In its fourth interim response to the Goldstone Report's claims of Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces acknowledged serious suspicions that one soldier committed a war crime and said a second case is still under investigation.
Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit also cited several instances in which officers and soldiers violated the rules of engagement without malicious intent.
In the first case, Mendelblit has decided to try S., a soldier from the Givati Brigade, for manslaughter over the deaths of at least one and possibly two Palestinian women, on whom he opened fire in spite of clear orders not to by his commander. The case was reported in the media several weeks ago, and the Military Police are now investigating why the incident was not reported up the chain of command beyond the battalion and brigade levels.
As in several other cases, Mendelblit's office only learned of the killing because Palestinians filed a complaint via human rights groups.
In another case, Mendelblit issued a warning to the commander of the elite Egoz unit for making use of the "neighbor procedure," in which Palestinian civilians are used to make first contact with militants barricaded in homes.
A third case involved an IDF missile strike on the Ibrahim al-Maqadmah Mosque in Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of 13 Palestinians. The Military Police investigation concluded that contrary to the Goldstone Report's claims, the mosque was not hit intentionally; the targets were two nearby militants, and the civilian deaths occurred when shrapnel from the missile hit those at prayer inside the building. But the captain who ordered the attack ignored last-minute intelligence that a mosque was in the vicinity - something the IDF had not known until three minutes before the strike. The captain was therefore reprimanded.
In contrast, Mendelblit has closed the case against the commander of a tank company who fired at rocket-launching militants and accidentally killed civilians in a nearby mourning tent. He also rejected all of the Goldstone Report's claims that the IDF targeted civilian infrastructure, including food factories, wells and a flour mill. In all these cases, Mendelblit said, the evidence showed that the forces had targeted Hamas fighters.
As in the past, Mendelblit's office relied to a great extent on testimony collected by human rights groups. In some cases, this testimony was cross-checked in investigations carried out by the Military Police, and was generally found to be reliable. The problem, it turns out, was not false testimony by the Palestinians, but the way this testimony was distorted by the Goldstone Committee to paint IDF soldiers as war criminals.
But Mendelblit's findings do nothing to solve the real problem, which is that it is almost impossible to fight terrorist organizations embedded in a civilian population without civilian casualties - yet the international community has evinced zero understanding for the impossible environment in which the IDF operates.
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