An explosion and smoke are seen after Israeli strikes in Gaza City.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The cottage industry of attacking human rights organizations in Israel used to be limited to the extreme Right. Gradually moving to the forefront of Israeli politics, it most recently gained “Center” stage with Yair Lapid’s populist choice to join Avigdor Liberman, Naftali Bennett and Benjamin Netanyahu in railing against a convenient common enemy: B’Tselem and our colleagues who advocate for human rights and an end to the occupation.
Yet it was not B’Tselem that ordered Israeli pilots and drone operators to bomb inhabited homes in Gaza two years ago. We did not govern the use of military force during that long summer of 2014, in the 50 days that came to be known as “Operation Protective Edge” and resulted in such a terrible toll to Palestinian lives – the worst since 1967. We do not set policy. We collect facts, and here they are:
Of the 2,202 Palestinians killed in Gaza that summer, almost two-thirds – 1,391 – did not take part in the fighting. Of these, 526 were minors, 180 of them five years old or younger. It is estimated that 18,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged and that more than 100,000 Palestinians were rendered homeless.
You don’t have to be a legal scholar to be horrified, just a decent human who wants to know: How did this happen?
The Military Advocate-General’s Corps, which heads the military law enforcement system in Israel, is the only Israeli entity that officially investigated Operation Protective Edge; it even announced that investigations had begun before the fighting was over. However, as in the past, the true culprits were left untouched.
Here’s yet another fact: Not one of these investigations looked into the policy choices of government officials or senior military commanders. There has been no investigation into the policies of targeting inhabited homes, which killed hundreds of people, or of ordering indiscriminate artillery fire at inhabited areas, or of destroying farmland and thousands of homes.
In addition to all this, the Military Advocate-General’s Corps is faced with an inherent conflict of interest. It provided the military with legal counsel before and during the fighting, yet is now tasked with deciding which cases merit investigations and what measures will be taken upon their completion. Can the military really be expected to investigate itself?
Further, the military’s investigations into its own conduct focused exclusively on the soldiers in the field and examined isolated incidents out of context. A review of updates on the investigations issued by the Military Advocate-General’s Corps, including the reasons provided by the MAG for closing dozens of cases and filing charges in only a single case (a looting incident) thus far, indicates that even these inherently limited investigations failed to get at the truth or to contribute to accountability among lower ranks.
Moreover, the reasons cited by the MAG reveal an unreasonable interpretation of international humanitarian law. The MAG examined only several of scores of almost identical attacks that took a terrible toll on lives. Given these recurring results, one cannot accept its position that those responsible for these attacks could reasonably base their assessments of the anticipated harm to civilians on assumptions that were repeatedly proven unfounded, and debunked by their own actions or the actions of their colleagues – at such a heavy human cost.
No policy-makers or senior commanders were held accountable after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza seven years ago. The whitewashing is repeating itself with Operation Protective Edge. This is not a theoretical legal issue: We are talking about human lives – and deaths. There isn’t enough room here to list the names of the 180 Palestinian young children who were killed that summer. So here’s just one: Four-year-old Adham Ahmad Ibrahim Abu Aytah was killed with his father, grandfather, grandmother and uncle in their home when an Israeli aircraft bombed a neighboring house. The military anticipated that no civilians would be hurt in the attack. The MAG found the attack to be legal.
Mr. Lapid was a member of the security cabinet during Operation Protective Edge. He and his peers were never even questioned. Case closed.
The author is the executive director of B’Tselem – the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.