Israel Launched Only One Criminal Probe Into Palestinian Casualties in Last Gaza War

Israel's army opened a preliminary probe into 84 incidents, only one of which has led to a criminal investigation. The army has provided no other information into Palestinian deaths or injuries

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
A Palestinian man walks by a destroyed building in Gaza, 2021.
A Palestinian man walks by a destroyed building in Gaza, 2021.Credit: MOHAMMED ABED - AFP
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

A year after Israel-Hamas fighting last May, the Israeli army has yet to complete its investigation into deaths and injuries of Palestinians in Gaza during the war.

Figures provided by the Israel Defense Forces show that a preliminary probe has been opened into 84 incidents, only one of which has led to a criminal investigation. The army has provided no other information regarding the other incidents, including how many people were injured or killed in them.

The incidents are initially examined by a team headed by a member of the IDF General Staff that was formed in 2014 to conduct preliminary probes into wartime incidents. When the team completes its work, its conclusions are given to the military prosecutor, who decides whether to launch a criminal investigation or close the file.

Figures obtained by the nongovernmental organization Yesh Din showed that 69 percent of the cases (58 incidents) are still under an ongoing preliminary probe. Of those, only 10 have been transferred so far to the Military Prosecutor’s Office. The team has finished reviewing 25 additional cases and decided to close them before passing them on to the military prosecutor.

The IDF told Haaretz that one case involves an incident that occurred on May 19, 2021, when a tank fired in the direction of three Palestinian bystanders in order to keep them away from the border fence. One of the three was hit by the tank fire, but the army didn’t respond to Haaretz’s query on whether he was killed or injured, although the army investigation found that the tank’s crew acted in violation of the military guideline and disciplinary measures were imposed.

The IDF said that on top of the cases involving bodily harm, it was also looking into 39 instances involving damage to Palestinian property. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, during the fighting in May 2021, 261 Palestinians were killed, of whom 67 were children and 41 women. Of the total, the UN said, 130 were civilians and 64 were members of armed groups; the status of the remaining 67 could not be determined.

A building collapses in Gaza during Israel-Hamas fighting, in 2021.Credit: MAHMUD HAMS - AFP

Citing privacy concerns, the IDF has not responded to the Freedom of Information law's request [The law mandates that "every citizen and resident of Israel has the right to receive information from a public authority, in accordance with the provisions of the law," according to the website of the Prime Minister's Office] to provide the names of the victims in the incidents under investigation. Each incident the IDF is probing likely involves multiple victims.

In regard to May 12, 2021, 15 incidents are being examined, making it the largest fighting day. In regard to another incident under investigation, the IDF has said in the past that it was examining the accidental killing of six Gaza civilians by artillery fire on May 13, 2021, an affair first reported by Haaretz.

The lengthy time it is taking the army to complete the probes runs against the recommendations of the 2015 Ciechanover Commission. The panel said the army should turn over its findings to the Military Chief Prosecutor within a month of opening a case; in the case of wartime probes, that deadline could be extended by the prosecutor to only 90 days, it said.

Last June, Haaretz reported that 18 months after Palestinian protests at the Gaza border fence, the army apparatus had yet to examine 37 percent of the cases under investigation.

Yes Din said in response: “Nearly a year after the events, most of the incidents are still being reviewed and only one formal criminal investigation has been launched. This should raise serious doubts about the ability of the military law enforcement system to conduct serious and effective investigations into incidents occurring during Guardians of the Wall. Israel has shown again and again that it doesn’t want, or isn’t capable of, properly investigating suspected war crimes. This unbearable reality means Palestinians are subjected to death and arbitrary harm in the face of army attacks.”

The IDF responded in a statement that: “The General Staff apparatus is now conducting an investigation professionally. It should be noted that most of the incidents that have been put under investigation were done so at the IDF’s own initiative, without any [outside] formal complaint ever being filed.”

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