IDF opens 7 criminal cases into Gaza war, shuts book on school shelling
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IDF opens 7 criminal cases into Gaza war, shuts book on school shelling

Military Advocate General says office will look into looting by soldiers, closes 11 other cases of alleged misconduct during 2014 conflict, determines no wrongdoing in deadly bombings

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Smoke trails mark the path of Palestinian missiles fired from the northeast of Gaza City on August 21, 2014 (AFP/ROBERTO SCHMIDT)
Smoke trails mark the path of Palestinian missiles fired from the northeast of Gaza City on August 21, 2014 (AFP/ROBERTO SCHMIDT)

Two years after the 2014 Gaza War, the Israel Defense Forces has opened seven criminal investigations into incidents that took place during the fighting, the Military Advocate General’s office reported Wednesday.

At the same time, the army’s top judicial official determined that several deadly bombardments in the Strip, including a widely condemned strike near a Rafah school that killed several people, were carried out with proper procedures followed.

“MAG found that the targeting process in question accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements,” it wrote.

Five criminal investigations were closed and another six cases were resolved, without criminal proceedings, the IDF said in a 21-page report released Wednesday.

Following Operation Protective Edge, as the offensive was termed in Israel, the MAG unit received approximately 500 complaints, which resulted in investigations into some 360 incidents concerning alleged crimes committed by IDF soldiers during the course of the 50-day conflict.

Of those 360 “exceptional incidents,” 24 of them have thus far resulted in criminal proceedings, while the rest were either closed or are still being researched in order to determine if criminal proceedings are warranted, the MAG said.

Since the 2014 conflict, these criminal proceedings have led to three IDF soldiers being indicted for “looting and aiding and abetting looting,” the army said.

On Wednesday, the Military Advocate General, under Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek, released details on seven incidents that merit a full criminal investigation.

A man sits in a destroyed house in Al Shejaeiya neighborhood in the east of Gaza City, August 28, 2014 (Emad Nassar/Flash90)
A man sits in a destroyed house in Al Shejaeiya neighborhood in the east of Gaza City, August 28, 2014 (Emad Nassar/Flash90)

The first dealt with a July 17, 2014, incident in which an unnamed resident of Khirbet Khuza’a, in the southern Gaza Strip, was allegedly abused and robbed by IDF soldiers.

According to the allegation, the soldiers detained the resident and beat him. In addition, “it was alleged that the soldiers took a cash sum from his pocket, which was not returned to him after his release,” the MAG said.

Military Advocate General Col. Sharon Afek. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Military Advocate General Col. Sharon Afek. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The other six cases deal with behavior by certain IDF soldiers throughout the operation. According to a complaint filed by a non-governmental organization, the soldiers are believed to have:

Fired at civilian buildings and cars in violation of IDF’s operational instructions; harmed civilians in violation of IDF’s operational instructions; intentionally inflicted damage to property in violation of IDF’s operational instructions; and looted.

“Subsequently, the MAG ordered the opening of criminal investigations into these incidents,” according to the IDF report.

‘Disgraceful’ school shelling case closed

Since the last official update by the Military Advocate General in June 2015, six cases of “exceptional incidents” were closed, according to Wednesday’s report.

Four of these cases dealt with the deaths of civilians — a July 20 strike on a building that killed seven people, a July 21 attack that resulted in the deaths of 12 family members, an August 1 strike that killed approximately 15 people, and an August 3 strike near a school in Rafah that resulted in the deaths of between four and 12 civilians.

In each of these four cases, the Military Advocate General determined that though the deaths of the civilians were “tragic and regrettable,” the decisions to attack were made with all due consideration for potential risk and adhered to the concept of proportionality required by Israeli and international law.

The August 3 Rafah shelling was strongly condemned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the time, while the United States called it “disgraceful.”

French President Francois Hollande said the bombing was “unacceptable” and called for those responsible to “answer for their actions.”

The military report said that at the time a three Palestinian fighters were spotted riding a motorcycle in Rafah.

A decision was made to make an air strike on them using a low-explosive missile to minimise damage to surroundings and after a sweep of the area showed no civilians in harm’s way.

It said that after the missile was launched the men unexpectedly headed off a roundabout with multiple exits, toward the school gate.

“At the moment upon which the motorbike exited the traffic circle and started to travel along the road bordering the wall which surrounded the school, it was no longer possible to divert the munition which had been fired at the motorbike,” the English-language document said.

A Palestinian family walks on August 27, 2014, past the collapsed remains of a building in Shejaiya that was destroyed in fighting between Hamas and Israel. (AFP/ROBERTO SCHMIDT)
A Palestinian family walks, on August 27, 2014, past the collapsed remains of a building in Shejaiya that was destroyed in fighting between Hamas and Israel. (AFP/ROBERTO SCHMIDT)

Regarding allegations that the army disturbed the functioning of a hospital in Khan Younis, the Military Advocate General noted that the hospital itself was never damaged in the conflict and that though the IDF attempted to avoid carrying out attacks in its vicinity, there were some instances where it was unavoidable given the nature of the fighting.

The MAG also closed a case regarding a tank unit that fired on fuel tanks for a power plant in Nusseirat in the central Gaza Strip. Though the unit was found to have hit one of the plant’s fuel tanks, the army determined that this was accidental and that the unit was not aware that what they hit was connected to the power plant, as the fuel tank was located a good distance from the plant itself.

Finally, the MAG completely disregarded a complaint that the army had failed to provide medical treatment for a female resident of Khirbet Khuza’a in late July 2014.

According to the investigation, the army unit in question provided first aid for the injured woman and encouraged her to contact the Palestinian Red Crescent for further care, which she should have been able to receive, given the multiple ceasefires in the area in the following days.

The 50-day Operation Protective Edge killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, according to Palestinian sources in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. The IDF says about half of those killed were combatants. Seventy-three Israelis were killed in the fighting, 66 of them soldiers.

Israel launched the operation in Gaza last summer in a mission to halt relentless rocket fire by Hamas terrorists. Hamas seized control of Gaza in a violent coup against the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Commander cleared for ‘memorial’ shelling

In addition to opening the seven criminal cases, the IDF also closed several criminal cases in recent months.

Neria Yeshurin (Arutz 7 screenshot)
Neria Yeshurin (Arutz 7 screenshot)

One of the more famous criminal cases mentioned in the document concerned Lt. Col. Neria Yeshurun, a tank battalion commander, who ordered his troops to fire at a medical clinic in Gaza “in memoriam,” for an officer who was killed by a sniper the day before.

Yeshurun claimed his decision to shell the Gaza City clinic was not made because of the killed officer, Capt. Dimitri Levitas, who was shot the day before by a sniper hiding atop the building.

“According to the commander, his words over the communications channel were intended to raise the spirits of his subordinates for the continuing hostilities, after an officer from the force was killed the previous day — and did not reflect the operational rationale for ordering the fire,” the report said.

‘Such a message might blur the boundaries between permitted and forbidden, and induce failure in soldiers and commanders exposed to such message, especially during combat’

Despite this claim, the Military Advocate General found that Yeshurun’s comment that the bombardment was “in memoriam” for Levitas “might blur the boundaries between permitted and forbidden, and induce failure in soldiers and commanders exposed to such message, especially during combat.”

The MAG encouraged the IDF General Staff to officially reprimand Yeshurun, but not indict him. And in June, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan censured Yeshurun for his remark.

Two of the other closed criminal cases dealt with abuse and the other two concerned allegations of looting.

An Israeli Merkava tank operating along the Gaza border on August 6, 2014 (Miriam Alster/ Flash 90)
An Israeli Merkava tank operating along the Gaza border on August 6, 2014 (Miriam Alster/ Flash 90)

In the two cases of abuse and in one of the looting cases, the MAG found insufficient evidence to proceed. In the second looting case, which occurred in late July in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, the army found that the cash in question had not been taken from the complainant’s house by the IDF troops, but had instead been concealed “in a discreet location in the structure, in order to prevent its theft,” the MAG said.

In addition, the amount of money in question — NIS 2,500 — was found to be far less than the amount alleged by the complainant — NIS 85,000.

AFP contributed to this report.

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