Meager results from Israeli military investigations of its own conduct in Gaza 3 years ago

The Israeli human rights information organization B’Tselem has reported that it received an update from the Israeli Military’s Attorney-General on the status of complaints [including some from B’Tselem] made into specific aspects of the Israeli military conduct of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza — 3 years ago [27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009].

But, B’Tselem noted, the results of the Israeli military’s investigations into its own actions in that unprecedented operation in Gaza were “meager”.

B’Tselem noted that during Operation Cast Lead:

    “damage to the civilian population in Gaza was colossal: Israeli security forces killed 1,391 Palestinians, at least 759 of whom (including 318 minors under age 18) were civilians who had not been taking part in the hostilities. More than 5,300 Palestinians were injured, at least 350 of them seriously. The operation also caused extensive damage to homes, industrial plants and the agricultural sector, in addition to the electricity, sanitation, water, and health infrastructure that had already been on the brink of collapse due to Israel’s siege on Gaza. According to UN estimates, the military destroyed more than 3,500 homes, leaving some 20,000 persons homeless”.

B’Tselem noted that it had just received its third update from the military on 1 January, although:

    “After the operation ended, B’Tselem and other human rights organizations wrote to the attorney general, demanding that he establish an independent body for investigating the military’s actions during the operation. The attorney general rejected the demand, stating that the military had acted in accordance with international humanitarian law. In addition, he stated that military units were holding operational inquiries into incidents in which civilians had been harmed, and that the findings would be forwarded to the military advocate general and to the attorney general for a decision whether to pursuer further action in each case … B’Tselem wrote to the MAG Corps demanding that he order criminal investigations into 20 cases in which the organization’s research indicated suspected breaches of international humanitarian law. In total, these cases involved the killing of 92 Palestinians and the use of three Palestinian civilians as human shields.
    No substantive reply was received. However, the Military Police Investigation Unit (MPIU) contacted B’Tselem to request assistance in advancing its investigations … At the MPIU’s request, B’Tselem helped arrange the arrival of witnesses for questioning in each of the ten cases. The organization also provided investigators with medical reports and other documents relating to the cases. Only in September 2010, more than a year and a half after the operation, did the MPIU request assistance in arranging the questioning of members of the Samuni family, regarding the incident in which 21 members of their family, including children, had been killed. Since then, B’Tselem has received no requests from the MPIU regarding any of the cases. The MAG Corps recently informed B’Tselem that another investigation had been opened, raising the total number of investigations opened into cases researched by the organization to 11 … It was not until 1 January 2012, almost three years after the end of the operation, that the MAG Corps sent B’Tselem an update regarding hundreds of complaints that that organization had submitted over the past decade and more, including those relating to Operation Cast Lead”.

But, B’Tselem wrote, in an information note published here today, said that the “meager results” of the military investigations were not surprising:

    “Three years after the end of the operation, the dozens of MPIU [Military Police Investigation Unit] investigations opened into cases of harm to civilians have yet to yield results. The Military Advocate General Corps has created a haze around them, preventing any possibility of examining their effectiveness. The Corps’ responses to B’Tselem, combined with media reports, indicate that three indictments have been filed against soldiers who took part in the operation: for theft of a credit card from a Palestinian civilian, for use of a nine-year-old Palestinian child as a human shield, and for ‘manslaughter of an anonymous person’.

    In three other cases, disciplinary action alone was taken. Two officers were disciplined for firing explosive shells that struck an UNRWA facility; three officers were disciplined for shelling the al-Maqadmeh Mosque, in which 15 Palestinians were killed, nine of them civilians; and one officer was disciplined for the use of Palestinian civilian Majdi ‘Abd Rabo as a human shield, after the Adalah organization wrote to the MAG Corps demanding an investigation into the case.

    The investigations were all opened at a very late stage – the first, to B’Tselem knowledge, in October 2009, a full ten months after the operation had ended. At present, three years after the operation, there is hardly a chance that investigations will lead to further indictments. There has never been a serious investigation into the suspicions raised by B’Tselem and additional Israeli, Palestinian and international organizations regarding breaches of international humanitarian law by the military during the operation.

    Most of B’Tselem’s demands for investigation were not met. The investigations that were opened did not, to B’Tselem’s knowledge, address the responsibility of high-ranking commanders, but rather focused on the conduct of individual soldiers. Israel’s choice to investigate only isolated incidents, and not the military’s conduct as a whole during the operation, gives cause for concern that persons responsible for extremely grave breaches of law have not been questioned. Among the issues that have not been investigated are the following:
    The policy that guided the forces during the offensive;
    the legality of the orders given to the soldiers;
    the choice of targets for bombing;
    the means taken to protect the civilian population.
    These questions lie at the very heart core of international humanitarian law. Their resolution is vital to examining the legality of the military’s conduct during Operation Cast Lead”.

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