Probe of Gaza Op's 'Black Friday': Soldiers Faced 'Unreasonable' Situation

Givati Brigade report of battle in Rafah reveals deployment of forces 'in area that was not secured,' but use of firepower and aerial bombings, following abduction of an IDF officer that day, was 'proportionate.'

Shay Wagner, IDF Spokesperson's Unit

An investigation by the Israel Defense Forces Givati Brigade of the events of August 1, 2014 in Rafah in the Gaza Strip, which has been dubbed “Black Friday,” has concluded that the infantry brigade's commando unit were sent to conduct searches “in an area that had not been captured and a sector that was not secured.”

The brigade commander, Col. Ofer Winter, wrote in the summary that “as opposed to the clear-cut fighting during the course of the Operation Protective Edge – here, as a brigade, we managed to confuse the fighters and to confront them with an unreasonable situation.”

The report of the probe, which was publicized Tuesday on Army Radio, relates to the deaths of dozens of Palestinians, most of them civilians, during IDF efforts to rescue abducted 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin during the war in the Strip last summer. According to the investigation, the use of fire in the battle was proportionate, and it succeeded to prevent the squad of Palestinian kidnappers from fleeing the area. The report also describes the activity of the Givati forces in the minutes following the abduction, which, according to the brigade, was “very fast, and was carried out skillfully and quietly.”

According to the report, the timetable was as follows: At 9:06 A.M. there was a volley of fire aimed at the commando unit, led by Maj. Benaya Sarel, his radio operator Staff Sgt. Liel Gidoni and 2nd Lt. Goldin. After half an hour, there was an announcement on the two-way radio of a decision to initiate the so-called Hannibal Procedure – a protocol that calls for the massive use of force in an effort to rescue a captured soldier, even at risk to his life. In the time that passed until the actual onset of the Hannibal Procedure, the forces located the entrance to the tunnel through which Goldin had been dragged away.

Ten minutes later, at 9:47 A.M., according to the report of the investigation, the first artillery shell was fired by the IDF. Several minutes later the brigade commander approved entry of a force led by 2nd Lt. Eitan Fund into the tunnel, in order to find Goldin. The activity of Fund’s unit – like that of fighters of the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit and other forces in the vicinity – led to the discovery of certain findings that later helped to establish Goldin’s death. Sarel and Gidoni were also killed in the fighting.

Massive IDF response

The military investigation also determined that an estimated 800 artillery shells and 260 mortars were fired by the IDF during the battle in Rafah. Moreover, combat planes bombed about 20 targets during the course of the fighting, and combat helicopters bombed 14 additional targets. The investigation found that 41 people were killed as a result of the fire. The IDF claims that 12 of them were terrorists, 13 were civilians (innocent bystanders), and the rest were described as being “of fighting age” but not as terrorists.

The probe also determined that the use of fire in the battle was proportionate and meant to prevent the kidnappers from fleeing. The issue of proportionality in the use of fire is central to the incident, which is also being examined at present by Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, before deciding whether there is a basis for opening a criminal investigation.

To date the MAG has ordered 19 Military Police investigations of incidents during the 2014 Gaza operation – two of them, involving suspicions of looting, have already been terminated due to lack of evidence. At the same time, another investigation ended with the decision that there is cause to bring indictments against Golani soldiers for incidents of looting in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, subject to a hearing.

For their part, commanders in the Givati Brigade – as well as GOC Southern Command Brig. Gen. Sami Turgeman – claim there is no reason for opening a similar MP investigation of the "Black Friday" battle in Rafah.

“If there is someone who committed a crime – and I said this to the MAG, too – like rape, looting and such – I’m in favor of investigating him, and I also want to serve as the judge,” said Turgeman recently. But, he added, “we don’t need investigations of judgments made in the heat of combat. That would have a destructive influence in the future.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also expressed strong opposition to a criminal investigation of the Rafah incident.

“This incident is not being investigated by the MP. I hope nobody will decide to have it investigated by that body,” said Ya’alon in January. “This is an operational incident where certain decisions were made, and it’s not something to be examined with criminal tools. It should be investigated with command tools, in order to improve next time.”