On Friday 9 June, eight Palestinian civilians were killed in disputed circumstances by an explosion on a Gaza beach. Despite the contentious nature of the incident, and while the facts remained unclear, a number of NGOs immediately adopted Palestinian claims holding the Israeli army responsible, and used the opportunity to attack Israel politically. Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a press release on the alleged findings" of Marc Galasco, a former "battle damage expert", who held a widely broadcast press conference in Gaza. Galasco was also the author of HRW’s "Razing Rafah" report of 2004 which contained many unverifiable and disputed claims. Ignoring evidence presented by the IDF that concluded that the deaths were not caused by an Israeli shell, HRW claimed that "the evidence overwhelmingly supports the allegations that the civilians were killed by artillery shells fired by the IDF." (Forensic evidence taken by the IDF from casualties of the explosion, now being treated in Israel was inconsistent with this claim.) Galasco’s report included unverifiable Palestinian claims as well as testimony and "evidence" brought by the Palestinian police – an organization whose credibility is extremely low. While not questioning the Palestinian police claims, HRW rejected the information provided by the IDF, reflecting the HRW’s inherent bias. Similarly, it should be noted that no such investigation was undertaken on the source of more than 3000 rockets launched from Gaza at Israeli towns following the withdrawal in August 2005.
The political power of HRW and other NGOs ("the halo effect") is also underlined by this episode. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan accused Israel of causing this incident on the basis of media reports, which in turn repeated the claims made by HRW. But Annan then retracted the accusation, stating "I responded to speculations in the press. The answer was given before Israel published its findings. We need to wait for Israel to publish its final report."
Other NGOs also cited the incident in political attacks. In a press release of 12 June, the U.S. branch of Amnesty International (AI) accused Israel of responsibility for the incident, alleging that the casualties were caused when "Israeli forces fired several artillery shells at a beach in the North of the Gaza Strip." AI has not updated their position to include the evidence that contradicts these allegations. AI’s statement continued by denouncing IDF military practice saying, "many killings of Palestinians in reckless shootings, tank shelling and air strikes by Israeli forces have been unlawful." This position follows numerous other examples in which this powerful NGO has used a narrow interpretation of international law to promote a highly biased political agenda.
The Palestinian NGO known as Miftah (headed by Hanan Ashrawi) also issued a press release on 10 June calling on the international community to stop "Israel’s state-terrorism" and stated that the casualties were caused "when an Israeli navy vessel fired 3 shells at them." This doubtful claim reiterated the assertions in the highly controversial video distributed by Palestinian Authority TV, which Palestinian Media Watch reported to be falsified. According to PMW, the video was constructed from unrelated clips of an Israeli gunboat firing at the Gaza shore earlier in the day and then edited with images of the beach scene.
It is now widely accepted that Israeli ships were not responsible for the explosion). Using the standard language of the Durban strategy, Miftah, which received a $250,000 grant from the Ford Foundation in 2005, called the incident a "brutal massacre" and called on the international community to "hold Israel accountable for its war crimes against the Palestinians."
Al-Mezan, which is also funded by the Ford Foundation as well as the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and International Commission of Jurists among others, released a press statement on 11 June which called the incident a "savage massacre." Al Mezan also accused Israel of responsibility for the attack based on evidence gathered by "TV channels [which] reported that shells were fired from a naval ship located close to Beit Lahia beach." Al Mezan added that the incident "highlight[s] Israel’s organized killing of Palestinian civilians."
Similarly, PCHR based its claims that Israel was responsible for the incident on the falsified video, when it stated in a press release of 10 June that "the family was hit by artillery fired from an Israeli naval boat."