Israel whitewashes another series of civilian massacres
By Ray Hanania
Israeli soldiers committed more war crimes during the 51 day missile and tank assault on the civilian population of the Gaza Strip than was investigated in 20 years by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Yet as it has done in almost every instance in the past, Israel’s government has whitewashed each massacre of civilians so it can pretend to hold the moral “high ground” in its war to ethnically cleanse civilian areas of non-Jews. over the years, Israel has manipulated facts to undermine past accusations of war crimes including the intentionally killing by Israeli snipers of the Palestinian child Mohammed al-Durrah on Sept. 20, 2000.
This week, ADALAH, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the leading civil rights organization in the Middle East, accused the Israeli Military Advocate General (MAG), which is the Chief Military Prosecutor, of whitewashing several high profile massacres of civilians by Israeli soldiers during the war on Gaza that began July 7 and ended August 26.
More than 500 children including babies and infants, were killed by Israeli soldiers during the war which devastated tens of thousands of civilian homes, neighborhoods and villages in the tiny strip of land which has been controlled by Israel since 1967. Nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed by Israeli rocket and missile fire, and by tank assaults. But the worst attacks were by Israeli snipers who singled out young Palestinian civilians for cold blooded murder.
Adalah, joined by the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in the Gaza Strip, petitioned the Israeli government to investigate 14 separate incidents of war crimes by Israeli soldiers.
Four of the most prominent civilian massacres by uniformed Israeli soldiers included:
1) The killings of four Palestinian children by the Israeli air force on the beach in Gaza on 18 July 2014; See press release
2) The bombing of five UNRWA facilities during the war, resulting in the killing of 47 individuals; See press release
3) The bombing of the Al Kaware’ family home in Khan Younis on 8 July 2014, in which eight people, including six children were killed; See press release
4) The bombing of a journalists’ car in Al Remal neighbourhood on 9 July 2014, in which eight journalists were killed.
To quell rising outrage, Israel announced on September 10, 2014 that it would investigate the circumstances of two of the massacres, the murder of four children on the Gaza Beach on July 18, and the July 24 missile and rocket attacks by Israeli war planes and soldiers on a United Nations school in Beit Hanoun run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), where 15 Palestinian children and civilians were massacred. Israeli officials have historically sought to block UNRWA’s activities assisting non-Jewish civilians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and has often made UN peacekeepers targets.
Ironically, Americans who claim to abhor the beheading of civilians and the massacre of children have supported Israel’s atrocities and turned a blind eye to justice for non-Jews, while approving millions in taxpayer funded support for Israel’s oppressive policies against civilians.
Adalah argued in its responses that Israel “does not comply with its international law obligations, as it does not actively investigate suspected war crimes, or work in accordance with the required standards of investigations pursuant to international law, most important of which are professionalism, neutrality and transparency.” The letters emphasized that Israel has not, to date, implemented the recommendations of the Turkel Commission issued in 2013. This Commission, appointed by the Israeli government, investigated the incidents that took place on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010, as well as the system of Israeli military investigations into possible violations of international law and war crimes. The eighteen recommendations issued by the Commission show that Israel’s military investigation methods are essentially ineffective, and do not provide an effective remedy for the victims or hold the parties responsible to account. See The Turkel Report: A preliminary analysis.
Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher argued in a letter to the MAG that the investigations around the bombing of UNRWA facilities “clearly demonstrate a conflict of interest, because they are being carried out by an investigative body that is not independent, one that belongs to the military and is within the hierarchy and internal organization of the army. This raises suspicion that the investigation is biased towards the Israeli military.” Attorney Zaher also added that the military’s investigations do not comply with criminal standards of investigation that are compatible with international law standards.
Attorney Nadeem Shehadeh, in his responses to the MAG, argued that by refusing to open investigations into the bombing of the Kaware’ family home, which killed eight people in the household including six children, as well as the bombing of the journalists’ clearly marked car, which killed eight reporters, the MAG shows that he does not view these events with the seriousness that they deserve. The military prosecution declared that it would investigate incidents based on “the military investigative division’s internal information.” It did not provide sufficient answers around this dangerous decision or how it came about.
In his response concerning the journalists’ car, Attorney Shehadeh demanded further answers to these general questions: “What was the intelligence information that considered the journalists’ car to be a military target? What did the military rely on? What evidence turned journalists’ work into a military goal? What procedures did the military take to protect journalists who had no relation to the fighting?”
As for the bombing of the Kaware’ family home, Attorney Shehadeh responded to the MAG’s allegations that the military provided warnings to the civilians in the house by a telephone call and using the “roof knocking” method. Attorney Shehadeh asked the MAG to specify “the time given to the residents to evacuate their homes before the bombing, and whether it was realistically enough time for all residents to leave the building.” Attorney Shehadeh also asked whether there was any place for residents to go without being exposed to the bombing. See Joint letter by 10 human rights organizations in Israel to the Attorney General about attacks on civilian objects; and Amjad Iraqi, The Humanitarian Myths of Israel’s ‘Roof-Knocking” Policy in Gaza, The Huffington Post, 9.9.2014.
In the four letters, Attorneys Zaher and Shehadeh raised fundamental problems that question the effectiveness and investigative work of the MAG. For example, based on the Turkel Commission’s recommendations, Adalah asked the military to determine and declare a timeframe for the investigations. In the past, investigations stretched out over years, and thus, they were not timely and effective.
Adalah also objected to the MAG’s practice of “classifying” investigative material and evidence that it relies on. The letters argued that: “preventing human rights defenders from looking at investigation materials is sweeping and general, and it obscures all evidence and material without exception, which causes suspicion about the validity and accuracy of the material.” Attorney Shehadeh requested additional information from the military prosecution about its decisions on whether or not to open investigations. He demanded that the MAG declare whether it met with any Palestinian witnesses in Gaza, and to explain its relationship with these witnesses and how many they are.
In Adalah’s view, “as long as Israel does not conduct independent investigations that strongly demonstrate the violations of international humanitarian law, then the only way to investigate the dangerous operations carried out during the Israeli offensive on Gaza is through an independent international investigation.”
See all of Adalah’s updates on the War on Gaza here.
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