"Completely absurd" statements. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rejected accusations by the Palestinian Authority (PA) that the IDF "bombed" Israeli civilians at the Reims music festival, where 364 people died on October 7, according to Israeli police.
Today, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah said something utterly preposterous. It denied that it was Hamas that carried out the horrible massacre at the nature festival near Gaza. It actually accused Israel of carrying out that massacre. This is a complete reversal of truth pic.twitter.com/3paAPCegoi
— Prime Minister of Israel (@IsraeliPM) November 19, 2023
The accusations, made in a statement by the PA Foreign Ministry on Sunday, are based on an article in the Israeli daily Haaretz published in the old year. Here's what we know.
What does this article say?
The Haaretz article cites the findings of a police investigation into the deaths of 364 attendees. According to a police source, quoted by the Israeli daily, this investigation would indicate that "an IDF helicopter gunship that arrived at the scene and fired at terrorists apparently also hit some of the festival's participants." The Israeli daily did not specify whether it had access to the report and did not give further details.
VIDEO. May Hayat returns to the scene of the Rave party attacked by Hamas
The article does not say whether these people were killed by the gunfire. But that's what the Hamas-linked news agency Quds said on Saturday. In a message on X (formerly Twitter), relaying the Haaretz article, she wrote that the investigation cited by Haaretz "concluded that an Israeli military helicopter killed Israelis during the Rav Nova on October 7." This accusation has also been made by many pro-Palestinian accounts.
Does a video prove it?
On social media, these messages are sometimes accompanied by a video – also relayed by Quds – purporting to show Israeli shooting at civilians. As several media outlets, including Libération, have written, this sequence is actually taken from a video montage published on X by the Israeli army on October 9.
מטוסי חיל האוויר מבצעים לאורך כל היממה האחרונה תקיפות נרחבות לאורכה ולרוחבה של רצועת עזה וממיטים הרס וחורבן על מחבלי חמאס. רק בשלוש השעות האחרונות נתקפו כ-130 מטרות באמצעות עשרות מטוסים. מוקדי התקיפה: בית חאנון, סג׳עיה, אל פורקן ורימאל>> pic.twitter.com/vuzQtK4yly
— צבא ההגנה לישראל (@idfonline) October 9, 2023
The IDF said the montage reported "large-scale attacks" carried out by the air force "along the entire length and width of the Gaza Strip" on that date, which had "wreaked havoc among Hamas terrorists." The excerpt (from 2:06) that accompanies the messages accusing the Israeli army was captured by the viewfinder of a helicopter. It shows gunfire at vehicles and people who appear to be running away on a road surrounded by fields.
According to the open-source intelligence group Geoconfirmed, the footage took place near the fence that separates Israel from the Gaza Strip, but on the Palestinian side. So they wouldn't be Israeli festival-goers.
How did Israeli helicopters retaliate on October 7?
Military helicopters were involved in the Israeli response to the Hamas attacks on 7 October. Several pilots testified to Israeli media about the great confusion that reigned that morning.
Upon arriving at the scene, one of them told Israeli media outlet Mako that he had been confronted from the air with "a dilemma as to who our forces are, who is the enemy, and who are the citizens." "The whole decision is now up to me, there's no one to talk to," the air force lieutenant colonel said. Claiming to have chosen targets for which "the chance of shooting hostages is low", another pilot acknowledged that it was not "100%", implying that he had been able to hit civilians.
Asked by Le Parisien whether Israeli civilians could have been killed by mistake on October 7, the IDF had not responded at the time of publication.
What reactions did the article elicit?
Contradicting the Haaretz report, Israeli police said Sunday that their investigations into the rave party massacre focused solely on its own activities, not those of the IDF. As a result, they provided "no indication of the harm caused to civilians by the air activity there," she said, according to The Times of Israel.
On Sunday, a statement from the Palestinian Authority's Foreign Ministry said that "the preliminary investigation conducted by the Israeli police proved that Israeli helicopters bombed Israeli civilians who had participated in the rave on October 7." "As a result, the ministry considers that the outcome of this investigation casts doubt on Israeli narratives regarding the destruction and massacres that have occurred in this area," the statement added, calling on "the media, UN officials and country leaders ... to revise their positions in the light of this."
Netanyahu slammed the accusations, calling them "completely absurd" on Sunday. The Israeli prime minister also suggested that the statements discredited the PA, which the United States would like to see in charge of the Gaza Strip at the end of the war. "My goal is that in the aftermath of the destruction of Hamas, any future civilian administration in Gaza will not deny the massacre," he said.
The PA Foreign Ministry statement was withdrawn on Monday morning, according to several Israeli media outlets.