Palestinians Ask ICC to Speed Up Gaza War Crimes Probe After Israel Closes Cases

The Israeli army's decision to close seven cases in which civilians were killed during the 2014 conflict requires more vigorous action, top Palestinian official says.

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Smoke and flames are seen following what witnesses said were Israeli air strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, August 1, 2014.
Smoke and flames are seen following what witnesses said were Israeli air strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, August 1, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The Palestinian Authority said yesterday it asked the International Criminal Court in The Hague to speed up its inquiry of alleged Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip. The move came in reaction to the Israel Defense Forces’ statement Wednesday that it was closing seven cases of killings of civilians in the summer 2014 war, without opening Military Police investigations into them.

“We had no expectations that Israel would do anything but justify its war crimes in the biggest military campaign against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and renounce all responsibility, after an investigation that its colonial regime carried out,” said PLO Secretary General Dr. Saeb Erekat.

Erekat said the cases that were closed involved Israel’s bombardment of civilian areas, including UN buildings and shelters, hospitals and other structures protected by the Geneva Convention.

During the war, which lasted 50 days, 487 children were killed. Despite this, Israel has not taken responsibility for its violence against civilians, Erekat said.

He said the Palestinians have submitted to the International Court information about Israel’s war crimes.

“The official Israeli position, that renounces all responsibility for war crimes, means it’s time the International Court starts doing more than mere examining,” he said.

A top Palestinian official said the PA has so far provided the court with material for examining civilian casualties during the war, but had refrained from filing actual complaints. However, Israel’s decision to close those cases makes it necessary to take more vigorous action, the official said, adding, “We’ll submit detailed complaints and urge the court to act, because it’s time Israel pays for its crimes.”

Haaretz reported this week that the IDF had for the first time addressed the Military Police investigations it had opened following the report compiled by Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation organization of IDF soldiers, without mentioning the NGO by name.

Wednesday’s press release from the Military Advocate General said an NGO report had made “anonymous allegations” regarding dozens of “alleged aberrant incidents” that had occurred during the war. In most incidents, the allegations were insufficiently precise to establish suspicion of criminal misconduct, the MAG concluded.

But the MAG also said it had launched criminal investigations into six other alleged incidents from the unnamed NGO’s report.

One of the cases that was closed without a criminal investigation was the August 1, 2014 air strike on a home in Rafah that killed 15 civilians. The MAG said the building “was an active command and control center of the Hamas terror organization,” and that there had been no anticipation of a disproportionate number of civilian casualties.

“In retrospect it transpired that there was a discrepancy between the army’s information about civilians’ presence in the building at the time of the strike and the facts that emerged after the strike,” the MAG said. The statement added that the attack was carried out lawfully, based on information the army had at the time.

Some of the people who died in the strike lived in the home, while others were visitors.

In another case closed without Military Police investigation, in which between seven and 15 civilians were reported killed near a school in Rafah, the MAG said the strike was aimed at three militants on a motorbike. When the vehicle changed its course, the army did not detect civilians outside the school. The army said it wasn’t possible to divert the fire at the motorcycle after it turned.

After the killing of Capt. Hadar Goldin and abduction of his body following Givati Brigade operations in Rafah, there were complaints that dozens of innocent Palestinians were killed as a result, in an incident that has come to be known as “Black Friday.”

The MAG has not yet decided whether to open a full investigation into the army’s actions in Rafah, or to say if there were suspicions of criminal violations that would require such an investigation.

Since Operation Protective Edge, there have been reports of some 360 aberrant incidents during IDF operations in the Gaza Strip. Only in one case have soldiers been indicted – for looting and helping to loot during Golani Brigade operations in Shujaiyeh.

The MAG also decided after an investigation to close two cases of looting, without initiating legal proceedings. In one case there was no evidence of soldiers having been in the home, the army said. In the other, a commander said he hid 2,500 shekels that he found so that the money wouldn’t be stolen.

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