Investigate 2014 Gaza War's 'Black Friday'

The fact that no criminal investigations have been opened is execrable, in light of the fact that it is these events that have raised the greatest number of questions about the proportionality of force employed by the army

Palestinians in Rafah, Gaza following an Israeli airstrike, August 2, 2014.

The events in the Gazan city of Rafah on August 1, 2014, during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, earned the sobriquet “Black Friday.” In the course of the day, the army employed the “Hannibal Directive,” permitting a number of actions meant to foil an abduction, including ones that can endanger the lives of civilians and the abduction target.

According to military sources, it was the most aggressive employment of the directive ever carried out by the Israel Defense Forces. According to a review by the Givati Brigade, the army fired some 800 artillery shells and 260 mortar shells in Rafah, and war planes bombed about 20 targets. In addition to Hamas militants, dozens of innocent Palestinian civilians were killed in the exceptionally harsh strikes. In the wake of the combat in Gaza, lawyers and human rights groups submitted numerous complaints of war crimes, some of them motivated by media reports and soldiers’ testimonies to Breaking the Silence, to the office of the Military Advocate General. Data from MAG indicate that some 500 cases were examined, most of them through the “General Staff process” – a team of officers in the standing army and reserves whose role is to examine claims of violations of the law of armed conflict.

But according to the army’s own figures, only 32 investigations were initiated as a result of these examinations. In most of the incidents that were examined, “there was no reasonable suspicion that a criminal act was carried out by IDF forces, whether by particular soldiers or in the level of policy,” the army said.

Despite the recommendations of the Ciechanover Commission — according to which MAG should decide whether to open an investigation within 14 months — Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek has not yet decided whether the events of “Black Friday” warrant a criminal investigation, even though three years have passed and hundreds of hours have been invested in investigations. That is execrable, in light of the fact that it is these events that have raised the greatest number of questions about the proportionality of force employed by the army, which led to a large number of civilian deaths (the exact number of which is debated).

The justice minister has recently acted to prosecute a soldier who admitted beating a Palestinian during his army service. In her call to investigate Breaking the Silence spokesman Dean Issacharoff over his testimony, Ayelet Shaked demonstrates exceptional commitment to the matter, equal to that of the organization itself, which in response called on her to investigate the hundreds of combat soldiers who broke the silence without concealing their faces. Given her commitment to the issue, she should certainly demand an investigation of the events of “Black Friday” and the suspicions of war crimes in Rafah.

It should be emphasized that even if the use of disproportionate force was a result of the old Hannibal directive, which has since been amended by the current chief of staff, the judgment of the senior commanders in the field must be examined and assessed in the light of the tragic consequences of the employment of that force.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.