Analysis |

The Turkel Report: A No-confidence Vote in the IDF's Internal Investigations

The second part of the Turkel report could have long-term ramifications for how Palestinian deaths are investigated, but its fate will be in the hands of Netanyahu's next government.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The committee headed by former Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, some of whose members were foreign jurists, was established to rebuff the claims that Israel had violated international law when it raided the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara as it was en route to Gaza in May 2010. As far as the second Netanyahu government was concerned, that objective was achieved.

But it’s the second, much longer part of the Turkel panel’s report, released today, that could have long-term ramifications. The conclusions in this second part are meant to improve the way the security forces conduct themselves in the West Bank, and in particular, the way enforcement authorities supervise their activities there.

A senior retired Israel Defense Forces officer, who filled several senior command positions in the territories going back to the first intifada, once said that he would make it a point to rush to the scene of every incident that raised suspicions of soldiers killing a Palestinian even though their lives were not endangered.

“If you got there a quarter of an hour late, forget it,” he said. “By then the commanders and their soldiers had coordinated their versions [of the incident] and chances were you’d never find out what really happened.”

These observations have 45 years’ worth of confirmation, and it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that they are relevant to a series of recent incidents in the West Bank in which soldiers killed four unarmed Palestinians, including a young woman and two teenagers.

The Turkel Committee says pretty similar things, albeit in legal language and a more restrained tone. The panel notes that several western countries to which Israel was compared had in recent years made structural changes to increase the independence of the investigatory bodies and improve the external oversight of the security forces’ examination procedures.

The report observes drily that while Israeli mechanisms for investigating incidents in the territories fulfill the demands of international law, policy changes are advised “to establish practices” more clearly.

In its polite way, the committee expresses a lack of confidence in the way legal procedures are conducted. To improve the processes of examination and control, it recommends imposing personal responsibility on commanders who do not prevent their soldiers from committing serious crimes or who do not investigate them properly after the fact.

The committee notes that the procedure fixed by the IDF chief of staff in 2005 regarding reporting Palestinian casualties is not being implemented. It also notes that an operational debriefing is not at all similar to a military-criminal investigation and it recommends firmly establishing a maximum time frame (of a few weeks) for the military advocate-general to decide whether to open a criminal investigation, and how long such an investigation is meant to take.

Former military advocate-general Avichai Mandelblit saw how things were developing, and in April 2011 he changed IDF policy and ordered a Military Police investigation of every incident of soldiers killing a Palestinian in the territories. Such investigations had been markedly reduced during the years of the second intifada, on grounds that most Palestinians were being killed during military confrontations.

But data released today by the B’tselem organization show that of the 12 investigations opened since the orders were changed, not one has been completed. Turkel’s proposals aim to expedite these investigations.

Another suggestion by the panel seems so obvious that it’s hard to believe that the IDF didn’t implement it a decade ago: to establish Military Police field units in the territories that include investigators who speak Arabic and can collect evidence from Palestinian residents.

The report also includes remarks that aren’t really connected to its mandate, but are nonetheless important. Turkel thinks the status of the military advocate-general should be redefined by law. To a certain extent, he is asking to do for the military advocate-general what the state comptroller’s report on the Harpaz document tried to do regarding the appointment of the chief of general staff.

According to Turkel, the rank of the military advocate-general should be fixed (over the past decade it has bounced between major-general and brigadier-general), as should his term (six years) and the process of his selection (by the defense minister, after he receives recommendations from a committee, one of whose members should be the attorney general).

All these are worthy suggestions. Now we must see if the Netanyahu government and the IDF adopt them in full, or let their implementation slide, as happens with so many other directives in the territories.

An IDF soldier aims his weapon at a handcuffed Palestinian in Na'alin. Credit: B'tselem (screenshot from Channel 10)
Turkel committee members Aharon Barak, left, and Jacob Turkel.Credit: Michal Fattal
IDF soldiers drag an activist at a protest in Na'alin. Credit: Activestills

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