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Pause for thought in Atufah

Mark Urban | 19:38 UK time, Thursday, 12 February 2009

GAZA - We were out filming at the scene of some of the recent fighting today, in a place called Atufah, a neighbourhood east of Gaza City where the town meets the surrounding farmers' fields.

Whereas we are used to struggling to reconcile the different versions given by Israelis and Palestinians, today it was an inconsistency within the local narrative that gave me pause for thought.

People in Atufah had a very hard time during January's Israeli incursion. We met many locals and all told us they had fled when Israeli tanks appeared on Tel el Rais, a hill overlooking their homes.

Adil al Jidba's story was particularly harrowing. He had fled to a relative's home three kilometres away, but after they arrived in that supposed place of sanctuary, he told us three of his children had been killed by Israeli shells.

When people say they fled Atufah, I believe them because it must have been a very dangerous place to be. Many of the building showed the scars of Israeli fire. Some were completely destroyed. I examined fragments of ordnance or rounds that hadn't gone off: tanks shells, 120mm mortar rounds, and heavy machine bullets.

I even saw signs of the now notorious white phosphorous smoke rounds. The Israeli army reportedly told its soldiers not to take any chances with their own security, and that appears to have been their approach in Atufah.

The problem I have with the local narrative is this. When we asked whether Palestinian fighters had been shooting at the Israelis from their neighbourhood they all said no. But how could they know that, if they hadn't been there? They had fled.

Some people, like Mr al-Jidba and a few others we spoke to, also asserted the right of "mujahdeen" to confront the Israelis in order to prevent them taking any more Palestinian land. Many overseas, I suspect, would sympathise with the right of the Palestinians to resist that invasion. It's just that from everything we heard today, nobody was resisting from Atufah.

The Israelis maintain of course that they were taking fire from the area we filmed in. How else do you explain the amount of shooting they did at Atufah? The Palestinian answer would be that the shooting was unprovoked, malicious, and illustrates the inhumanity of the Israelis.

My own instinct is that while the Israelis may have used what their ministers readily term disproportionate fire aganst Palestinian fighters, the bullets were not all travelling in one direction.


  • Comment number 1.

    Mark - there's an interesting account just appeared in The Lancet from two hospital surgeons based in Gaza entitled "The Wounds of Gaza."

    They report their observations on the type of wounds and injuries treated, which appear to suggest new weapons and compounds have been used.

    There's a lot in their for report for journalistic follow-up.

  • Comment number 2.


    I have posted before on the parallels between the munitions scientist who feels a buzz as he conceives some unspeakably diabolical instrument (as described in the link above) and the Nazi 'extermination technologist' hitting on an improvement in 'efficiency'.
    Each goes home 'for tea' to a civilised lifestyle.

    The fault lies in ourselves; it was exposed by Zimbardo; we just don't want to know, let alone address its antidote.

    Britain is at the forefront of arms design and sales? Did a Briton devise and develop the Tungsten or DIME weapons described?
    Mote and Beam time for a 'Christian' country?

  • Comment number 3.

    So we have confirmation of WP. How about cluster?

    civilians tell conflicting stories? unlike the idf who always tell the truth?

    hopefully this time NN will use Gaza access to build up some contacts so when the next time happens [there will be a next time?] they have someone on the inside who can upload evidence via satellite?

  • Comment number 4.


    thanks for the link. It would be worth your while - and that of Newsnight - to look further in to the use of DIME weapons in the Gaza bloodbath. A "focussed lethality" weapon designed in the US, damage to buildings and infrastructure is minimised, while the wounds inflicted on people are terrible almost beyond our comprehension.

    Essentially explosives wrapped in a tungsten alloy, when the weapons detonate, the casing disintegrates and the tungsten alloy becomes a fine micro-shrapnel. The focused, powerful blasts themselves cause serious multiple fractures and amputations, muscle is split from bone and burning is severe. Those ultra-fine particles of shrapnel follow that up, causing septicemia and multiple organ failure and, being so small and so numerous, are very rarely treatable by surgery. Beyond even that, the tungsten will almost certainly cause rhabdomyosarcoma, a particularly deadly cancer, in those who have had the tungsten enter their bodies.

    All this in one of the most densely populated areas on the face of the planet. And we are expected to believe that 'every precaution' was taken to minimise civilian casualties?

    Rather than that Gaza was used as something akin to a laboratory for the newest experimental weapons?

  • Comment number 5.

    Mark Urban,

    Thanks for a rare post from the BBC - a thoughtful article that acknowledges the possibility that the Palestinians can be economical with the truth.

    It was evident that the Palestinians were fabricating the death toll, especially that of children, when it suddenly jumped without corresponding reports to corroborate the quick increase.

    The IDF has revised the death toll down, from 1300 to 1134, of which 673 were Hamas terrorists and 288 women and children under 16. Those are the initial findings, with the investigation still to be completed.

    However, the Israel-bashing brigade will take the most extreme figures, like "400 dead children" and use them as a club with which to bash Israel. Obviously even one dead child is a tragedy but we need to get to the truth of the matter. We also need to establish the role Hamas played in endangering the civilians of Gaza.

    The lefty media, including the BBC, has proven itself an unreliable source of news with its unquestioning acceptance of Palestinian reports along with its critical approach to those of Israel. And it has also, consciously or otherwise, helped to whip up anger against Israel.

    So it is good to see this rare example of healthy skepticism from the BBC.

  • Comment number 6.

    Dear Mark Urban

    i dont quite understand your assertion of an inconsistency with the local narrative, and the point about how the locals had fled so they wouldnt know. Of course, they would know there was no fire from there before they fled. If they were there when the Israeli fire came in, and if they saw no fire going out, that at least explains their answer.

    And as for your last point, about "bullets" - bullets are a possibility, after the Israelis attacked perhaps? But you do know the white phosphorous artillery, tank shells, Apache helicopter cannons and F16 fighter jet bombs were all travelling in just the one direction. You do know the Palestinians dont have artillery, tanks, helicopters and planes, dont you?

    Do you know if the Israelis took any casualties when attacking Atufah, or do you think palestinian fighters merely teased the Israeli tanks and planes by uselessly firing "bullets" at them? Firing "bullets" at the attacking Israeli forces would have been about as much use as standing around naked on top of a house waving a Hamas flag at them.

    all the best

  • Comment number 7.

    Mr Urban,

    In your blog report on Gaza, you talk about the “problem I have with the local narrative” and your “instinct ... that while the Israelis may have used what their ministers readily term disproportionate fire against Palestinian fighters, the bullets were not all travelling in one direction.”

    Besides your condescending tone, akin to a latter-day colonialist casting doubt on those 'pesky natives', might it be worth considering the more elementary possibility that the bullets coming from the other direction may have been fired as a form of legitimate resistance against a ruthless aggressor intent on maximizing the killing of Palestinian civilians?

    You also imply in your latter remark that Israeli ministers had expressed honest acceptance of undue force. That's a very generous interpretation considering the pre-planned slaughter of over 1300 Palestinians by Olmert, Livni, Barak et al.

    We now know that there was no indiscriminate bombing. Rather, it was a calculated campaign of mass murder intent on targeting schools, hospitals, mosques, food and medicine relief buildings, ambulances, police offices and other civil infrastructure; a deliberate exercise in terrorising an entire population.

    This is a grossly misleading and pernicious report posing as 'even-handed' assessment while smearing Palestinian witnesses as largely responsible for the annihilation. You may wish to recall the many statements issued by the UN and other humanitarian groups calling Israel's actions “war crimes”.

    The real deceit here lies not in the “local narrative”, but in the BBC/Urban narrative. Even in the face of such obvious Israeli savagery, the BBC still manages to implicate the victims.

    John Hilley

  • Comment number 8.

    Dear Mark Urban

    You said: "The Israelis maintain of course that they were taking fire from the area we filmed in. How else do you explain the amount of shooting they did at Atufah?"

    Anyone would think you had absolutely no knowledge of any incident where Israelis had shot at and killed unarmed civilians.

    It seems the Israeli army need little or no excuse to do so, certainly not one of taking fire. There is the incident with the girl who wandered into a no-go area in Gaza and was shot dead by an Israeli officer (he emptied his gun into her didnt he?) who insisted he would have done so even if the girl had been three years old. Then there's the case of the Tom Hurndall ( intentionally killing a peace activist in broad daylight by an Israeli soldier who later said his commanders had issued orders allowing him to shoot even unarmed civilians). And a quick look at the rememberthesechildren website at how many children who were shot mostly with shots to the head and chest by Israelis gives many more examples that might explain the amount of shooting they did at Atufah.

    Because they keep getting away with murder perhaps? Whilst the rape of Palestinian land in the West Bank carries on.

    There may well have been bullets fired from Atufah, but considering everything else was it worth commenting on, especially as any bullets may have been fired after the local residents in question had fled, thereby being consistent with said local narrative.

    Really, why waste your time, effort, BBC webspace and my money and such matters as whether you managed to interview anyone who actually saw bullets being fired from Atufah - i suspect that if there was anyone who stayed to fire bullets (or stand on a roof naked waving a Hamas flag) they would have all been killed anyway.

    all the best

  • Comment number 9.

    True Too,

    whatever the casualty figures really are, as long as Israel considers its own to be children until they are 18 years old the same standard must be applied to the Palestinians.

  • Comment number 10.

    Mark Urban,

    It really is a waste of time posting that there is a possibility that ANYONE can be ecomonical with the truth, never mind those under a brutal murderous occupation

    It was evident from the off that Israel fabricated the excuses for the onslaught on Gaza, that killed so many and destroyed so much. Claiming as they did that there had been daily rocket fire. We need to get to the truth.

    if it turns out there was only 288 women and children under 16 killed, then i dont know what the all fuss was about, i think anyone who dared to critisize Israel owes an apology. I mean, a figure of 400 children is worth bashing Israel with, but the revised figure, well, hardly worth bothering with is it. And of course, establishing the role Israel played in endangering the civilians ought to be off the agenda.

    The lefty media, including the BBC, has proven itself an unreliable source of news with its unquestioning acceptance of Israeli claims of daily rocket fire and that Hamas broke the ceasefire (with very few notable exceptions - More4 News for example). Palestinian reports along with its critical approach to those of Israel. And it has also, consciously or otherwise, helped to whip up anger against Israel.

    So it is good to see this rare example of healthy skepticism from the BBC.

  • Comment number 11.

    For goodness sake, what is wrong with my keyboard that it keeps doing that!

  • Comment number 12.

    Dear Mr Urban,

    I do understand your point - I have been asking myself the very same question:
    Surely, there must have been some fighting, somewhere. Alas, according to Ha'aretz, the Israeli Army's own assessment is that there was very little fighting, indeed:

    "[...] what happened in the Strip was essentially a military operation characterized by advancing forces in hostile territory, densely populated by civilians, without facing a military force."

    Since the army "decided to avoid endangering the lives of soldiers, even at the price of seriously harming the civilian population" they bombed houses at the mere suspicion of fighters or mines being present, hence "there were no instances in which there was a need to assault homes where Hamas fighters were holed up". Supporting this assessment are the number of casualties on the Israeli Army side (seven Israeli soldiers killed by Hamas et al, 4 in own fire incident and 336 wounded) and the fact that the camp set up to imprison fighters remained virtually empty.

    I have found a few articles were Palestinians freely state that there were fighters in their neighbourhood (but not Atufah) or that rockets used to be launched from their fields, but these are few indeed. I understand it is customary to accuse Palestinians of lying about Israel's actions but the statements given to you would normally be considered as truthful, given that to your interviewees' knowledge there were no fighters present as they left their homes and they will also have contacts able to tell them if fighters entered the area afterwards. Maybe you could ask Amnesty International to check for you, they have done so already for other journalists and have consistently found no evidence supporting Israeli claims (so far).

    Bullets certainly travelled one way in this fight; 2000lb bombs, DIME explosives, white phosphorous and flechette shells and other rockets as well as bullets travelled the other way. Please do not continue the BBC fanatasy of an evenly matched fight when even the Israeli Army now admits, Hamas is not Hezbollah, neither in equipment, training, territory nor numbers.

    The casualty figures also show quite clearly that this was a one sided fight. The Al-Mezan Centre is the most conservative in its numbers as:

    "[...] it only confirms a death after it has interviewed individual families, and methodically checked names, ages and addresses.

    It has told the BBC that 1,268 people were killed, among them 288 children and 103 women."

    The Al-Mezan Centre is still investigating 43 deaths, the Red Cross has also raised concerns about 115 additional Palestinians from Gaza who were reported missing as of 27 Jan.

    P.S. I do not accept Hamas' figures as to the casualties on the Israeli side and equally so do not accept the off-site surveillance assessment by the Israeli Army. If France attacked Britain I would expect casualty figures for each side from their own authorities and would certainly not accept a French assessment of British casualties.

  • Comment number 13.

    no, naturally we are also there to search for inconsistencies in the IDF version too. Look out for our piece in Tuesday.

    the local people were saying to us that they weren't there, they all fled. Our local producer confirmed the idea that the local population de-camped. It seems entirely understandable under the circs, but equally that's why one can't put much reliance on their assurances about what may or may not have been happening in their absence. What's wrong with using instinct ? 20 years of covering conflict tells me that often clear cut answers can be elusive.
    As for my suggesting Palestinians were "largely responsible for the annihilation", that's nonsense that I can't accept. I didn't do that, I simply drew attention to something in the local mindset that emerged in answers to my questions.

    Self evidently there were attempts to fight the incursions because they claimed the lives of several Isareli soldiers and Hamas released video of some of its operations.
    Equally the Ha'aretz comment you quote is a statement of the obvvious - that there was no organised military resistance of the kind you would expect from an enemy army. Either way, I would agree that we are talking about small scale guerrilla-type actions.
    I think you are right that the Israeli army tried to send a signal to its troops and public that the 'gloves were off' in terms of using heavy force against perceived threats. The legality or otherwise of such orders will presumably be a matter for future court cases...

  • Comment number 14.

    i take it mark urban is busy with his next blog entry based on the Likud charter.

    A charter that is against international law, the roadmap and other peace plans. Against the will of the so called international community, pitching Israel alone in the rejectionist camp.

    He's probably going to put a title up something like

    "Likud rejects Palestinian recognition"

    "Likud win sets world a conundrum"

    "Will Likud ever recognise Palestinian statehood"

    and there will no doubt be such headlines as

    "Likud pressured to accept a Palestinian state"

    "Likud rejects pressure to change"

    and he'll do a whole programme on the Likud charter and how Israel's history has always been about Zionist invaders dispossessing the Palestinians and making a Jewish state on the whole area. A programme about the inconsistencies of the Israeli narrative as it talks peace and makes war. and how his instinct tells him that it has always been about that, that that is what Israel's identity is, and always will be unless someone from outside puts a stop to it.


  • Comment number 15.

    Oh, and Jon Leyne is going to join him and write something like -

    Without Likud's agreement to recognise a viable Palestinian state, it is hard to see how foreign aid money can flow again to the Israelis without clearly engaging in double standards.

    He'll go on to explain

    It is the issue that refuses to go away, despite lavish doses of wishful thinking. The refusal by Likud to recognise the existence of a viable Palestinian state blocked the formation of a government of national unity with Kadima.

    For Likud the issue is, literally, a question of theology.

    He'll quote the charter

    "The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. ... Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel"


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