Israeli military orders internal probe of war crimes charges

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said March 19 that it will conduct an internal investigation into reports that Israeli soldiers committed war crimes against Palestinian civilians. The announcement follows soldiers’ reports of civilian killings and vandalism under liberal rules of engagement during the recent Gaza Strip operation.

It also came on the same day that UN Special Rapportuer on human rights in the Palestinian territories Richard Falk issued a report to the UN Human Rights Council, in which Falk criticized Israel for failing to take adequate precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants in their offensives in the region. Falk called for an independent investigation into the alleged crimes, which he said included the targeting of hospitals and mosques, the use of white phosphorus incendiary bombs in heavily populated areas. Falk said the bombardment of densely populated Gaza appeared to constitute a war crime of the “greatest magnitude.” The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights estimates that 1,417 died in the conflict, of which 926 were civilians. (Jurist, Haartez, March 20)

Israel’s military says 1,166 Palestinians were killed, of whom 709 are described as “terror operatives.” In quotes published a day before the circulation of the official Israeli figures, Israel’s Southern Command chief Maj Gen Yoav Galant hailed the civilians-to-combatants ratio as an “achievement unmatched in the history of this kind of combat.” (BBC News, March 26)

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert March 24 derided the Human Rights Council report. Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said the report was one-sided and politically motivated, adding that Israel denies committing any war crimes. IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi maintained that Israeli soldiers acted morally throughout the conflict. My impression is that IDF behaved ethically and morally. “If there were incidents, they were limited,” said Ashkenazi. A US State Department spokesman echoed Israel’s view that the report was biased, calling the rapporteur’s views “anything but fair.” (Jurist, March 25; YNet, March 23)

See our last post on Gaza.