IDF opens criminal probe into 5 cases in wake of Gaza op

Army investigating shelling of UNRWA school and attack that killed 4 children on a beach, among others incidents; no indication of war crimes, senior officer says

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

Palestinian mourners shout slogans during the funeral of four boys, all from the Bakr family, in Gaza City, on July 16, 2014. The four were killed and several others were injured at a beach in Gaza in an Israeli shelling. (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)
Palestinian mourners shout slogans during the funeral of four boys, all from the Bakr family, in Gaza City, on July 16, 2014. The four were killed and several others were injured at a beach in Gaza in an Israeli shelling. (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)

Two weeks after the 50-day Israel-Hamas conflict ended, the Military Advocate General Corps has ordered an investigation into five cases, ranging from high-profile airstrikes to a simple case of alleged theft, a senior IDF officer said Wednesday. He said that thus far the IDF was unaware of any cases that might constitute a war crime.

He said that a fact-finding team headed by Maj. Gen. Noam Tibon and staffed with officers with the rank of colonel and above is in the process of investigating 44 “exceptional incidents.” Of those, 12 have already been referred to the Military Advocate General’s office for a final decision, with seven cases closed, three pending, and two resulting in criminal investigations.

Three other cases, in which there was a prima facie “reasonable suspicion” of violations of the law, resulted in immediate investigations without further review.

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.

The two cases recommended by Tibon’s team of high-ranking reserves officers are a 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 military has also forwarded the particulars of 55 other cases to Tibon’s preliminary commission for further investigation.

Following the July 24 attack on the UNRWA school, the UN and Hamas blamed Israel, but after an investigation, the IDF said that while one of its shells had hit the school, it had not caused any casualties.

Earlier Wednesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the UN was preparing to investigate the targeting of UNRWA schools and deaths of the organization’s workers in Gaza during the conflict, which Israel dubbed Operation Protective Edge.

That investigation will be separate from the UN Human Rights Council probe looking into possible war crimes committed by Israel, Ban told the Arabic daily Al-Hayat, adding that there was also a need to investigate the discovery of weapons stored in UNRWA facilities in Gaza during the conflict.

The senior army officer said that the MAG Corps would also be looking into the use of artillery in urban areas during an armed conflict and the events of August 1 in Rafah, when a controversial protocol was enacted after the killing and abduction of Lt. Hadar Goldin.

He further asserted that the targeting of Hamas leaders’ homes during the conflict was not green-lighted by MAG for “punitive” reasons but rather because of the active military threat from the structures at the time.

Additionally, he said that the airstrikes that felled high-rise apartment buildings in Gaza in the final days of the conflict were authorized in accordance with the principals of proportionality.

In the wake of Operation Cast Lead, a senior officer said, the IDF conducted 52 criminal investigations, resulting in three convictions. The investigations, however, were initiated slowly, after Goldstone had already begun his investigation.

The MAG Corps “is a learning organization,” the senior officer said. “We are always trying to improve.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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