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Analysis

BICOM Briefing: Israel’s latest response to Goldstone

To read the new Israeli document, Gaza Operation Investigations: Second Update click here.

Key points

  • On 20July, Israel issued an update on its investigations into accusations of misconduct by its forces in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. This includes charges raised in the Goldstone Report. 
  • Israel’s Military Police have opened 11 additional criminal investigations since January, resulting in a total of 47 criminal investigations initiated so far. Charges have been brought in some cases, including one of manslaughter.
  • The update provides new information from IDF inquiries into specific incidents, including the cases of the el-Bader flour mill and Maqadme Mosque.
  • The update also gives details of changes to IDF operational procedure to minismise harm to civilians, including a Humanitarian Affairs Officer to be integrated into combat units.
  • This is Israel’s third report on its investigations into Operation Cast Lead. The July 2009 Operation in Gaza Report can be read here, and the Gaza Operation Investigations update from January 2010 can be read here

Background

  • On 20 July 2010, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a new document as part of Israel’s response to accusations made against its conduct in Operation Cast Lead. The document updates information presented in previous reports released in July 2009 and January 2010.
  • The report summarises the major investigations over the last six months, including specific incidents discussed in the Goldstone Report. The update also summarises changes in operational procedures based on lessons learned from Operation Cast Lead.
  • A UN General Assembly resolution endorsed the Goldstone Report on 5 November 2009, and gave Israel and the Palestinians three months to undertake ‘independent, credible investigations’ into allegations of violations of international law.
  • On 26 February 2010, the General Assembly gave five more months for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to carry on investigations. Israel’s new report comes ahead of the 26 July deadline.

What will happen next?

  • On 26 July 2010, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will report back to the General Assembly on progress made by both sides in investigating the allegations within the Goldstone Report. While some states have recommended that Israel should be investigated by the International Criminal Court if it fails to produce what is considered an adequate response, the likelihood of this occurring is low. Only the Security Council can order a war crimes investigation, and the majority of its permanent members are likely to oppose such a move.

Key points in Israel’s response

  • Since January 2010, Israel’s Military Police Criminal Investigative Division has opened 11 additional criminal investigations, resulting in a total of 47 criminal investigations initiated so far into specific incidents relating to Operation Cast Lead. Inquiries have been conducted by a team of 16 investigators who have interviewed many witnesses, including Palestinian complainants.
  • The update lists examples where The Military Advocate General (MAG) has filed criminal charges. This includes one case where an IDF soldier has been charged for manslaughter in the shooting of a Palestinian civilian. These cases are in addition to an earlier conviction of an IDF soldier for looting.
  • The update also lists several other investigations which have resulted in disciplinary actions. For example, an IDF Brigadier General and a Colonel have been disciplined for approving the use of explosive shells in violation of the safety distances required in urban areas. An IDF Lieutenant Colonel was disciplined for permitting a Palestinian civilian to enter a building where terrorists were present. An IDF officer was also severely reprimanded and two other officers sanctioned for failing to exercise appropriate judgment during an incident that resulted in civilian casualties in the Al-Maqadmah Mosque.
  • The report details changes to IDF orders and combat doctrine designed to further minimise civilian casualties and damage to civilian property in the future. New procedures will place greater emphasis on the protection of civilians as an integral part of an IDF commander’s mission. A Humanitarian Affairs Officer will now be integrated into each combat unit beginning at the battalion level and above. New procedures will also regulate the destruction of private property in cases of military necessity.
  • The Turkel Commission, launched in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident, will examine the the conformity of Israel’s mechanisms for investigating complaints raised in relation to violations of the Law of Armed Conflict with its obligations under international law. 

Specific issues and incidents addressed

Israel has launched more than 150 investigations into allegations of misconduct or violations of the Law of Armed Conflict related to the Gaza Operation. The IDF has declared that it is committed to investigating all credible accusations. The new report updates on several cases:

  • Alleged mistreatment of Palestinian civilians and detainees.
    • ‘H.R.’ Case: In the case of a Palestinian boy allegedly used as a human shield by IDF forces operating on 15 January 2010 in the Tel Al-Hawa area of Gaza City, two soldiers are currently on trial.
    • Majdi Abd-Rabbo: In this case a Palestinian man who apparently entered a house voluntarily to talk to armed men wanted by the IDF, this was in attempt to prevent damage to his own house. A Lieutenant Colonel was disciplined for allowing him to do so.
    • Conditions of Palestinian detainees: A number of specific allegations have been dismissed but an ongoing special command investigation is being conducted into the conditions of detention of Palestinian detainees during the operation.

 

  • Alleged targeting of civilian objects and sensitive sites
    • Mortar strike close to UNRWA school in Jabalia: The report found forces acted legitimately. However, more stringent definitions in military orders will now govern the use of mortars in populated areas and close to sensitive facilities.
    • Al Maqadmah Mosque: Three officers were disciplined for negligence and showing poor judgement over the airstrike next to the mosque. However, it was only discovered that the building might be a mosque immediately before the strike and civilian casualties were not anticipated.
    • Hamas “Police” Stations in al-Sajaiyeh and Deir al-Balah: The targets were legitimate but improvements are to be made to the mapping of sensitive sites, including areas civilians may gather such as markets.
    • Hamas Security Force Building adjacent to the Main Prison: The inquiry found that Hamas barracks next to the prison were legitimately targeted. 
    • UNRWA Field Office Compound: A Brigadier General and a Colonel were disciplined for authorising the use of high explosive shells in violation of the safety distances required in urban areas. No criminal charges were brought as the Israeli officers were aiming at military targets. The IDF is establishing permanent restrictions on the use of white phosphorus in urban areas.

 

  • Investigations concerning the alleged targeting of civilians.  
    • Juhr ad-Dik Incident: A soldier has been charged with manslaughter following a criminal investigation into an incident in which a group of civilians were fired on.
    • Rouhiya al-Najjar: A bullet fired as a warning towards an advancing crowd ricocheted and struck Rouhiya al-Najjar, killing her. After a criminal investigation, the soldier who fired the shot was found not criminally liable, as the shot was not intended to harm civilians. However, changes to IDF operational procedures when giving evacuation instructions to civilians were recommend.
    • Amal, Souad, Samar, and Hajja Souad Abd Rabbo & Adham Kamiz Nasir: The MAG investigated allegations that four civilians were shot by a soldier standing on a tank. Eleven testimonies from Palestinians were collected and more than 50 commanders and soldiers questioned. The evidence could not confirm the description of the incident and the MAG decided there was insufficient evidence for charges to be brought. In a related incident of soldiers firing on a horse drawn carriage, no charges were brought as the soldiers believed the carriage was carrying explosives.  
    • Abd al-Dayem: A criminal investigation was launched in the case of flechette shells harming civilians at the Abd al-Dayem condolence tents at Beit Hanoun on 5 January. The inquiry found the Israeli tank crew involved targeted a squad about to fire a Grad rocket into Israel. Though civilians were unintentionally harmed, the Israeli troops reasonably believed no civilians were present, and no charges were brought.

 

  • Investigations concerning damage to private property  The Goldstone Report cited several incidents as evidence of a deliberate Israeli strategy to damage essential civilian infrastructure. This accusation is rejected absolutely by Israel. IDF orders prohibit damage to civilian property except in cases of imperative military necessity and where the damage is proportionate to the military advantage.
    •  The El-Bader Flour Mill: Israel’s January 2010 document reported that contrary to allegations, the mill was not deliberately targeted with an airstrike but was struck by a tank shell in the course of combat. Subsequent media reports claimed there was UN evidence of an Israeli aerial bomb found in the mill, proving an airstrike took place. The Israeli Air Force examined the UN evidence and reaffirmed that there were no airstrike closer than 350 metres from the mill. The Israeli report also points out no entry holes were found in the roof of the mill, no tracer marks were found on the floor, and the unexploded IAF shell was located on the first floor, where damaged was only located on the second. The investigation could not rule out that the ordnance had been planted.
    •  The Sawafeary Chicken Coops: A command investigations found that the Sawafeary chicken coops were destroyed to secure a sensitive military position taken up IDF soldiers to prevent rocket fire into Israel. The soldiers were under threat from Hamas fire. Whilst this action was found to be lawful, it was ordered by a relatively junior officer. IDF’s procedures for destruction of civilian property are being reviewed.
    •  The Abu Jubbah Cement-Packaging Plant: Investigations concluded that the cement plant was not the target of any aerial or artillery fire. Instead, it was damaged in the course of intense fighting that took place in the immediate area of the plant, including IDF efforts to locate and destroy tunnel systems dug by Hamas.
    • o The Al-Wadiyah Group’s Factories: IDF forces encountered a constant barrage of hostile fire from the area. A command investigation concluded IDF forces fighting in the area near the factories discovered well-prepared military infrastructure including IEDs and tunnel networks. The investigation concluded that the demolition of the buildings was lawful, as it was necessary to protect IDF forces operating in the area.