Wanted: Real Investigations

It's natural for Israelis to support the IDF, but they must also demand the examination of whether the soldiers acted legally.

Haaretz Editorial
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A tent stands amid the destruction of buildings in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, August 7, 2014.
A tent stands amid the destruction of buildings in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, August 7, 2014.Credit: AP
Haaretz Editorial

Some two months after the beginning of Operation Protective Edge and about two weeks after the official announcement of its ending, even Israel understands that it must examine its use of force in Gaza.

The Military Advocate General said on Wednesday that after checking 12 incidents, it had instructed the Military Police to open criminal investigations into five cases in which the IDF is suspected of violating international law.

The IDF said that a General Staff committee headed by Maj. Gen. Noam Tibon would probe a total of 99 cases. Among the cases to be investigated for possible criminal acts are the Air Force’s attack on Gaza beach, which killed four children, and bombarding an UNWRA-operated school in Beit Hanoun on July 24, in which 15 people were killed.

The MAG also said investigators will look closely into the military activity in Rafah on August 1, when the so-called Hannibal Procedure was invoked after the abduction of Hadar Goldin’s body. In the course of the procedure – intended to prevent a soldier’s capture by the enemy even at the risk of his life – 130 Palestinians were killed.

In contrast, the MAG decided – for undisclosed reasons – not to investigate seven deadly incidents, including the bombing of the Kawara family house in Khan Yunis on August 7, in which eight non-combatant family members were killed.

At first glance, the MAG’s statement about opening the investigations reflects recognition of the need to uphold the law. But at second glance, a certain skepticism is in order. The IDF’s real test will be in the results – how long it will take to complete the inquiries and what their outcome will be.

Presumably, the IDF, despite the platitudes about its morality, would have averted the investigations even though more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed in the 50 days of fighting, at least half of them civilians. The army appears to be conducting the inquiries against its will, in the hope that they will immunize it from international investigations.

The IDF’s reluctance to conduct a real investigation into the violations of the laws of war is apparent in its lagging implementation of the Turkel committee’s conclusions on this issue, published about 18 months ago.

The human rights organizations Yesh Din and B’Tselem say that in the current situation it is difficult to trust the IDF’s investigations, because the existing system does not enable a rigorous, effective probe and “suffers from serious structural failures.”

It’s natural and understandable for Israelis to support IDF soldiers. But at the same time they must also demand the examination of whether the soldiers acted legally. The IDF, by means of the Military Advocate General, must implement the Turkel committee’s conclusions in full in the investigations being conducted now. Otherwise it will be difficult to convince the public that these probes are not merely a show put on to mollify world public opinion.

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