hamas-controlled area.
Armed Palestinian groups in Gaza, in turn, fired 765 homemade rockets, 741 long-range Grad rockets and 135 mortar shells at Israel, according to the report. Six Israelis, including four civilians, were killed in those strikes, the report noted.
It further stated that of the 174 Palestinians who died in the conflict, the IDF killed 168; among them were 33 children and 13 women. Another six Palestinians were killed by rockets launched in Gaza, including one woman and three children, according to the report.
In its statement on Thursday, OHCHR said it believed Misharawi was one of those children possibly killed by Palestinian rocket fire because the damage to the family’s home was not consistent with the physical harm caused by an Israeli air strike.
“Israeli attacks normally result in serious structural damage,” OHCHR said, adding that in this case “there was no significant structural damage.” Instead, it noted, there was “primarily incendiary damage” to the home.
“This is consistent both with the type of injuries suffered by the victims, as well as the descriptions of eyewitnesses who reported that something resembling a large fire ball struck the roof of the house,” OHCHR said.
Homemade rockets typically have a fuse and explosives in the front, as well as a propellant charge for the fuel, OHCHR said.
The Foreign Ministry, which has cut its ties with the Human Rights Council and Pillay’s office, had no response to the report.
The scope of Pillay’s 17-page report went well beyond Misharawi’s death, which involved only one line, and dealt mainly with the conflict in its entirety.
More than half of the report focused on Israeli actions and included a description of Gaza civilian fatalities and structural damage.
The report noted that media and medical buildings were hit during the strikes, and that two journalists were killed. But its language was more tempered then that of past reports on Israeli military actions against Gaza, and its conclusions were more balanced. In some cases it used harsher language to describe Palestinian actions.
It said that all parties to the conflict, Gaza Palestinians and the IDF, had failed to respect international law.
The IDF, it said, “did not consistently uphold the basic principles of conduct of hostilities, namely, the principles distinction, proportionality and precautions.” The Palestinian armed groups, it said, “continuously violated international humanitarian law, by launching indiscriminate attacks on Israel and by attacking civilians, thereby disregarding the principle of distinction. The armed groups failed to take all feasible precautions in attacks, in particular by launching rockets from populated areas, which put the population at grave risk.”
Pillay’s report also charged that Hamas’s killing of seven alleged collaborators in Gaza during the conflict was a “violation of their right to life and of international humanitarian law.”