Israeli Army's Gaza Inquiry Meant to Head Off Calls for War Crimes Probe

Israel has said it has no faith in the planned UN investigation into the Gaza war.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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In this Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 file photo, Palestinians look for their belonging after houses were destroyed in an Israeli strike in Rafah, in southern Gaza Strip.
In this Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 file photo, Palestinians look for their belonging after houses were destroyed in an Israeli strike in Rafah, in southern Gaza Strip.Credit: AP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The IDF is investigating dozens of exceptional cases, mostly incidents in which Palestinian civilians were killed, that occurred during the hostilities in Gaza.

Besides drawing conclusions and clarifying whether some decision-making was negligent, the quick investigative process, which was launched early in the current round of fighting, was meant to help head off demands for an international inquiry into claims that Israel committed war crimes.

Israel has already said it does not have faith in the United Nations Human Rights Council and the international commission of inquiry it appointed this week. That panel, headed by Prof. William Schabas, will investigate the allegations.

The quick inquiry the IDF is conducting is based on the lessons learned in Operation Cast Lead in 2009 and Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 in Gaza, as well as the Marmara and the Gaza Flotilla. It’s also based on the conclusions of the Turkel Commission, which investigated the Marmara incident but also dealt in depth with the investigative procedures in Israel in the case of the killing of civilians and the violation of human rights in the territories.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has appointed a permanent General Staff committee, headed by Maj. Gen. Noam Tibon, to examine the claims of exceptional incidents during fighting.

That panel is investigating specific incidents, mostly those in which civilians were killed and claims were made that they were harmed by the IDF. But the committee is also examining broader issues connected with the fighting. Six teams work under Tibon, each in a specific area of expertise. Legal and intelligence experts are working along with experts in warfare. The work is conducted in full coordination and cooperation with the military advocate-general, Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, and his staff. Every team has a legal adviser.

Interim findings have so far been reached in 15 cases in the recent round of fighting, while investigations of dozens of other cases have started and many others are expected.

Among the cases are those in which a large number of civilians were killed or injured, including attacks on UN facilities as well as the battle in Rafah after 1st. Lt. Hadar Goldin was abducted by a Hamas cell.

Eighty-two incidents from Pillar of Defense were investigated and most have been concluded. No disciplinary or criminal actions were taken against those involved. The second part of the Turkel Committee report, released in 2013, criticized the fact that the operational investigations the IDF conducted did not provide enough relevant details to the attorney general, as well as the long delays in completing the investigations stemming from Cast Lead.

The Tibon committee uses officers from the General Staff who were not directly involved in the fighting and are not part of the chain of command of the units that fought in Gaza, including from the Air Force and Navy, as well as the Southern Command.

Most of the cases were initiated by the IDF, though in some cases Israeli human rights organizations requested investigations.

The IDF believes its operational and legal authorities are capable of investigating the exceptional incidents independently and thoroughly without international intervention. The intent is to also provide reports on these incidents to the international bodies.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira said yesterday he intends to examine whether Israel violated international law in Gaza.

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