Israel's military prosecution announced Tuesday that no legal steps will be taken against those responsible for the killing of 21 members of the Samouni family during the 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
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A letter was received by the human rights group B'Tselem from Major Dorit Tuval, Deputy Military Advocate for Operational Matters. Tuval said that the case has been closed after the investigation has found that the attack on the civilians, "who did not take part in the fighting," and their killing were not done knowingly and directly, or out of haste and negligence "in a manner that would indicate criminal responsibility."
B'Tselem activists condemned the decision and called for an alternative investigatory body to probe such incidents.
On the morning of January 4, Givati commanders ordered the dozens of members of the extended Samouni family to leave the three-story house (the home of Talal Samouni), which they then turned into their outpost. The soldiers told them to gather in the one-story home of Wail Samouni, on the other side of the road and about 30 meters southeast. The Samounis took the fact that the soldiers themselves concentrated the family in one building, and saw that there were infants, children, women, elderly people and unarmed men, as insurance that they would not be harmed.
Despite the intense firing heard all around them that entire evening, the family's fears were mitigated by the proximity of the soldiers who had assembled them into the one home. Several of the Samouni men even left the house on Monday morning (January 5) to collect wood for a fire, hoping to bake pita and heat up tea.
They also called out to a relative who had remained in his home, a few meters east of them, and suggested he join them because their house was safe.
In conversations with Haaretz, the Samouni men explained how they felt safe due to the proximity of the IDF soldiers and due to the fact that the soldiers who gathered them in the house saw that they are all civilians.
According to testimonies given to Haaretz and Breaking the Silence by soldiers who took part in the attack, then-Givati Brigade commander Col. Ilan Malka concluded from UAV images of the house that armed Palestinians were inside.
He then ordered an aerial strike on the house, killing one person on the spot. When the casualties went back inside the house, another missile was shot on the house and 20 more people were killed, including three babies and six children between the ages of 5 to 16. Some 40 people were wounded.
Some of the casualties were trapped in the destroyed house, among the bodies, for three days, until the IDF allowed rescue services to arrive at the house and evacuate the bodies.
Attorney Yael Stein of B'Tselem said in response, "It cannot be that in a well-managed system no person will be found guilty of the army operation that led to the killing of 21 people who were not involved in combat, and resided in a structure on the instructions of the army – even if the attack was not done purposefully," she said.
"The manner in which the army rids itself of responsibility in this case again illustrates the need for an investigatory body outside of the army."