IDF Hasn't Decided Whether to Launch Further Probe Into Gaza War Incidents

Gili Cohen
Jack Khoury
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At the UNRWA-operated Abu Haseen school in northern Gaza during the 2014 war between Hamas and its allies and Israel, July 30, 2014.
At the UNRWA-operated Abu Haseen school in northern Gaza during the 2014 war between Hamas and its allies and Israel, July 30, 2014.Credit: AFP
Gili Cohen
Jack Khoury

The Military Advocate General’s office has still not decided, after more than a year, whether to investigate a number of incidents that took place during the fighting in Gaza last summer, including damage to UNRWA schools in the coastal enclave.

In August 2014, the legal aid group Adalah approached MAG with a demand to launch an investigation on suspicion of breaches of the rules of war during Operation Protective Edge, with regard to damage to United Nations compounds in the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, four Palestinian human rights groups submitted a report to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which included documents and testimonies relating to events that took place during Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip during the summer of 2014. The organizations are petitioning the ICC to open an investigation of senior Israeli officials for their conduct throughout the military campaign.

Shawan Jabarin, the head of the human rights NGO Al-Haq, said in a statement to the media that his group – along with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and the Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights and the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights – submitted a detailed report including abundant information which, they claim, justifies the investigation and prosecution of senior Israeli political and military figures for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Gaza, during last summer's war.Credit: AFP

“We’re confident that this information and testimony will constitute a sufficient base for opening an official investigation by this court and we urge the court and the prosecutor to announce such a move,” said Jabarin.

Adalah attorney Sawsan Zaher wrote MAG that in July the Israel Defense Forces attacked the UNRWA compound in Dir al-Balah although it was sheltering 1,500 Palestinian refugees, and that five people were injured. In an IDF attack on an UNRWA compound in the Zeitun quarter of Gaza city, where 2,200 Palestinian refugees were staying, eight Palestinians were injured, according to Adalah.

Adalah also cited an IDF attack on August 3, on an UNRWA compound in Rafah where 3,000 refugees were staying and 11 Palestinians were killed, five of them children and another 27 were injured. The latter attack was a result of implementation of the so-called “Hannibal directive,” calling for an intense focus on rescuing an abducted soldier, following the abduction of Lt. Hadar Goldin on August 1.

Senior defense officials, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and the head of the Southern Command during the operation, Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman, said that a military police investigation of the August 3 attack should not be launched, while officials in MAG thought there should be a probe. The issue of whether the use of firepower had been proportionate is at the heart of MAG’s study of the incident.

The Ciechanover Committee appointed to apply the second report of the Turkel Committee, which dealt with the way in which to handle and investigate claims of breaches of the rules of war, recommended that examination of such claims should not take more than 14 weeks. The committee said this period could be extended, especially if the incident was one of many that occurred during combat, although it said MAG should issue updates on its efforts, which has not been done.

The IDF using the Hannibal procedure in Rafah in August during the Gaza war.Credit: Reuters

A source in the IDF said that the Ciechanover Committee report had not yet been presented for approval by the cabinet and that in any case, the implementation of its recommendations would require allocating appropriate resources, as the committee itself recommended.

Attorney Muna Haddad of Adalah, said: “The great and inexplicable delay of the army in launching an investigation proves the failures of the existing system and that in fact there is no intention to conduct a serious investigation.” International law requires a timely investigation into such incidents, Haddad added.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office said: “The IDF, including MAG, are investing great efforts in examining claims of exceptional events during Operation Protective Edge. The investigation of many of these incidents is complex, among other reasons because of the complexity of the operational events themselves as well as the fact that they took place in an area that is not under Israeli control and the need to obtain information from outside sources.”

The report claims that during the 51-day war in Gaza, more than 1,540 Palestinian civilians were killed, along with hundreds of thousands who lost their homes as a direct result of Israel’s actions, including bombing attacks on residential buildings as well as on educational institutions, hospitals and multi-story buildings.

The Palestinian report presents testimony and other findings collected during a period of over a year by researchers and activists, who stress the fact that this was the third campaign waged by Israel in the Strip in the last six years.

Among the testimonies presented in the report is one by 57-year-old Butheyne Aluh from Deir Al-Balah in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. In the bombardment of her house in the early hours of August 20, 2014, she reported, her son, two grandchildren, her sister-in-law (who was nine months pregnant) as well as three of her small children were all killed.

“My family will never be what it once was,” Aluh testified. “My house is still in total ruins and I hope the International Criminal Court will do the right thing and bring those responsible for this crime to justice.”

At a press conference in Gaza attended by rights activists and representatives of families who were victimized by the war, Raji Sourani, head of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, said that the report provides detailed evidence and data about the war, as well as details of the ongoing siege of Gaza and the implications for the Palestinian people of the separation barrier.