Israel starts investigating alleged Gaza abuses by its own forces
The Israeli Defense Forces are launching criminal probes into five cases of alleged misconduct and breach of international law by their own soldiers in the summer operation in the Gaza Strip. This will be part of a series totaling 99 investigations.
The probes will include an investigation into the infamous bombing of a UN-run school, among other cases.
Forty-four of the investigations ordered by the country’s Chief Military Prosecutor, Major-General Dani Efroni, are already under way. Twelve of these have been completed, with results already at the military prosecutor’s office.
Some of the more prominent investigations are the IDF’s actions on Rafah in the aftermath of the kidnapping of their soldier Hadar Goldin. The other has to do with the killing of four small children on July 18 on a Gaza beach. The UN school air strike is another (the initial probe failed to take into account that the school yard wasn’t empty at the time of the attack.)
Some incidents involve unnecessary and uncalled-for brutality, such as when a woman stepped out of her house and was shot by the IDF in spite of the fact that they knew of and agreed to her exit. Another police case involved a Palestinian man, arrested in late July, then beaten and used as a human shield.
One other probe centers on allegations of looting by an Israeli soldier of the Golani Brigade.
In the course of the ongoing investigations, Efroni determined that the law was not broken in seven of the examined cases. One such case involved an airstrike on a house during an IDF warning. The missile struck the house with people still inside, but the judge ruled it could not have been diverted.
An airstrike was involved in another such case, during which a car carrying a local Gaza reporter was struck. It was deemed by the judge that intelligence stating at the time that the car had weapons was grounds enough to suspect anyone traveling in the vehicle of being a terrorist.
Three more cases are being considered for investigation at this time – some involving the deaths of women and children.
A senior officer on the General Staff panel told Haaretz that “the teams are authorized to take all existing materials and testimony from soldiers and civilians… When there is a reasonable suspicion of a breach of international law, the military police go deeper. Not every criminal investigation reaches indictment and I thoroughly reject these statistics,” he said in reference to claims that the army hasn’t been very efficient at solving cases.
Statistics provided by the military police say that since November 2012, when the General Staff panel was put together, of the 20 investigations launched only eight ended in indictments, six were closed and the rest are still open.
The investigations coincide with two other important developments: the United Nations’ own investigation into the targeting of Gaza schools and the condemnation of Israel’s tactics by Human Rights Watch, which is intent on proving that Israel acted indiscriminately and used disproportionate firepower.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Al-Hayat newspaper the investigation will be separate from that being carried out by the UN Human Rights Council and dealing with the various war crimes. It will be carried out once the UNHCR probe is concluded and will include “the killing and wounding of United Nations personnel and the destruction of its facilities and to hold accountable those responsible.”
As far as school attacks go, Israel is alleging that their attacks were always in response to rocket fire coming from Gaza.
In the meantime, some already doubt the efficacy of Israel investigating its own – especially the Israeli human rights group B’Tselom.
"This is due to the experience that B'Tselem gained following past military offensives in the Gaza Strip, which shows that there is currently no official body in Israel capable of conducting independent investigations of suspected violations of international humanitarian law," they wrote on their website.
Palestinians, for their part, wish to take Israel to court at the highest level possible – to the International Criminal Court. They’re being told, however, that they’d have to join up first, and that would expose their militant group Hamas to criminal investigations just as well.
The idea for it to join the ICC actually came from Israel.
Hitting out at Israel was Human Rights Watch as well. Just as the IDF kicked off its own probe, the rights organization doubled down on existing allegations and prominent cases already being discussed, among them the shelling of the schools.
Its statement talks of three separate incidents – on July 24 and 30, and on August 3.
The attacks killed a total of 45 people, including 17 children, HRW said.
“Two of the three attacks Human Rights Watch investigated… did not appear to target a military objective or were otherwise unlawfully indiscriminate. The third attack in Rafah was unlawfully disproportionate if not otherwise indiscriminate.”
It also said: “Unlawful attacks carried out willfully — that is, deliberately or recklessly — are war crimes.”
“Israel has a long record of failing to undertake credible investigations into alleged war crimes,” HRW said – while the IDF, as mentioned earlier, has been criticizing any public attacks on its ability to do so.
Only in the later stages of Israel’s operation Protective Edge have international powers started to shift on their opinion of the Jewish state’s role in the Gaza Strip violence. Hamas, meanwhile, has long been called a terrorist organization by many international actors from the start.
The operation took more than 2,000 Palestinian lives, most of them civilians.