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Gaza Two Years On: 27 cases of suspected war crimes, 0 indictments

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Adalah and Al Mezan filed joint complaints in 27 cases after 2014 Gaza war involving suspicion of grave violations of int'l law; Israel has not probed even one case in accordance with int'l standards.

Two years have passed since Israel's 2014 military offensive in the Gaza Strip that killed 2,251 Palestinians – the vast majority civilians – including 299 women and 551 children, and destroyed 18,000 homes and other civilian structures.

From the outset of the war, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights filed a series of complaints in 27 cases to Israeli authorities demanding independent investigations into suspected violations of international law committed by the Israeli military in Gaza, and criminal prosecutions of those responsible.

But, according to a new report prepared by Adalah and Al Mezan, two years on in cases involving the killings and severe injury to civilians, including children, and extensive damage to civilian property, including hospitals, schools, the water infrastructure, among others, there have been 0 indictments. And Israel has not examined even a single case in accordance with the international standards of investigation: independence, impartiality, effectiveness, promptness and transparency.

The Israeli Military Advocate General's (MAG) probes that are now underway into these cases are being conducted in a sluggish and convoluted manner that fails to meet these standards. And two years on, the Israeli authorities are still investigating or have yet to even respond to 48 percent of our joint complaints, and many fewer of Al Mezan's 107 other complaints.

Palestinians search through the rubble of their destroyed homes hit by Israeli strikes in the northern Gaza Strip on 7 August, 2014. (UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan)

The new Adalah-Al Mezan report finds that: "Israel is unwilling to conduct genuine, independent investigations into suspected war crimes, and does not hold those responsible to account, as required by international law. This situation continues to be the case even after the Israeli military established its Fact-Finding Assessment Mechanism (FFAM) following 'Operation Protective Edge' (OPE), which was supposed to improve its investigative processes."

The FFAM was established after the 2014 operation and is the result of the state's purported efforts to implement the recommendations of the 2013 Turkel Commission to work thoroughly and promptly, in as close a timeframe as possible to the date of the incident in question in order to ensure that the investigation is prompt and effective. However FFAM operates in an extremely plodding, non-transparent fashion. In fact, most of the complaints filed are effectively frozen under FFAM's purview.

The table below summarizes the status of these 27 cases based on the responses of the Military Advocate General (AG):

   table222                    

In fact, from these cases, it appears that Israel deliberately places numerous obstacles to investigations aimed at protecting its armed forces.

One high-profile case in which an investigation was opened but was then subsequently closed concerned the killing of the four Bakr boys while they were playing football on the Khan Yunis beach. The case garnered extensive international media and public attention, particularly due to its occurrence near a hotel where many foreign journalists were staying. In the course of its investigation, the Israeli military did not collect testimonies from these journalists or from Palestinian witnesses who were there at the time of the killing. The Israeli Military Advocate General (MAG) closed the file in June 2015, contending that the area in which the boys were killed amounted to a justified, military target. The stated grounds for the MAG's decision to close the case were based strictly on military evidence. In August 2015, Adalah and Al Mezan filed an appeal against the MAG's decision; one year later, the case is still pending before the Israeli attorney general.

Before submitting the appeal, Adalah and Al Mezan requested access to the materials on which the MAG made its decision, and the MAG failed to reply, despite numerous letters and phone calls. The organizations went forward and filed the appeal. Nine months later, the State Attorney's office informed that the MAG was willing to disclose certain materials, and that the appeal should be re-filed. Again, after numerous requests, two months later no materials have been provided.

Another high-profile case which the MAG announced the closure of last week, on 24 August 2016, concern an attack near a UNRWA school in Rafah, where civilians were sheltering. Here 15 people were killed, including 8 children, and another 25 were wounded.

In this case the FFAM based its conclusions strictly upon classified military evidence without any field investigation, and the MAG confirmed that no investigation is necessary. However, its conclusions clearly contradict findings by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the 2014 Gaza Conflict, the UN Board of Inquiry, and international and local human rights organizations that found that the attack was indiscriminate and disproportionate in nature. This major discrepancy demonstrates the need for an independent investigation, in accordance with international standards.

In this case, the UN Commission of Inquiry wrote: "The use of such weapons in the immediate vicinity of an UNRWA school sheltering civilians is highly likely to constitute an indiscriminate attack which, depending on the circumstances, may qualify as a direct attack against civilians, and may therefore amount to a war crime." Nonetheless the MAG did not see fit to open an investigation.

These cases, as well as others, shed light on the Israeli military's ongoing and systemic efforts to block investigations and fact-finding efforts.

Israel’s flawed investigative mechanisms appear primarily geared towards protecting its armed forces, thus allowing impunity to prevail. So long as the Israeli military continues to investigate itself, the process will be inherently soiled by a clear conflict of interest.

Ramallah
Ras Al-Tahouneh ST, near Al-Muqata'a
Al-Bireh, Palestine
Phone: 02 297 4563/4
Fax: 02 297 4565
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Gaza
Tomouh Building (Jawwal), Al-Jala'
Gaza City, Palestine
Phone: 08 288 3115
Fax: 08 288 3114
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