8th Dec 2023

Israel vs. Palestine: One-Nil?

  • Soccer stadium with Israeli F16 'goals' (Photo: EUobserver)

Israel, last month, showed off the accuracy of its weapons by bombing a soccer stadium in Gaza, but civilian deaths and new settlements were diplomatic own goals.

At about 9AM local time on 17 November an Israeli F16 jet fired two missiles at a football field in Gaza City.

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  • Hole in wall of UNWRA school (Photo: EUobserver)

One of them hit a goalpost, leaving a 2-metre deep crater filled with sand and twisted metal.

The other one landed behind the opposite goal, just missing the goalposts, but creating another deep crater.

The two missile shots were part of an eight-day long war between Israel and Hamas, the militant Palestinian group in charge of Gaza.

And Israel's tactics prompted a joke by Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, who often played football in the same stadium with friends.

"They [Israel] scored a goal with their F16," he told EUobserver in Gaza on Sunday (2 December).

But there was nothing funny about the rest of what is being called the Eight-Day War.

The next day, an Israeli warplane hit the house of the al-Dalu family, also in Gaza City, killing 10 people and wounding nine others.

The dead included a one-year old baby, Ibrahim, two infant boys aged four and six, Yousef and Jamal, and a seven-year old girl named Sarah.

The Israeli air strikes killed about 180 people in total, almost half of them children and women.

Another victim was Marwa al-Qumsan, an Arabic teacher who worked for the UN refugee agency, UNWRA.

High-precision Israeli strikes also hit an UNWRA children's school, a Jordanian-run hospital, a sports centre for disabled people, several media buildings, mosques, olive farms, wells, and police stations.

"I worked as a surgeon for 30 years and I have never seen such injuries before. Some people came to us so badly burned that they were mummified. I don't know what kind of weapons can do this," Hamas health minister Mufeed Mkhallalati said in Gaza also on Sunday.

"Some had lost their limbs because of special shrapnel in what looked like surgical-type amputations," he said.

"Some had no visible injuries, but when we did a post mortem, we saw that their viscera were completely destroyed," he added.

On the other side, Hamas rockets hit several Israeli towns near Gaza, as well as the outskirts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

They killed six people, three of them - Etti Sarraf, Aharon Samdaga, and Isaac Amsalem - in one direct hit on a civilian home in the town of Kiryat Malachi.

For its part, the Israeli army said Palestinian civilians were killed either by accident or because Hamas was using them as "human shields".

Scott Anderson, the deputy head of UNWRA in Gaza, said: "If a militant is firing a rocket from a house where there are women and children inside and Israel fires on it, then both sides are to blame."

But another Gaza-based UN employee, who did not want to be named, said Hamas had not used civilian homes as cover.

"They [Hamas] fire from open ground. I can see how it happens from my balcony: The ground opens - whoosh! - the rocket comes, and the tunnel snaps shut again. Later, an Israeli jet appears and bombs the whole area," he told EUobserver.

"I don't think they [Israeli forces] target civilians. But they don't care if civilians die," the UN source said.

Hamas unrepentant

Unlike Israel, Hamas did not make any excuses for targeting Israeli homes.

Asked by EUobserver on Sunday if he felt sorry for the Israeli civilians killed by his rockets, Haniyeh said: "The occupying force [Israel] is the only one responsible for this carnage. The Israeli side started this occupation and started this war as well."

A senior Hamas official in its education ministry, Ahmed al-Najar, at an earlier meeting in Cairo, told EUobserver: "Thanks be to God we now have rockets that can hit Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem as well."

The EU listed Hamas as a terrorist entity in 2003.

As a result, there are no European diplomats in Gaza to see who did what.

But for the EU's ambassador to Israel, Andrew Standley in Tel Aviv, the Eight-Day War was one reason why 26 out 27 EU countries said Yes or abstained in a vote on upgrading Palestine's UN status 10 days later.

The UN vote would have been "quite different" if Israel had not just bombarded Gaza, the EU envoy said, according to Israeli daily the Jerusalem Post.

A handful of European MPs and MEPs did visit Gaza last week on an informal fact-finding mission.

And for them, the F16 soccer field goal-strikes also gave the lie to Israeli claims that Gaza civilian deaths were accidental.

"Given their [Israel's] boasts about the accuracy of their weapons, we have to ask why so many women and children are being killed," Pat Sheehan, an MP in the devolved parliament in Belfast, Northern Ireland, said.

"There's nothing to justify the aggression of the Israeli people against the Palestinian people," Portuguese left wing MEP Alda Sousa also said.

Israel's narrative

Meanwhile, Israel's decision to build 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank cost further sympathy in EU capitals.

Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, and the UK on Monday and Tuesday summoned Israeli ambassadors to issue complaints.

British foreign minister William Hague even raised the prospect of punitive measures.

"If there is no reversal of the [settler] decision that has been announced, we will want to consider what further steps European countries should take," he said in parliament on Monday.

"The Israeli occupation is now isolated," Haniyeh, the Hamas leader, told EUobserver in Gaza one day earlier.

"Israel's narrative, which transforms the aggressor into the victim and the victim into the aggressor, is no longer accepted," Haniyeh said.

Hamas appeals for talks with EU diplomats

The Prime Minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, has appealed to the EU to take his political and militant group, Hamas, off its terrorist register.

UN vote marks EU defeat for Israel

Just one EU country - the Czech Republic - voted against Palestine's bid to become a UN "observer state" on Thursday.

From Gaza to EU: one man's journey

The efforts of one Palestinian man to get to his scholarship at a European university show how cut off Gaza is from normality.

Israeli leader mocks EU 'dismay'

Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu has mocked EU "dismay" over his plan to split Palestine in three and take away its capital.

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