Israeli Army Setting Up Unit to Probe Alleged Criminal Acts During Wartime

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IDF tank fires at Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.Credit: Moti Milrod

The Israel Defense Forces is establishing a unit this year to investigate suspicions of criminal acts during military operations, responding to criticism by both a special  committee and human rights groups.

The unit will be part of the Military Police and be commanded by a major. Experienced investigators will serve on the team, some of whom have seen combat action.

The Turkel committee, which the government set up to investigate the Gaza flotilla affair of May 2010, recommended the establishment of such a unit. The panel criticized the IDF for not having such a team in the Military Police, similar to the state prosecutor’s unit for operational cases.

“The military’s strength is expressed not only in its military power, but also in its moral and ethical strength,” the head of the Military Police, Brig. Gen. Golan Maimon, told reporters on Thursday.

“During the [Gaza] operation a small number of cases occurred in which norms were violated. Each case was examined professionally and in detail, in cooperation with the forces that fought in the operation and with Military Police investigators. The joint goal is clear — to determine the truth, study it and learn lessons.”

In a report released in 2013, the Turkel committee said military policemen assigned to a new unit should receive “training in the rules of international humanitarian law, particularly in the requirements for investigating violations of these rules.”

The report also recommended that the investigating team include Arabic speakers and have bases in “areas where the events under investigation occur” — that is, in the West Bank as well.

The new unit will investigate suspicions of criminal activity by the IDF whether the operations are deemed full-blown wars or not. It will also investigate cases of deaths of Palestinians in the West Bank.

Human rights organizations have said the IDF does not always properly delve into suspected criminal acts by its soldiers. According to human rights groups, these investigations take too long and are still not carried out in full.

A Military Police officer said the new unit would address such complaints.

Military Police investigators are currently looking into 17 cases of suspected criminal acts by Israeli soldiers during the Gaza war last summer. Only one of these probes has been completed and transferred to military prosecutors, who decided to indict Golani infantry soldiers accused of looting.

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