Israel’s High Court of Justice on Sunday rejected a request to reopen an investigation into the deaths of four Palestinian children who were killed by an Israeli airstrike while playing on the beach in the Gaza Strip during the 2014 war.
In its ruling, the court upheld earlier decisions by Israeli military investigators and legal authorities determining that the incident was a tragic mistake.
“With all of the sorrow and heartache over the tragic and difficult outcome of the event in this petition, I did not find that the petitioners pointed to a flaw in the decision of the attorney general,” said Sunday’s ruling, signed by the court’s president, Esther Hayut, and approved unanimously with two other justices.
The cousins from the Bakr family, all between 10 and 11 years old, were playing soccer on the beach when they were killed during the 2014 war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
Zakaria Bakr, an uncle, said that for the family, Israel had acted as both the “criminal and judge.”
“We are not surprised by the decision because even the so-called High Court will only act in favor of the soldiers and to protect them,” he said, vowing to continue the struggle to get the case to international courts.
The incident drew widespread international attention, in part because many foreign journalists staying in nearby hotels witnessed the incident. Images showed the children desperately running away from a jetty as a missile falls, and then the boys falling to the ground one after another.
The deadly airstrike occurred in the early days of the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge. During the 51-day conflict, Palestinian terrorists in the enclave launched thousands of rockets and mortar shells at Israeli cities and towns, primarily in the country’s south, and attempted to launch incursions into Israel using underground tunnels. Israel, in response, conducted hundreds of airstrikes and launched a ground invasion of the Strip, aimed at destroying the Hamas tunnel system. More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed in the fighting. Israel maintains that the majority were combatants. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers were killed, along with six civilians in Israel.
The appeal to the High Court was filed by three human rights organizations — the Israeli group Adalah and the Gaza-based Al-Mezan and Palestinian Center for Human Rights — who were seeking a criminal investigation into the incident.
In a joint statement, the groups said Sunday’s decision “is further evidence that Israel is unable and unwilling to investigate and prosecute soldiers and commanders for war crimes against Palestinian civilians.”
Critics have long accused Israel and its military of whitewashing wrongdoing by its troops. Last year, the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into alleged Israeli crimes in the West Bank and Gaza, including actions during the 2014 war. Bakr family members delivered testimony to the court during a preliminary inquiry.
Israel has rejected the ICC case, saying its legal system is capable of independently investigating the military — meaning there is no need for an external probe — and accusing the court of antisemitism for its focus on Israeli actions.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.