The Israel Defense Forces military advocate general, Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, is due to make decisions shortly on whether to open four military police investigations into incidents that took place during last summer’s fighting between Israel and Hamas and its allies in Gaza.
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In particular, Efroni must decide whether to probe the events that took place in the Rafah area of the Gaza Strip on August 1, which has come to be known as “Black Friday.” On that day, dozens of Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in the course of the IDF’s efforts to foil the abduction of Israeli officer Hadar Goldin.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon last week expressed strong opposition to any criminal investigation of that incident.
Efroni must also decide whether to pursue an investigation over possible wrongdoing in three other cases involving the death of large numbers of Palestinians during the 50-day conflict: one in connection with the aerial bombing of the home of the family of Gaza police chief Tayseer Al-Batsh, which resulted in 21 deaths; the shelling of a school run by the UNWRA, the United Nations refugee relief agency in the Jabaliya refugee camp; and the civilian casualties suffered in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shujaiyeh.
Efroni has already ordered criminal military investigations into 13 other incidents in the course of the fighting during Operation Protective Edge.
The dispute over whether to launch a criminal investigation of the IDF’s actions on August 1 has taken on a political cast with some charging the military advocate general with trying to hound Givati brigade commander Col. Ofer Winter.
The major issue facing Efroni is whether any of the IDF actions constituted a violation of the international laws of war, particularly with respect to the proportionate use of firepower in relation to the danger that Israeli forces were facing.
In the case of the bombing of the Al-Batsh home, a review of the case revealed that a group of terrorists involved in launching rockets into Israel had been identified in the vicinity of the home and the terrorists then fled towards the house. It appears, however, that the person who approved the bombardment had been unaware that the house belonged to the Gaza police chief, and there are suspicions that the matter was not appropriately checked before approval to bomb the location was given.
In connection with the UNWRA case, artillery fire was directed to the area of the school, where Gazans had sought refuge from the fighting.
Finally, any possible investigation into the IDF’s conduct in Shujaiyeh would take into account the battles that the Golani brigade fought in the area in which 16 soldiers were killed in a single day of fighting. As a result of the fierce fighting, it was decided to carry out massive aerial bombardment and heavy artillery fire there.
An investigation may look into certain aspects of the use of firepower in a battle in which dozens of Palestinian civilians were killed.