A United Nations mission, led by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, met with Palestinian human rights organizations in Gaza this week to begin their investigation of a 2006 Israeli attack in Beit Hanoun. The delegation has spent the last 18 months wrangling with Israeli authorities to overturn their denial of a visa to the revered South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Israel routinely denies visas to those who critique Israeli policies, and Desmond Tutu found himself in this position when he applied for a visa in December 2006 and was denied. The delegation was scheduled to arrive in Gaza at that time, which would have made their investigation much more relevant, as the massacre took place in November 2006. Now, eighteen months later, the investigation will be much more difficult.
But Palestinian human rights groups have kept the evidence secure, and have tried to document everything they could about the incident. Since that time there have been hundreds of other incidents of civilian deaths at the hands of Israeli occupying forces, but none of these reached the world media as the killing of 19 civilians in a single incident in Beit Hanoun in 2006, so the other incidents are not to be investigated by the UN.
According to the Al Mezan Center, which met with the UN delegation, the Al Mezan Center briefed the delegation on the general situation in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli collective punishment measures and violations of human rights in the context in which the Beit Hanoun massacre occurred.
The Center reminded the Mission of the peaceful start of the second Intifada in September 2000 and the cruelty and violence the IOF used against unarmed demonstrators that led to a severe escalation of violence. Since that time, Gaza has seen hundreds of ground incursions and air attacks in which thousands of people were killed by the IOF. They also described in detail the military operation during which the Beit Hanoun massacre took place, which was called "Operation Autumn Clouds." This operation began on 1 November 2006 and continued until 28 November 2006, during which 104 people were killed, 346 people were injured, and vast destruction of infrastructure and properties occurred.
It was in this context that the Al Athamneh family's homes were selled by the Israeli military in November 2006, claiming the lives of 19 civilians, including seven children and six women. Seventeen of the victims were from one family.