‘Their words are lies’: Palestinians furious as Israel clears troops of Gaza war crime allegations
The Israeli military on Wednesday closed seven alleged war crimes cases in which its forces were accused of causing civilian deaths. The decision came after an internal investigation in which testimonies from Gaza residents and Israeli officers were collected and compared.
“After reviewing the factual findings and the material collated by the FFA Mechanism (General Staff Mechanism for Fact-Finding Assessments), the MAG found that the targeting processes in question accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements,” a press release from the IDF Military Advocate General (MAG) reads.
The closed cases include the bombings of a United Nations school and a “European Hospital” in the Gaza strip, as well as three separate airstrikes on residential areas that killed 34 Palestinians.
The biggest loss of life took place in the southern Gaza town of Rafah on August 1, 2014, when 15 members of the Palestinian Zoroub family were killed. The IDF claims the house where the Zoroub family lived was at the time used as a command center by Hamas – the governing authority of the Gaza Strip but considered a terrorist organization by Israel – and that a senior Hamas commander, Nazmi Zoroub, was hiding in the building.
The army’s press release stated that the airstrike was in line with international law, which, in a state of war, allows attacks on buildings used for military purposes despite collateral damage.
“The decision to strike was taken by the competent authorities, and the objects of the attack were military targets – an active command and control center and military operatives affiliated with the Hamas terror organization,” the press release reads further.
“The attack complied with the principle of proportionality, as at the time the decision to attack was taken it was considered that the collateral damage expected to arise as a result of the attack would not be excessive in relation to the military advantage anticipated to result from it.”
However, Shaymaa Zoroub, a relative of the deceased, claimed the Israeli military’s findings were wrong, as do other Zoroub family members.
“Their words are lies, we did not have anybody [from resistance] and my father did not know Nazmi. We didn’t hide resistance fighters [in the house], and basically my father did not deal with them. They [the IDF] just want an excuse to justify themselves,” the woman told AP.
The IDF claimed it looked into some 360 complaints regarding the 2014 conflict and launched 31 criminal probes. So far, 13 of them were closed, with the only criminal charges filed against three Israeli soldiers accused of looting.
Following Wednesday’s decision, Palestinian authorities officially urged the International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC), which had previously launched a preliminary examination into the alleged war crimes in the Gaza conflict, to speed up its investigation.
“After Israel’s official position clearing itself of any responsibility and confirming its commitment to the practice of war crimes, we believe it is time for the [ICC] to act,” a statement from PLO Secretary General Dr Saeb Erekat reads.
“To accept the outcome of the Israeli ‘investigation’ would set a dangerous precedent […] The international community has a responsibility to protect the Palestinian people from the belligerent Israeli military occupation and put an end to Israel's impunity for all the crimes committed against the land and people of Palestine.”
“This is not a surprising decision by the Israeli Army,” Ronnie Barkan, a Jewish Israeli activist and co-founder of Boycott from Within, an association supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli crimes in Palestinian territories, told RT.
He said the fact that Israeli authorities try to clear themselves of war crimes accusations means the cases will and should attract more attention from international rights organizations and tribunals.
“It is important for us, people who seek justice for Palestinians, that this process is taking place and now we can look for international tribunals to actually implement justice and hold Israel accountable for its actions,” Barkan explained.
He expressed hope that the ICC will soon take action as “Israel is [responsible for] not only war crimes, but also some crimes that are regarded as crimes against humanity, including the crime of apartheid and possibly also the crime of genocide.”
Israel launched the 2014 war on Gaza, known as ‘Operation Protective Edge,’ in response to rocket shelling of adjacent Israeli territories by Hamas militants. The conflict lasted 51 days, but, according to human rights organizations, Israeli forces killed close to 2,100 Palestinians during that time – 1,500 of them civilians, with more than 500 children among the dead.
At the same time, 66 Israeli soldiers and seven Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinians. Israel blamed Hamas for the civilian casualties, claiming the group had purposely stationed itself in densely populated residential areas, using locals as human shields.
The tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Administration, which is not officially recognized by the international community, did not end with the 2014 conflict. Clashes between Palestinians and IDF soldiers have taken place on a monthly basis throughout the past year, with raids on Palestinian towns following knife attacks on Israeli citizens.
Despite a long-term peace process, Israelis and Palestinians have failed to reach a peace agreement, with key issues ranging from mutual recognition and borders to water rights and control of Jerusalem’s historic sites, considered sacred by both nations.
Barkan warns that if no peaceful solution is reached soon, the situation in the Palestinian territory will worsen significantly.
“In order to arrive at any sort of solution in the Israel/Palestine [conflict] we have to demand the basic rights of all people, all the ‘stakeholders.’ And that definitely puts the rights of Palestinians at the top of the list – people who have been living in an open-air prison for many years now,” he states.
“At the moment, due to Israel’s policy, 95% of the water in Gaza is toxic, it is not fit for human consumption, and the situation is only deteriorating. There are reports stating that in 2020 the situation in Gaza will become unlivable […] This is a dire call to the people of the world to apply […] pressure on Israel in order to end the suffering.”