UN clears Israel of charge it killed baby in Gaza

Jerusalem had been blamed for death of BBC correspondent’s son during mini-war, but otherwise critical report finds shrapnel from Hamas misfire responsible

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Jihad Mishrawi speaks to the media, while carrying the body of his son Omar, on November 15, 2012. (photo credit: screenshot BBC)
Jihad Mishrawi speaks to the media, while carrying the body of his son Omar, on November 15, 2012. (photo credit: screenshot BBC)

A United Nations report cleared Israel in the death of the infant son of a BBC employee during Operation Pillar of Defense in November, instead fingering a misfired Palestinian rocket for the tragedy.

The November 14 strike left 11-month-old Omar Jihad al-Mishrawi and Hiba Aadel Fadel al-Mishrawi, 19, dead. The death of Omar, the son of BBC Arabic journalist Jihad al-Mishrawi, garnered more than usual media attention and focused anger for the death on Israel, which was initially blamed for the death.

Rather, the report suggests, a 19-year-old woman and a baby were hit by shrapnel from a rocket fired by Palestinians that was aimed at Israel, but missed its mark.

The report, released by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Wednesday, criticizes both Israel and the Palestinians for failure to abide by international law during the conflict.

Images of the bereaved father tearfully holding the corpse of his 11-month-old baby went around the world during Operation Pillar of Defense, the eight-day military campaign during which the Israeli Air Force carried out 1,500 airstrikes on Gaza and Palestinian terrorists fired about 1,500 rockets at Israel’s south.

Several press reports attributed the deaths to Israeli shrapnel that entered their home in the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City. In the wake of this incident and others during which Palestinian civilians were hurt, several human rights groups accused Israel of conducting its airstrikes without sufficient regard for civilians living in Gaza.

“BBC journalists tweeted that those killed in an Israeli airstrike included the sister-in-law and 11-month-old son of a BBC Arabic Service journalist, and that the journalist’s brother was seriously wounded,” Human Rights Watch stated in a November 15 press release. The human rights watchdog reports that Israel was responsible for the deaths based on “news reports and witnesses.”

On the same day, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights stated that “an Israeli warplane fired a missile at a house belonging to Ali Nemer al-Mishrawi in the al-Zaytoun neighborhood in the east of Gaza City. Two members of the family (a woman and a toddler) were killed: Hiba Aadel Fadel al-Mishrawi, 19; and Omar Jihad al-Mishrawi, 11 months.”

The baby’s father himself, Jihad al-Mishrawi, a photo editor, told BBC Arabic that his son and sister-in-law were killed by shrapnel that hit their home. “What did my son do to die like this? What was his mistake?” he said during an interview, holding his dead child.

But the UN report suggests the two members of the Mishrawi family were killed by a rocket fired by Palestinians and not by an Israeli airstrike.

“On 14 November, a woman, her 11-month-old infant, and an 18-year-old adult in al-Zaytoun were killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel,” the report states. A footnote explains that this case was “monitored” by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

NGO-Monitor, a watchdog group critical of anti-Israel bias among nonprofits involved in the Middle East conflict, issued a harsh statement slamming human rights groups and the media for having “fabricated” their versions of the event.

“These NGO allegations were particularly damaging due to powerful, widely circulated images of the grieving father of the child, who is a journalist. The NGO and corresponding media accounts worked together to demonize Israel for the death of an innocent child,” the organization said in a statement.

“Rather than applying consistent and professional standards to fact-finding, the claims of HRW and PCHR are often the products of instant speculation and the a-priori presumption of Israeli guilt. Later, when detailed evidence emerges that contradicts their allegations, these NGOs fail to publish apologies and retractions.”

Despite apparently exonerating the IDF from having killed the Mishrawis, the UNHRC report is deeply critical of its conduct during Operation Pillar of Defense.

The Israeli army, the reports says, “failed in many instances to respect international law.” It also did not “consistently uphold the basic principles of conduct of hostilities, namely, the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions,” according to the document. It further notes “the possible failure to take all necessary precautions” during airstrikes. “Concerns were also noted in relation to incidents in which media offices were destroyed and members of the media killed and injured.”

The report also takes the other side to task: “Palestinian armed groups continuously violated international humanitarian law, by launching indiscriminate attacks on Israel and by attacking civilians,” the report states.

According to the report, 174 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during Operation Pillar of Defense, at least 168 of them by the Israeli army. Of those casualties, 101 “are believed to be civilians,” including 33 children and 13 women. Six civilians, including three children, “may have been killed by rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups that landed in Gaza,” the report states.

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