When and how will Israel be held accountable for war crimes committed during its 51-day Operation Protective Edge in 2014? The operation killed 2,251 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilians, including 299 women and 551 children. The operation also caused massive destruction to 18,000 homes and other civilian property, including hospitals and vital infrastructure.
Most of the destruction and damage has not been repaired in the past three years. Neither has any serious investigation been conducted.
Two legal NGOs in Israel — Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and Adalah — have been absolute bull dogs, pushing the Israeli authorities to comply with their responsibilities under International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL). For the past three years, they have submitted petitions, complaints, claims and every manner of documentation to press for justice for the victims of Operation Protective Edge. To no avail.
IHL and IHRL require Israel to investigate allegations of suspected violations committed during Operation Protective Edge, with independence, impartiality, effectiveness, promptness and transparency and to prosecute those allegedly responsible.
But as with its inquiries into past military operations, Israel has delayed, denied, deflected and dismissed every attempt by the United Nations and others to come clean with its actions in Operation Protective Edge.
That hasn’t stopped Israeli soldiers from talking about their experience in Operation Protective Edge.
On August 28, 2017, Al-Mezan and Adalah published their 9-page report documenting their attempts to hold Israel accountable — Gaza 3 Years On: Impunity over accountability Israel’s unwillingness to investigate violations of international law
in the Gaza Strip. No surprises here.
The cases concerned severe events that resulted in the killing and serious injury of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, and the massive destruction of civilian objects. The evidence in these cases suggested that the attacks were carried out in violation of the principles of distinction and proportionality, which could amount to grave breaches of IHL. These cases mostly concerned incidents of:
Direct attacks on homes causing many civilian deaths and injuries;
Direct attacks on children (e.g. the four Bakr children playing on the beach and the Shuheibar children feeding pigeons on a house rooftop);
Direct attacks on five UNRWA schools that were sheltering civilians;
The bombing of mosques, hospitals and a shelter for people with severe disabilities;
Attacks on civilian infrastructure and the municipality workers fixing them.
After Operation Protective Edge, Israel cynically created the Fact-Finding Assessment Mechanism (FFAM) to improve its investigative abilities but after three years, 46.4% of the complaints filed by Adalah and Al Mezan were referred to the FFAM for examination and then closed, without opening a criminal investigation or ordering further action against those involved. 43% of the complaints remain under examination by the FFAM or received no response.
The Military Advocate General’s responses to such cases:
Secret evidence: The materials collected by the FFAM and other intelligence materials cannot be revealed because they are classified;
Military necessity: Certain incidents in question were undertaken based on military necessity (these arguments were written vaguely and did not include any supporting evidence);
No non-military witnesses: The FFAM did not find any need or use in taking testimonies from non-military witnesses.
This whole exercise may seem pointless because when has Israel ever been held accountable for its violations of international law?
This time things might be different.
The Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched a preliminary investigation. (pp. 25-32) But the ICC can’t assume jurisdiction in this case if the State of Israel has an effective mechanism for investigating and prosecuting these claims. In November 2016, the Prosecutor said she would “assess information on potentially relevant national proceedings, as necessary and appropriate.”
That’s why this report from Al-Mezan and Adalah is so very important. It clearly shows that Israel is incapable and unwilling to investigate and hold itself accountable. If the Prosecutor agrees, she can recommend that the ICC take the case.
Israel needs to be held accountable, sooner rather than later. This report provides the ammunition to open the courthouse doors. Bravo Al-Mezan and Adalah!
The case of the Abu Dahrouj family provides another illustration of Israel’s unwillingness to investigate. On the night of 22 August 2014, an Israeli warplane fired two missiles at a home belonging to the Abu Dahrouj family in central Gaza. The Israeli missile strike killed five members of the Abu Dahrouj family, including two children, and wounded multiple civilians and caused extensive damage to neighboring homes. Although [Israel] acknowledged that the missile attack was carried out directly on a civilian home and did not target any combatant or military object, no investigation was opened and the case was closed without any action against those involved.