On 16 July, as Israel stepped up its attack, three shells fatally struck the four boys – Ismail Muhammad Baker, 9, Ahed Atif Baker and Zakaria Ahed Baker, both 10 years old, and 11-year-old Muhammad Ramiz Baker – on a beach at Gaza City’s port. Because the killings took place near a number of hotels, foreign and local press were on the scene within minutes and many witnessed it firsthand.
Israel subsequently tried to deny responsibility for their deaths, claiming that the flimsy metal shack the boys were in at the time they died was a Hamas military base. Yesterday, the Israeli investigation was closed and absolved Israeli forces of any wrongdoing.
“From the factual findings collected by the investigators, it revealed that the incident took place in an area that had long been known as a compound belonging to Hamas’s Naval Police and Naval Force (including naval commandos), and which was utilized exclusively by militants,” Israeli military spokesperson Peter Lerner wrote on Facebook yesterday.
“It further found in the course of the investigation (including from the affidavits provided by Palestinian witnesses), that the compound was known to the residents of the Gaza Strip as a compound which was used exclusively by Hamas’s Naval Police,” Lerner continued.
Yet, the area in question is located directly in front of the Roots hotel and is used by Gaza fishermen and civilians alike – a fact that has been well-documented by journalists and human rights groups.
Witnesses said the boys had been playing football on the beach shortly before the attack took their lives.
“Eyewitness testimony from the day an Israeli air strike that killed four boys on a Gaza beach suggests that soldiers should have known that they were targeting a beach used by civilians,” Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division, told The Electronic Intifada by email.
“If Israel is now saying their forces could not have reasonably known that their rocket fire might harm civilians, it should disclose the evidence to support this claim, including its aerial surveillance,” she added.
Dylan Collins, an independent photojournalist who was in Gaza during the war, arrived at the site right after the third shell struck the beach. “In the doorway of the blown-out shack lay a small torso,” he recounted at Al Jazeera America the following day. “At first, I thought that was all that was left of the fourth boy, but as other medics arrived on scene, they quickly unearthed the rest of his little body.”
Speaking to the Associated Press, the father of one of the boys dismissed Israel’s investigation. “There is no justice in the internal investigation,” Muhammad Baker said. “We are counting on the ICC [International Criminal Court] and human rights [groups]. We are not afraid and we are confident we will win because the world is with us.”
The Baker boys were among the more than 2,200 Palestinians – the vast majority civilians – killed by Israel during the seven-week military offensive in Gaza. Defence for Children International–Palestine has verified the deaths of 535 children as a direct result of Israeli attacks.
Israel’s decision to close the investigation is part of a broader pattern of impunity for soldiers who committed atrocities against Palestinians during the Gaza onslaught.
According to dozens of testimonies collected by the Israeli group Breaking the Silence, soldiers were ordered to target Palestinian civilians during the war.
“The instructions are to shoot right away. Whoever you spot – be they armed or unarmed, no matter what,” one soldier told Breaking the Silence. “The instructions are very clear. Any person you run into, that you see with your eyes – shoot to kill. It’s an explicit instruction.”
Despite the shocking testimonies and evidence suggesting intentional atrocities, Israel has yet to face any meaningful consequences for its actions in Gaza.
Earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon caved in to pressure from the United States and Israel and removed Israel from an official list of serious violators of children’s rights compiled based on months of evidence-gathering by the office of the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.
“The secretary-general’s decision to place politics above justice and accountability for Palestinian children has provided Israeli forces with tacit approval to continue committing grave violations against children with impunity,” Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer at Defence for Children International – Palestine, told The Electronic Intifada.
- Gaza Strip
- Sarah Leah Whitson
- Human Rights Watch
- Associated Press
- Muhammad Bakr
- Dylan Collins
- Breaking the Silence
- United Nations OCHA
- Muhammad Ramiz Bakr
- Ahed Atef Bakr
- Zakaria Ahed Bakr
- Ismail Mahmoud Bakr
- Defence for Children International-Palestine Section
- Brad Parker
- United Nations
- Peter Lerner