IDF announces disciplinary action + one indictment for Operation Cast Lead

The IDF announced that its Military Advocate General, Maj.-Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, has made decisions on four separate cases concerning Operation Cast Lead, about which complaints were filed, after he examined findings from investigations carried out through a number of different channels. In one of the cases Mendelblit decided to take no legal measures, despite an earlier decision in that case by the IDF Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi to take disciplinary action.

The IDF reported that the Military Advocate General [MAG] decided the following:

(1.) On 4 or 5 January 2009, in the Juhar al-Dik neighborhood, two women in a group carrying white flags were shot and killed [by “IDF soldiers” on 4 January, as the Palestinians said, or by “a man” on 5 January, as the soldiers testified]:
The Military Advocate General [MAG] ordered that an IDF Staff Sergeant be indicted with charges of manslaughter [and not on lesser charges of manslaughter] by a military court in the case of a complaint made by the Hajjaj Family, that two women [64-year-old Raya Salma Abu Hajjaj and her 37-year-old daughter Majda Abu Hajjaj] were shot on January 4th, 2009, in the neighborhood of Juhar Al-Dik. It was claimed that the women were part of a group of civilians, some of whom were carrying white flags … This MAG decision is based on evidence that the soldier, who was serving as a designated marksman, deliberately targeted an individual walking with a group of people waving a white flag without being ordered or authorized to do so … the comprehensive investigation which found gaps between the testimonies given by the soldiers and those given by Palestinians. This fact made it impossible to make a criminal connection between the described incident according to Palestinian testimonies and to that described by the soldiers. The soldiers testified that on January 5th, 2009 it was a man that was shot and killed in the same location described by Palestinian witnesses … Despite the fact that the two events are apparently one and the same, from a judicial point of view, sufficient connections could not be made between the evidence gathered in the case of the indicted soldier and the event described by Palestinian testimonies. Haaretz reported that “The soldier, identified only as First Sergeant S., said during an army investigation that he had fired at the women’s legs only when he believed troops’ lives to be at risk and had not intended to kill them … The indictment against the soldier, a member of the Givati brigade, was filed on Tuesday following a military hearing”. BTselem noted that “The two women were carrying white flags at the time they were killed”, and wondered if any of the commanders would be charged, but still reportedly said that this indictment was “important”. A BTselem summary of its investigation can be found here.

(2.) On 5 January 2009 – Zeitoun neigh,borhood, a residence sheltering about 100 members of the Al-Samouni family “was struck from the air”: the MAG has ordered a Military Police criminal police investigation to “clarify the circumstances” in which 29 members of this family were killed. .

(3.) No date or precise given in IDF statement, but this was probably in Rafah – concerning the Ibrahim Al-Makadma mosque – “disciplinary action was taken against an IDF Captain for his failed professional judgment in authorizing an attack against a terror operative”: a first IDF report that there had been no hit on the mosque was revised upon further examination ordered by the IDF chief of staff, and it found that “there was in fact an aerial strike in close proximity of the mosque, and this was communicated in an earlier report by the State of Israel to the UN. The aerial strike targeted a terror operative involved in the launching of rockets toward Israel who was standing outside of the mosque. Injuries caused to civilians inside were unintentional and caused by shrapnel that penetrated the mosque. The investigation also showed that the officer who ordered the attack had failed to exercise appropriate judgment. Therefore, the Chief of the General Staff ordered that disciplinary actions be taken against the officer, and that he would not serve in similar positions of command in the future. The officer also stood trial for negligence before the Commander of the Ground Forces Training Center, Brig.-Gen. Avi Ashkenazi, who rebuked him for his actions“. BUT, when the findings of this investigation were handed over to the MAG, he “decided that the attack did not violate international laws of warfare because the attack did not target the mosque, rather it targeted a terror operative, and when the attack was authorized, no possibility of harming civilians was identified. According to this assessment, the Military Advocate General decided that legal measures were not necessary“.

(4.) “An IDF officer at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel was summoned to a disciplinary hearing for having deviated from military directives pertaining to the prohibition on the use of civilians for operational activity” [no further details were given — it looks like a human shield case]. The Jerusalem Post noted that “a battalion commander with the rank of lieutenant colonel … allegedly permitted troops to send a Palestinian into a home where terrorists were located. This was done in an effort to convince the terrorists to leave the home. The battalion commander, who was not present during the incident, gave his approval based on reports that he received from his soldiers that the Palestinian had asked the soldiers to allow him to enter the home in an effort to prevent the demolition of his home which was next door. The MAG decided to press disciplinary and not criminal charges against the officer after reviewing the material collected during the investigation and due to the fact that the Palestinian had requested to enter the home to talk to the terrorists. On the other hand, Mandelblit till decided to hold a hearing for the commander since the use of human shields is a violation of IDF orders and a ruling of the High Court of Justice. This is published here.

(5.) And in additional unspecified cases: it was decided that legal measures would not be taken “because according to the rules of warfare, no faults were found in the forces’ actions“.

(6.) “In yet other cases, there was not enough evidence proving that legal measures needed to be taken”.

The Haaretz report concluded that “The Advocate General also decided to close the proceedings on all the other incidents that were mentioned in the Goldstone Report … The report mentioned 23 incidents of alleged war crimes perpetrated by Israeli soldiers. Mandelblit arrived at these decisions in light of the findings of the military probe in which more than 400 officers and fighters were questioned over the last 18 months”. This report is posted here.

The Jerusalem Post reported that “In two weeks, the IDF and the foreign ministry will present a revised and updated version of its reports on Operation Cast Lead to the United Nations, which will include all findings from these investigations”. This report can be read in full here.

Israel criticized again in UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

The Geneva based NGO UN Watch, which monitors UN activities that touch Israel, notes that, at the end of its third regular session, today, “the UN Human Rights Council condemned Israel twice, bringing its total number of resolutions against the Jewish state, in its [meaning the Human Rights Council – because the State of Israel has existed since 15 May 1948] six months of existence, to eight.  Israel is the only country in the world that the Council has condemned for human rights violations since it was inaugurated in June.  Today’s censures were the only Council resolutions from this session that addressed a specific country.  The two texts deal with ‘follow up’ to two earlier Council resolutions pronouncing Israel guilty of human rights violations in Gaza and in Lebanon without mentioning the actions or violations of Hamas or Hezbollah, which were widely criticized by Western states and human rights organizations as one-sided.  Both of today’s resolutions mandate additional reporting on and scrutiny of Israel’s conduct when the Council meets again in March.”

A press release issued by UN Watch quotes executive director Hillel Neuer as saying ” The Council, regrettably, continues to defy the repeated pleas of Secretary-General Annan to move past its obsession with one-sided resolutions against Israel … [T]he Council is reserving virtually all of its criticism for Israel, and today’s resolutions guarantee that this imbalance will continue at its next session.”

The UN Watch press release adds that “The only other country situation on which the Council has passed a resolution in its first six months is that of Darfur, Sudan.  That resolution, however, neither accuses Sudan of committing violations nor holds it responsible for halting the ongoing atrocities in Darfur”.

The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Darfur next Tuesday, 12 December.

But, until now, UN Watch notes, “The Council’s three previous special sessions, held in July, August, and November, all focused on Israel”.

UN Watch was founded in 1993, by a former U.S. Ambassador (Morris B. Abram).

The present U.S. Ambassador in Geneva, Warren W. Tichenor, made his own statement during today’s session of the UN Human Rights Council, saying: “By condemning only Israel and discouraging an examination of the actions of Hizballah, the Council is rewarding an armed non-state actor, one that is currently trying to bring down the democratically elected Lebanese government, for engaging in repeated armed attacks against a member state of the United Nations.  Hizballah has attacked civilians and has conducted its operations in Lebanon in a manner that puts civilians in harm’s way.  Hizballah deliberately adopted these tactics to camouflage its operations — to insulate its forces from attack, in such a way that even if Israel attacks legitimate targets, Hizballah will score public relations points from the spectacle of Lebanese civilian casualties and death.  The United States remains a strong supporter of Lebanon’s democratically elected government, and the Lebanese people, as we reiterate our dedication to help Lebanon rebuild as they deserve a prosperous and secure country in which they are free to make decisions without fear of violence or intimidation.”

Ambassador Tichenor also said, in his statement to the UN’s Human Rights Council: “The human suffering on both sides of the Lebanon-Israel border earlier this year was a tragedy and remains a serious concern of my government.  Faced with the tragic results of the conflict in Lebanon precipitated by the egregious cross-border attacks by Hizballah, the Council reacted in August with a one-sided and unfair resolution aimed only at Israel. The Council compounded its actions by creating a Commission of Inquiry to investigate only Israel’s use of force. As we heard at this session, the Commission report was one-sided and flawed. When evaluating issues such as targeting, use of weapons, and proportionality — which are in any event matters outside the mandate of the Council — one needs to look fully at all sides to the armed conflict.  Nevertheless, in its long list of recommendations, the Commission managed to make a few that would apply to Hizballah.”

The UN Human Rights Council will hold its fourth session in Geneva next year, over a four-week  period, from 12 March to 5 April 2007.

(The Human Rights Council is mandated to hold at least three separate sessions per year, totalling at least ten weeks.)

Before closing this last regular session of 2006, the Human Rights Council’s President, Luis Alfonso de Alba of Peru, said, according to a UN Press release, that “The Council had been working hard by combining substantive issues with a focus on institution-building. The Council had also dealt with highly topical and substantive issues. Although there were still matters to be worked out, many important things had successfully been accomplished. The Council had been requested by the resolution of the General Assembly to strengthen the mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights by taking the positive and effective instruments of the former Commission on Human Rights… [He also said] It was also important to underscore the achievements made in a positive manner, without excluding any one from participating in the process. The Council was starting a new phase of institution-building and should continue to deal with other issues as well.”