IDF launches 8 criminal probes over incidents in Gaza war

A total of 13 investigations, involving close to 50 Palestinian deaths, now being conducted; 7 cases closed

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

Israeli soldiers seen at an IDF gathering point in a field near the Israeli border with Gaza, July 27, 2014. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers seen at an IDF gathering point in a field near the Israeli border with Gaza, July 27, 2014. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The army’s chief legal officer has ordered the military police to investigate eight new cases from the summer’s operation in Gaza, bringing the total of current criminal investigations to 13, the IDF Magistrate Advocate General said Saturday.

The eight new cases involve the deaths of some 30 Palestinians, including 27 who died in an IDF strike on the home of the Abu-Jama family in Khan Yunis. In all, the 13 cases now being probed — which include the ongoing investigations into a strike on an UNRWA school in which 14 people were killed, and an airstrike that killed four children on a Gaza beach — concern the deaths of close to 50 Palestinians.

Saturday’s announcement came in the wake of last summer’s 50-day Operation Protective Edge against Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza and in advance of the United Nations Human Rights Council report, which is expected, like the 2009 Goldstone Report, to accuse Israel of war crimes – a charge the army and the government vehemently deny.

Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, the commander of the MAG Corps and the only officer in the army not directly under the command of the chief of staff, appointed a fact-finding commission during the operation. Headed by Maj. Gen. Noam Tibon, a member of the General Staff, the investigative teams have looked into approximately 100 incidents, the army said, with some 85 “under various stages of review.”

On Saturday evening the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit stated that the army has launched eight new criminal investigations and closed seven other files, in which the forces’ actions did not “substantiate reasonable grounds for suspicion of criminal behavior, and therefore there is no basis for an investigation.”

The army, Efroni confirmed, is now investigating a July 25, 2014 incident in which IDF troops fired at and killed an ambulance driver near the city of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. The evidence indicated the “existence of grounds for a reasonable suspicion that the incident involved a deviation from the rules and procedures applicable to IDF forces,” an army spokesman said, and therefore a criminal investigation into the incident has been ordered.

Other incidents include the July 20, 2014 IDF strike on the house of the Abu-Jama family in Khan Yunis in which 27 people were killed; the July 29, 2014 death of Mohammed Tawfik Mohammed Kadiach, who was shot and killed by IDF forces while carrying a white flag in the Kuhza’a region; a July 25 strike that killed an ambulance driver; and four cases of theft.

The speed with which the MAG Corps is operating stands in contrast to the army’s actions in the wake of the 2008-9 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, when an international panel headed by Judge Richard Goldstone began investigating cases that the army had yet to fully address.

Roughly 18 months after the release of the Goldstone Report, with the Israeli army having investigated 400 cases of alleged operational misconduct, the author wrote in the Washington Post that, “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

Two high-profile cases already under criminal investigation are the July 24 strike on an UNRWA school in the northern part of the Strip, in which 14 people were killed, and a July 16 airstrike that killed four children on a beach in Gaza.

The beach attack happened near a hotel housing several foreign journalists, who reported that there did not appear to be military activity in the area when the airstrike hit, killing the four and injuring several others.

The other three cases are a July 18 case in which a woman was shot in Dahaniyeh, allegedly by army troops, even though “her movements were previously coordinated” with IDF troops, a senior officer said; a July 23-27 incident in which teenager Ahmad Abu Raida contended, in a New York Times report, that he was subjected to unlawful acts while in IDF custody in Gaza; and a suspicion of theft by a soldier in Shejaiya on July 20.

The dismissed cases revolved around incidents in which the MAG Corps determined that the forces had taken the necessary precautions in order to minimize the threat to innocents. A July 9, 2014 case in which a number of persons working at a Red Crescent station were wounded and three ambulances were damaged was found to be a place where Palestinian terrorist organizations had positioned rockets aimed at Israel in underground rocket launching sites a few dozen meters away from the Red Crescent station. The army attacked at night and employed appropriate munitions, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit relayed.

The targeting procedure, the statement read, “accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements, and included significant efforts to minimize harm to civilians. The MAG further found that the damage caused to the Red Crescent station was unavoidable considering the proximity of the rockets placed by the Palestinian terror organizations only a few tens of meters from the station.”

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