Israeli Army Failed to Investigate Misconduct in 2014 Gaza War, NGO Says

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Israeli soldiers in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, 2014
Israeli soldiers in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, 2014Credit: The IDF spokesman / Shai Wagner

The Israel Defense Forces didn’t properly investigate its soldiers’ conduct during the war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip two years ago, B’Tselem charged in a report published Tuesday.

The IDF assailed the report, accusing the organization of “unprofessionalism” and “bias” and of engaging in a “campaign of delegitimization” against the Israeli justice system.

The military opened more than 30 investigations into allegations of misconduct during Operation Protective Edge. But B’Tselem’s report charges that these probes were merely for show. Moreover, it says, while the IDF investigated individual soldiers, it conducted no investigations into its general policy during the fighting or the legality of its rules of engagement.

The group has made similar charges in the past, which prompted it to stop cooperating with the military justice system.

Israeli soldiers fire artillery towards the Gaza Strip in Operation Protective Edge. Credit: AFP

The report noted that several changes had been made in the military’s system of investigations pursuant to the recommendations of the Turkel Commission – a public commission originally set up to investigate Israel’s botched raid on a 2010 flotilla to Gaza – which issued a report in 2013 on “Israel’s mechanisms for examining and investigating complaints and claims of violations of the laws of armed conflict according to international law.”

The most important of these changes, B’Tselem said, was the establishment of a General Staff committee charged with investigating problematic incidents while the fighting was still going on.

Nevertheless, the Hebrew-language version of the report charged, these changes “may have improved the appearance somewhat, but they did nothing to improve the substance of the investigations.”

To date, B’Tselem noted, only three soldiers have been indicted for their actions in Gaza, all on charges of looting. Two were accused of stealing some 2,000 shekels ($530) from a house in Gaza City’s Shujaiyeh neighborhood, while the third was charged with abetting them.

Rafah on August 2, 2015. An estimated 800 artillery shells and 260 mortars were fired by the IDF during the fighting the day before.Credit: AP

Moreover, two years after the war ended, Military Advocate General Sharon Afek has yet to even decide whether to open a criminal investigation into one of its most controversial incidents, known as Black Friday. On that day, the IDF employed massive fire in a failed effort to recover Lt. Hadar Goldin, who had been seized by Hamas near the Gazan town of Rafah. Dozens of Palestinians were killed by the Israeli bombqardment. Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was vehemently opposed to opening a criminal investigation into this incident.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit assailed B’Tselem’s report. “For some time now, B’Tselem has been conducting a campaign of delegitimization against the Israeli justice system in general and the military justice system in particular,” the unit said in a press statement.

“The current report is another move in this campaign, and real questions arise as to the motive behind it. The report suffers from severe bias and unprofessionalism, and it seems that en route to the goal of presenting the Israeli justice system as flawed, B’Tselem considers all means legitimate.”

The statement added that B’Tselem’s accusations against the military justice system had been investigated and rejected in the past by independent commissions like the Turkel Commission and the Ciechanover Commission. The latter was appointed to oversee implementation of the Turkel Commission’s recommendations.

As for the organization’s specific accusations about the army’s investigations into Operation Protective Edge, “the picture that has arisen to date from the inquiry and investigation process, which hasn’t yet ended, is that in most of the incidents examined, there was no reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed by IDF forces at either the individual level or the policy level,” the statement said.

“The IDF recognizes the importance of organizations that critically examine our activity,” it continued. “Nevertheless, B’Tselem’s decision to publish a report that suffers from unprofessionalism and a biased approach is regrettable.”

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