Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz will decide soon whether to promote
Col. Ilan Malka, former commander of the Givati Brigade, who was exonerated on
Tuesday regarding criminal allegations, in the closure of the last investigation
into Operation Cast Lead.
Malka commanded the Givati infantry brigade
during the Cast Lead offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which was
launched on December 27, 2008.
The investigation against Malka focused on
the bombing on January 5, 2009 – during the ground offensive stage of the
three-week operation – of a home in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood that killed
21 members of the Samouni family.
The case was highlighted in the UN’s
Goldstone Report – which investigated alleged Israeli war crimes during the
operation – and Maj.-Gen. (res.) Avichai Mandelblit decided to launch a
Military Police investigation almost two years ago to rule out the possibility
that Malka ordered the strike while knowing civilians were inside.
the investigation, Malka’s promotion was put on hold and he has served as chief
operations officer for the Central Command since.
Advocate-General Brig.-Gen. Dani Efroni announced his decision to close the case
in a letter sent to B’Tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in
the Occupied Territories – in which he rejected claims that Malka intentionally
targeted civilians or caused death through negligence.
Gantz is expected
to decide on Malka’s fate in the coming weeks and to announce his decision as
part of a larger round of appointments.
Malka might not be able to
immediately serve in a field position but will likely need to first serve in a
staff post and at a later date be appointed commander of a
Attorney Yael Stein, who heads B’Tselem’s research department,
said that closing the case was “unacceptable.”
“The way the army has
exempted itself of responsibility for this event, even if only to acknowledge
its severity and clarify its circumstances, is intolerable.
responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of other civilians and the immense
damage caused by operation Cast Lead demonstrates yet again the need for an
Israeli investigation mechanism that is external to the army,” she
According to B’Tselem, at the start of January 2009, the IDF
cleared out the Zeitoun neighborhood, mostly populated by members of the Samouni
The soldiers asked the families – some 100 people – to leave
their homes and gather in one house.
At 6:30 a.m. on January 5, one
person was killed and two others were wounded by an Israeli shell when they
tried to leave the house. Another projectile then hit the house. The structure
collapsed, killing 21 people, including nine children, according to B’Tselem.