Palestinian women weep as one holds the shrouded body of a child killed by an Israeli strike

A Palestinian woman holds the shrouded body of a child killed in Israeli bombardment of the Tel al-Sultan neighborhood in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 26, 2024.

(Photo: Eyad Baba/AFP via Getty Images)

Netanyahu Under Fire After Calling Rafah Massacre a 'Tragic Mistake'

"This was intentional," said U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib. "You don't accidentally kill massive amounts of children and their families over and over again and get to say, 'It was a mistake.'"

Palestine defenders on Monday blasted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for claiming the previous day's bombing of a refugee camp in Gaza that killed at least 50 people and injured dozens more—many of them women and children—was a "tragic mistake."

The attack on the tent encampment in the Tal al-Sultan neighborhood—an Israeli-designated "safe zone" in the southern city of Rafah—ignited an inferno that burned people alive inside the tents in which they were sheltering. Graphic images showed charred and melted tents and bodies, including a small child whose head was missing.

Israeli officials—who habitually deny Israel Defense Forces (IDF) massacres—admitted to carrying out the strike, which they said killed two top Hamas members.

"Despite our utmost efforts not to harm innocent civilians, last night, there was a tragic mistake," Netanyahu told members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, on Monday. "We are investigating the incident and will obtain a conclusion because this is our policy."

However, critics were quick to refute the "mistake" narrative.

"This was intentional. You don't accidentally kill massive amounts of children and their families over and over again and get to say, 'It was a mistake,'" U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said in a social media post to President Joe Biden. "Genocidal maniac Netanyahu told us he wants to ethically cleanse Palestinians. When are you going to believe him, POTUS?"

Progressive U.S. lawmakers, human rights campaigners, and parties to the South Africa-led genocide case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) are among those who have flagged what they call statements of genocidal intent by Israeli government and military officials. Netanyahu has likened Palestinians to the Amalekites, an ancient mythical foe of the Jews whom the God of the Hebrew Bible commanded the Israelites to exterminate. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called Palestinians "human animals" while announcing the "complete siege" of Gaza.

Former Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth said: "It stops being a 'tragic mistake' when the Israeli government keeps killing large numbers of Palestinian civilians. The problem is the rules of engagement that permit attacks with little regard for Palestinian civilians. Are they mere 'human animals'?"

Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation, said on social media that "it wasn't a 'tragic mistake.' It was genocidal policy."

Last week, the ICJ ordered Israel to "immediately" halt its Rafah offensive. Israel ignored the order and kept attacking the city.

Also last week, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan said he is formally seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant, and three Hamas leaders for alleged crimes against humanity including extermination committed on and after the October 7 attacks that left more than 1,100 Israelis and foreign nationals dead and over 240 others taken hostage. At least some of the victims were killed by so-called "friendly fire."

More than 128,000 Palestinians have been killed or injured by Israeli bombs and bullets since October 7, according to Gaza officials, who count at least 11,000 missing people—who are presumed dead and buried beneath the rubble of hundreds of thousands of bombed-out buildings—among that grim toll.

Despite these staggering casualties—and Israel's forced displacement, starvation, and deprivation of millions of Gazans—the United States continues to support its top Middle Eastern ally with billions of dollars in arms and with diplomatic and political support including United Nations Security Council vetoes and genocide denial.

"How many times are we going to hear, it was a 'mistake' before we take serious action against Netanyahu?" U.S. Congresswoman Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) asked. "How does anyone justify his administration? Every single moment that we supply arms, send money, and make excuses makes us absolutely complicit in his barbaric war of death against Palestinians. Enough!"

Democratic strategist Waleed Shahid contended that "Biden supplying Netanyahu with weapons while issuing his hundredth call for restraint is like a bartender serving drinks to an alcoholic while urging sobriety."

"Biden's backing of Netanyahu's war is rooted in a hierarchy of human value, an empathy gap that perpetuates suffering, violence, and distrust," he added. "Cutting off American weapons is the only way to isolate Netanyahu to prevent further killing of women and children in what has become the largest slaughter of Palestinian civilians since Israel's founding in 1948."

Some critics said this would be a good time to follow through on his threats to cut off U.S. arms shipments to Israel if it invaded Rafah.

"The mass killing of civilians seeking refuge, whether by mistake or otherwise, is exactly what President Biden said would be unacceptable about an Israeli offensive in Rafah," Center for International Policy vice president for government affairs Dylan Williams said in a statement. "Biden shouldn't wait for a pro forma Israeli investigation—he should stand by his word and halt arms right now."

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