Israelis are doing themselves a gross disservice, and playing into the hands of the Palestinians, by presuming that an Israeli shell caused the deaths of seven Palestinian civilians Friday in Gaza, Prime Minster Ehud Olmert's Foreign media advisor Ra'anan Gissin said Sunday. "We are repeating the same mistakes of the past in taking responsibility when there are other possibilities about who is responsible," Gissin said. He said that Friday's tragedy on the Gaza beach may indeed be similar to the shooting of Mohammed al-Dura in 2000, the "Jenin Massacre" in 2002, and the killing of 21 people at the Jabaliya refugee camp last September. While the Palestinians originally pinned the blame for all these incidents on Israel, it has since turned out that al-Dura may have been killed by Palestinians, that there was no "Jenin massacre," and that the deaths in Jabaliya were caused when Hamas activists "mishandled" explosives at a mass rally. Gissin said that Israel should immediately have raised doubts after Friday's incident about the Palestinian version of events that placed the blame squarely on Israel. "We jumped to conclusions before the evidence, and we immediately assumed that it was probably an Israeli shell," Gissin said. "But we don't know that for a fact. The Palestinians moved in and destroyed all the evidence. People should be asking themselves, 'why?' " Just as Israel is conducting an investigation, Gissin said that the international community should also be demanding that the Palestinians conduct an investigation. But rather than doing that, he said, the Palestinians are removing evidence from the scene. "We look at the area as a battle zone," Gissin said, "while the Palestinians view it as a crime scene, and are interested in making the evidence look like Israel carried out an atrocity," he said. Gissin said that the evidence "didn't add up" in Jenin to equal a massacre because there were not enough bodies, and in Jabaliya there were too many witnesses to what happened to buy the Hamas line that the explosion in 2005 was the result of missiles fired by an IDF helicopter. "But now we have a classic case where there is no real evidence, and all we have is a picture of a crying girl on the beach," Gissin said of Friday's incident in Gaza. "Nobody knows how the people there were killed. If it was an Israeli shell, why didn't the Palestinians invite the press to see the remnants of the shell, why have they been so quick to remove the evidence?" Gissin bemoaned a situation where he said that instead of waiting for the investigation, the Israeli press jumped to the conclusion that it was an errant Israeli shell and reflexively began calling for an end to artillery fire on Gaza. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, meanwhile, said that considering the circumstances, Israel weathered this particular storm in the foreign media "fairly well." Regev said that none of the serious international news outlets blamed Israel for intentionally targeting the civilians, and that most mentioned that Israel expressed regret and set up an investigation of the incident. Regev said that the Foreign Ministry and IDF coordinated Israel's reaction after the incident and that there were two main messages:
That Israel regretted the incident and expressed sorrow for it; that it deems the loss of innocent civilian life unacceptable; but that it was not taking responsibility because an investigation into exactly what happened was continuing.
That the violence in Gaza is a result of Palestinian extremist groups continuing to launch rockets on Israel even though Israel pulled out of Gaza 10 months ago and has neither a single settler nor soldier there.
Regev said that this message did not emphasize the possibility that the Palestinians may have been responsible for the blast, because no one at this point knows exactly what happened. Israel, he said, did stress that it was investigating the incident, and that it was premature to draw conclusions.