- The IDF has expressed its commitment to examine all allegations regarding illegal actions carried out by its forces, in accordance with it’s obligation to act in conformity with the rules of international law. This commitment has been, reiterated on many occasions. The commitment of the IDF to upholding international law is not conditional upon a similar commitment by the adversary and it remains valid even when the adversary commits intentional and systematical violations of international law.
- Already during the Operation in Gaza (operation “Cast Lead”), in light of claims that had been raised regarding IDF actions, the Military Advocate General has instructed the documenting and information gathering on “incidents of potential concern” that took place during the Operation, for future use in the conduction of investigation regarding those incidents, as well as for countering evidence against false claims.
- After the conclusion of the operation, an integrated process has been initiated for the examination of all complaints and claims, whether issued directly to the IDF and the Military Advocate General’s Office, or published in the media and via reports of various human rights organizations.
General Staff Command Investigations
- Immediately following the termination of the Operation, the Chief of General Staff ordered the conducting of five General Staff command investigations in order to examine various aspects of Operation Cast Lead, in light of complaints and requests received by the IDF. The command investigations were led by officers holding the rank of colonel who were not directly involved in the relevant chain of command.
The five investigations dealt with the following subjects:
- Claims regarding incidents where UN and other international facilities were attacked or damaged -– This command investigation focused on a list of specific incidents known to the IDF. Following the establishment of the Board of Inquiry by the UN Secretary General, directed to examine damage to UN personnel and facilities during the Operation, and Israel’s decision to cooperate with this inquiry , that list was extended to include various incidents that came within the Board’s mandate. The findings of the command investigation were presented before the Board of Inquiry in the course of its work.
- Incidents involving shooting at medical facilities, buildings, vehicles and crews – This command investigation focused on a list of specific incidents known to the IDF, including incidents that appeared in reports of Physicians for Human Rights and of other NGO’s.
Claims regarding incidents involving a large number of civilian casualties – This command investigation, also focused on specific incidents, claimed to involve significant casualties among civilians not taking a direct part in the hostilities.
- The use of weaponry containing phosphorous – This command investigation was general in nature, examining the issue from an overall perspective. It did not investigate specific incidents.
- Damage to infrastructure and destruction of buildings by ground forces – This command investigation also dealt with the issue from a general perspective, and did not investigate specific incidents.
- The first three command investigations, which focused on specific incidents, also examined the systemic aspects of the issues, with the objective of reaching general conclusions and drawing lessons.
- As is customary in the IDF in such command investigations, the officers conducting the inquiries acted independently and were authorized to receive relevant material and to debrief all persons involved in the relevant incidents. They reviewed the complaints received by the IDF and state authorities relating to the subject of their inquiry, conducted interviews and collected relevant documents and material. It is noted that all military personnel summoned were obliged to cooperate with the officers conducting the inquiry, and that the officers conducting the command investigations received full cooperation. Given the nature of the inquiries, and in accordance with the Israeli law, a soldier interviewed in this framework does not have the right to remain silent, as opposed to the practice in a criminal investigation, and thus, must provide any information required. This aids in allowing command investigations to serve as an effective tool to reveal the truth.
- Within the framework of the first three command investigations listed above, some twenty-five specific incidents were examined. In some cases, it was found that there have been operational mistakes or mishaps in the course of IDF’s activities. In one case, regarding unauthorized firing at a UN convoy, a soldier was brought to disciplinary hearing for the offense of unlawful use of a weapon. In another case, senior officers holding the rank of colonel and lieutenant colonel were brought to disciplinary hearing for firing artillery in violation of military orders (despite the deviation from military orders, that incident did not result in casualties).
- The results of the five command investigations were presented to the Chief of General Staff, and forwarded to the Military Advocate General for review and determination whether an additional examination of the incidents is warranted, or if additional measures should be taken, including the opening of criminal investigations. Currently, an opinion is being completed relating to these incidents by the Military Advocate General. The findings of the command investigations and the opinion of the Military Advocate General regarding them will be presented to Israel’s (civilian) Attorney General for his review and examination.
- Based upon the findings of the said command investigations, significant measures are already being taken to implement the lessons learned and improve IDF’s operational activities. Among the measures is the formulation of revised procedures for the destruction of property and infrastructure for military purposes, as well as for the use of certain means of warfare.
- Based upon various complaints and requests which were brought to the attention of the IDF by various persons and entities, about one hundred specific incidents have been examined by the IDF Of these –
- Fourteen incidents were forwarded immediately to the Military Police Investigation Unit (MPIU) which included allegations of looting, use of civilians as human shields, maltreatment of detainees, and an investigation that was opened following published reports relating to the seminar at the Yitzhak Rabin Preparatory Academy. Three investigations ended without any findings, because complainants refused to give testimony, although the MPIU made requests to them through their representatives. One case was closed. One case led to the prosecution of a soldier for looting. That soldier was convicted and sentenced to seven and a half months imprisonment, a conditional sentence of seven and a half months, and demotion to the rank of private.
- Some twenty five incidents have been examined within the framework of the General Staff command investigations. These incidents, as noted, are pending a decision of the Military Advocate General.
- Some seventy-five incidents were forwarded to operational entities (Southern Command and the Air Force) for their initial investigations and analysis.
Of the seventy-five incidents that were forwarded to the operational entities –
- Criminal investigations were opened regarding thirteen incidents, nine of which dealt with especially severe claims regarding intentional attacks on civilians carrying white flags or of shooting flechette shells at civilians. Due to their severity, the decision to open the MPIU investigations was based on the existing material, including initial inquiries, with no need for further command investigations.
- Forty-five of the incidents were found to involve no suspected violation of international law, and thus, they were closed
- The rest of the incidents (about fifteen incidents) are currently in the process of examination by command investigations.
The Goldstone Report and investigations
- The report of the Fact Finding Mission established by the Human Rights Council to investigate the operation in Gaza (“Goldstone Report”) mentions thirty-six specific incidents. The IDF was familiar with many of the incidents included in the report, that were already reported or brought to its attention before In effect, many of those incidents were forwarded some time ago for examination via the channels described above.
- Only twelve of the incidents mentioned in the “Goldstone report” were first brought to the attention of the IDF by the means of the report., the majority of which (ten) deal with damages to property. Two incidents only involve harm to civilians. These incidents which had not yet been examined were forwarded for command investigations, in accordance with the investigations policy described above.
Summary and figures
- The status of the handling of complaints regarding IDF activity in Operation Cast Lead that were brought to the attention of the IDF is as follows: twenty-seven incidents were forwarded to the MPIU for criminal investigation. An additional twenty-seven incidents are still being examined by the relevant operational entities in the course of command investigations; In relation to forty-five incidents, the examination has been completed with the determination that further measures were not necessary, since they reveal no suspicious for breaching international law..
- MPIU criminal investigations are being conducted by ten special investigative teams that were established for this purpose. The work of the teams is being supervised by the MPIU commander and is being closely accompanied by the Office of the Military Advocate for Operational Matters, which is in charge of handling of cases of this kind. The first stage of each investigation often involves questioning of Palestinian complainants, who are summoned for this purpose to Erez Crossing. In most of the cases, the questioning of the complainants was completed (almost seventy complainants have been questioned as to date). The current stage of the investigations focuses on questioning the commanders and the soldiers of the relevant units.