Palestinian families: No justice in IDF inquiry on Gaza beach deaths

Army’s top attorney says area in which children were killed in 2014 war had been used exclusively by Hamas forces

Smoke billows from a beach shack in Gaza City following an IDF strike in which four children were killed, July 16, 2014. (AFP/Thomas Coex)
Smoke billows from a beach shack in Gaza City following an IDF strike in which four children were killed, July 16, 2014. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

The relatives of one of four Palestinian children killed on a Gaza beach during the war between Hamas and Israel last year are outraged that the investigation into their deaths has been closed.

Mohammed Bakr, the father of one of the boys, said Friday, “There is no justice in the internal investigation.”

The July 16 incident on a Gaza City shore drew international outcry and will probably be among those the Palestinians will present in a war crimes case against Israel in the International Criminal Court.

The military’s announcement was released Thursday night. It said the children’s tragic deaths in an airstrike were an accident and did not affect the legality of its military actions in Gaza. No action is being taken against those involved.

The IDF’s top legal official, who announced the decision, also said he would open three new criminal investigations into soldiers’ actions during the 2014 conflict.

The main incident to be probed by Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni involves allegations concerning a military bombardment of a café in Khan Younis that resulted in the deaths of nine Palestinians, the army said in a statement.

The July 10 bombing killed fans who had been watching a World Cup semi-final between Holland and Argentina, according to eyewitnesses.

“The boys ate their Ramadan iftar meal there, and then began watching the match. It is not a military area,” a local policeman told AFP at the time.

The two other incidents include one case in which the Israel Defense Forces troops had allegedly fired tank shells at a medical clinic from which terrorists had shot and killed an IDF officer the previous day, and allegations of the abuse of a detainee captured by the IDF.

Seven criminal investigations have already been opened into soldiers’ actions during the summer campaign, including the bombing of a United Nations school that, according to Palestinians, killed 21 civilians and injured dozens.

Efroni also said three cases had been closed following examination, including the probe into the deaths of the four children on the Gaza Strip coast, which occurred in front of a hotel housing Western journalists and caused worldwide uproar.

Eyewitnesses said the four children had been playing on the beach and tried unsuccessfully to outrun the shelling.

Efroni said the area that was hit had been a known base for Hamas naval forces, who used the area exclusively.

The children, entering the compound at a running pace, were mistaken for Hamas naval forces, he said.

“It was decided to conduct an aerial attack against the figures which had been identified, after all the necessary authorizations for an attack had been obtained, and after a civilian presence in the area had been ruled out,” Efroni stated. “Tragically, in the wake of the incident it became clear that the outcome of the attack was the death of four children, who had entered the military compound for reasons that remain unclear.”

After a review of the investigation’s findings, the Military Advocate General found that the attack process in question “accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements.”

In April, the Military Prosecution filed an indictment with a military court against three soldiers suspected of looting from the homes of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip during the summertime war.

It marked the first case of charges pressed against IDF troops who participated in combat in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge.

The soldiers were accused of stealing NIS 2,420 (about $617) from an apartment in the Gaza neighborhood of Shejaiya, while the third soldier allegedly assisted in the crime.

The two soldiers were also accused of obstruction of justice in the indictment.

The 50-day war is said to have killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, many of them civilians, according to Palestinian sources in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip; and 73 Israelis, including 66 soldiers.

Israel said about half of those killed in Gaza were combatants and blamed Hamas for all civilian casualties, since it placed military infrastructure in residential areas.

Israel launched the operation in Gaza last summer in what it said was a mission to halt relentless rocket fire by Hamas terrorists on towns in the country’s south.

Defending the summer operation as an act of self-defense, Israel blamed Hamas for the heavy civilian death toll, saying the terror group used residential areas for cover. But critics have pointed to the heavy Palestinian death toll and questioned whether Israel’s response was proportionate.

Israel has also come under fire from critics who say it fails to thoroughly investigate its military operations or prosecute soldiers for abuses. Israel says it does investigate its actions, although those inquiries rarely lead to criminal punishment.

Following a similar operation in Gaza in early 2009, the army convicted four soldiers on various charges, including looting, improper use of a weapon and life-endangering conduct. The most serious sentence was a three-and-a-half-month prison term.

Daniel Bernstein, Jonathan Beck and Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.

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