IDF to Open Criminal Probes Into Five Gaza War Cases

Military prosecutor orders police to investigate cases of alleged misconduct and breach of international law, including bombing of UNWRA school.

Palestinians offer their prayers over the grave of a member of the al-Batsh family. Gaza City on Sun
Palestinians offer their prayers over the grave of a member of the al-Batsh family. Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. AP

Chief Military Prosecutor Maj. Gen. Dani Efroni has ordered the Israel Defense Forces’ investigative police unit to open 99 investigations into the army’s operation in the Gaza Strip over the summer, including five criminal probes into suspected of breaches of international law by soldiers during this summer’s fighting in the Gaza Strip. Forty-four of the cases are already under investigation.

The probes are being conducted by a General Staff panel appointed at the end of 2012, headed by Maj. Gen. Noam Tibon and consisting of six teams. Probes have been completed into 12 of the cases, and findings have already been handed over to the military prosecutor.

The army’s activity in Rafah on August 1, following the abduction of the body of Lt. Hadar Goldin and implementation of the so-called “Hannibal Directive,” is one of the five cases under criminal investigation.

Maj. Gen. Efroni has additionally ordered a military police probe into the killing of four children, ages 9, 10 and 11, by Israel Air Force fire on the Gaza beach on July 18. The July 24 strike on an UNRWA school in Beit Hanun, which killed 15 Palestinians, will also be investigated.

The initial IDF probe after the latter incident claimed that the schoolyard that was hit was empty at the time of the strike.

The IDF has also decided to open military police investigations into three other incidents. In one of these cases, a woman was shot to death after stepping out of her house in Dahaniyeh, although her exit had been coordinated with IDF forces. In another case, which was reported in the New York Times, a young Palestinian man said that after he was arrested in the Khuza’a region on July 23, he was beaten and used as a human shield. A fifth case involves suspected looting by a Golani Brigade soldier, who allegedly stole money from a house in Shujaiyeh.

Efroni determined that international law was not breached in seven other incidents examined by the General Staff team. Among these is the July 9 strike on the Koareh family home in Khan Yunis, which was carried out during a “knock on the roof” warning procedure while the residents were still inside. The military prosecutor found that in that case, it would have been impossible to divert the missile.

He reached the same conclusion in a separate case, in which a vehicle reportedly carrying a local Gaza reporter was attacked in an aerial strike. The Military Prosecution said that the vehicle was hit after the army received intelligence information that it contained weapons, and the army classifies the journalist as a terrorist, therefore concluding that the attack on the vehicle was therefore justified.

Efroni is also currently investigating whether to order a probe in three other cases. One of these is the strike on the Al-Batsh home in Gaza City, in which 15 members of the family were killed, including women and children.

The IDF decided to strike the house of Hamas commander Tayseer al-Batsh, which is near a mosque, after a number of individuals were spotted about to launch rockets, according to the army. Apparently, dozens of people emerged from the mosque during the attack and were hit at that time.

The General Staff panel’s experts are also looking into aspects of intelligence, artillery and air strikes during the fighting in Gaza. “The teams are authorized to take all existing materials and testimony from soldiers and civilians,” a senior officer in the military prosecutor’s office told reporters yesterday.

“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, referring to an attempt to use statistics to examine the efficiency of the army. The officer called the attempt “demagogic and unprofessional.”

According to figures provided by the military police in the investigation of a death in the West Bank, since November 2012 and until Operation Protective Edge began, 20 military investigations have been launched. Eight of these ended in indictments, six were closed and the rest are still under investigation.

“We do professional work, examining every case professionally. Every decision is monitored from a legal perspective and examined carefully,” the senior officer said. “The system wants and knows how to investigate itself,” he added.

Meanwhile, the United Nations is preparing to investigate the targeting of its schools in Gaza during the recent operation in Gaza, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told an Arabic newspaper.

Several United Nations workers were kicked in airstrikes on the schools, which were housing internally displaced Palestinians. Weapons were found by the UN to be stored by Gaza terror groups in at least three UN schools.

The investigation is separate from a UN Human Rights Council panel investigating possible war crimes committed by Israel during the 50 days of Operation Protective Edge, Ban told the London-based Arabic Al-Hayat newspaper.

Israel has said soldiers were responding to rocket fire emanating from next to or inside the schools’ yards.

The investigation would not begin until the end of the UNHCR investigation led by Canadian judge William Schabas.

Ban told the newspaper that he already told the Israelis about the future probe, which will look into “the killing and wounding of United Nations personnel and the destruction of its facilities and to hold accountable those responsible,” as well as to investigate the storage of weapons in some of these facilities.