Israeli Defense Forces launch criminal probes into Gaza campaign

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) last week announced they are conducting criminal investigations into charges of intentional misconduct by their soldiers during December and January’s fighting in the Gaza Strip. In a report seeking “to place the Gaza Operation in its proper factual and legal context,” the IDF said that they are currently investigating 13 allegations against IDF personnel, including pillaging Palestinian homes, mistreating detainees, and using civilians as human shields.

The report also details on-going field investigations that could form the basis for further criminal inquiries, at the discretion of the Military Advocate General. Reporting the results of an investigation into war crimes allegations brought by IDF soldiers who participated in Operation Cast Lead, the IDF concluded that “that some of the stories were based on hearsay and were not consistent with verifiable facts.” The testimony of some 30 Israeli soldiers is collected in a book entitled Breaking the Silence.

The report defended the offensive against criticism from Amnesty International, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and others, saying that “Israel had both a right and an obligation to take military action against Hamas in Gaza to stop Hamas’ almost incessant rocket and mortar attacks upon thousands of Israeli civilians and its other acts of terrorism.”

The report comes in advance of a report from the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, expected in August, which has been strongly criticized by Israel. The mission conducted public hearings and field investigations into alleged war crimes committed by both IDF personnel and Hamas fighters. The mission began its field operations in Gaza in June, entering through Egypt after Israel announced it would not cooperate with the investigation because it doubted the mission’s objectivity. Both Israel and the US condemned a February report that criticized Israel for failing to take adequate precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants, calling the conclusion “anything but fair.” In April, an internal Israeli military investigation found that war crimes had not been committed in the offensive despite individual reports by Israeli soldiers. Israel has already disputed a previous report to the UN Human Rights Council that accused it of human rights violations. (Jurist, July 30)

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