The IDF Wanted to Investigate a Key Moment in the Gaza War. Netanyahu Said No

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Black Friday: Smoke rises from Rafah after Israeli airstrikes, August 1, 2014
Black Friday: Smoke rises from Rafah after Israeli airstrikes, August 1, 2014Credit: Ahmed Ebu Saud / Anadolu Agency

The previous military advocate general recommended establishing a panel to investigate incidents where the Israel Defense Forces used massive firepower during the 2014 Gaza war, but Prime Minister Benjamim Netanyahu shelved the initiative, a reserve officer told Haaretz.

The previous military advocate general, Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, believed that the panel could help counter domestic and international criticism over such incidents. On August 1, 2014, in an attempt to thwart the abduction of Lt. Hadar Goldin, the IDF used attack helicopters and artillery, killing dozens of Palestinians on a day that has become known as “Black Friday.

Efroni envisoned a committee made up of academics and senior legal officials. The army and government considered the idea, partly because of the initial investigation by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which found that war crimes had been committed during the fighting in Gaza.

But Netanyahu and other senior politicians opposed the idea. According to one source, the cabinet secretary at the time, Avichai Mendelblit, was also against it. Mendelblit, who is now attorney general, was military advocate general during an earlier round of fighting in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead in late December 2008 and January 2009. Following this war, Israel refused to cooperate when a UN report compiled by Richard Goldstone accused Israel of war crimes.

In the army there was also opposition to an investigative panel, though ultimately Netanyahu made the decision to prevent one from forming.

Last month Haaretz reported that the IDF had still not decided whether a criminal investigation should be launched over the events of “Black Friday,” which took place in the Gaza city of Rafah near the Egyptian border. According to people with knowledge of the issue, a committee would shed light on what happened in Rafah.

But a military official said: “The establishment of a government investigative panel or inquiry panel dedicated to the battle in Rafah was not considered at any point. Examinations dealt with broader levels than a specific battle.”

2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was feared captured in the Gaza Strip until he was declared dead on Sunday.

In the end the IDF decided to examine the events of the 2014 Gaza war via a “General Staff examination apparatus” – a team of career army and reserve officers. Their conclusions have not been made public, and at least in the case of “Black Friday,” the team needed to investigative further to complete its work.

A source familiar with the team’s work on the fighting in Rafah said that each of the targets attacked by the IDF was checked twice. The team spent hundreds of hours on the issue, but the current military advocate general, Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek, has not decided whether to launch a criminal investigation.

“The decision has to be made, there can be no situation in which we flee a decision,” said an officer who once served in the military advocate general’s office.

According to a senior officer involved in the fighting in 2014, “What do we know now that we didn’t know before? It’s just a matter of courage. Decide – nothing will become clearer later.”

On August 1, 2014, a unit from the Givati Brigade reconnaissance force was attacked by Hamas fighters during a humanitarian cease-fire. Three Israeli soldiers were killed: Maj. Benaya Sarel, Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff. Sgt. Liel Gidoni.

Goldin’s remains are being held by Hamas. Goldin’s family wants the government to take harsher steps against Hamas to return the remains and bring back Israeli civilians who have crossed the border into Gaza.

The Goldin family has only been shown the inquiry conducted by the Givati Brigade; the family does not know further details on what happened that day. According to the Givati inquiry, which was released to the media, 800 artillery shells and 260 mortar shells were fired.

The investigators criticized the decision to leave the soldiers in the area when it was “unsecured.” The family, for example, does not know whether the army examined the directives given to the forces during the cease-fire.

Some of the questions raised after “Black Friday” take issue with the so-called Hannibal directive, which was used that day in Rafah. The directive allows a soldier’s life to be put at risk to prevent his abduction and dictates the amount of firepower that can be employed.

Last year, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot revoked the Hannibal directive. A recommendation to do so was also included in the state comptroller’s draft report in the section dealing with international law; that section is to be published soon. A new order was then formulated that distinguishes between abduction during a battle and in ordinary times.

Efroni declined to comment for this article and referred Haaretz to the IDF Spokesman’s Office, which said: “After Operation Protective Edge [the 2014 Gaza war], various ways were examined to check the various aspects of the battle, the deployment of forces, and the claims raised subsequent to it. The discussions held, in cooperation with relevant government ministries, were broad and encompassed a series of specific issues and issues in principle. We cannot give details of the content of internal discussions.”

In the end, it was decided that the General Staff and the Military Police would focus on the investigation; their findings are being conveyed to the military advocate general’s office, the IDF Spokesman Office said. It added that “in this way, hundreds of incidents that allegedly took place are being examined fundamentally, deeply and professionally.”

Mendelblit did not respond when asked about an investigative committee or the amount of time it was taking to look into the events August 1, 2014. The Justice Ministry responded that in general incidents involving the IDF are examined by the military advocate general, but the attorney general could be approached about a matter. “If such a concrete approach is made involving one of the said events under examination, it will be studied,” the ministry said.

The prime minister’s aides did not respond for this article.

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