A Palestinian looks out from the remains of his house in Beit Hanun, a town in the northern Gaza Strip..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF has moved faster to investigate alleged war crimes from the summer Gaza war than it has after past wars.
It had opened five criminal investigations only two weeks after the war ended, and reported opening another eight late Saturday night, about three months after the conflict ended.
After Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in 2008- 2009, the first big report Israel issued, by which it had opened 13 criminal investigations, was published six months after the war ended – double the time.
Also, the spread of investigations and closed cases has an appearance, so far, of balance.
For example, out of five incidents of IDF attacks on ambulances, two are being criminally investigated, with the army saying the other three did not occur.
Of two attacks on UN facilities so far discussed, one on an UNRWA facility is being criminally investigated, and the second, on an UNSCO facility, has been closed because the IDF identified that it did not shell the area and any damage would have been from misfired flares.
But there is bound to be a point where human rights groups and many Western critics will part with Israel and some of its supporters in other Western armies.
For example, though the IDF’s detailed narrative of Hamas’s use of Wafa Hospital may convince some critics that the hospital had become a military target, few critics will likely be convinced of the legitimacy – regardless of legality – of the IDF’s attack that hit a care center for disabled people.
The IDF again has a detailed narrative regarding nearby Hamas munitions, precautions it took to warn those civilians it knew about and its ignorance of the existence of the care center.
But even if this convinces some that the IDF did not commit a war crime, others will say that the incident calls into question the legitimacy of attacking residential targets en masse without using ground forces more carefully to clear them out.
IDF Advocate-General Maj.-Gen. Danny Efroni’s talk at a conference last week about rebutting the central themes of criticism of the IDF pretty much acknowledged the dilemma, though he said that in each residential attack there was clear intelligence of Hamas military activities.
But many critics at the conference questioned whether, when about 2,000 Palestinians died and so many residences were attacked, each Hamas military activity was really dangerous enough to warrant an attack on an otherwise civilian structure.
In some cases the critics will say that the overall devastation was too great to justify each attack, as a recent Amnesty International report on IDF attacks on residences stated.
Efroni addressed this too in his recent remarks, disparaging the use of a cumulative approach to the legality of the war, insisting in taking each incident on its specific merits.
Will the disagreement boil over enough to help the Palestinians turn complaints to the International Criminal Court into indictments? Will the overall devastation and number of residences hit undermine the defense Israel hoped its investigative apparatus achieved after it was given approval of the quasi-government Turkel Commission Second Report, which investigated the compliance of Israeli investigations with international law? As quickly as the opening of initial investigations took place, if few turn to indictments and if decisions on indictments take six months to a year from now, will the initial promptness be dismissed? Though these questions will not disappear anytime soon, one comfort to Israel could come from the ICC’s seemingly unrelated Friday decision to drop its cases against Kenyan leaders.
The ICC dropped its case because the Kenyans did not cooperate and provide evidence, such that the cases could not go forward – if the ICC could not force Kenyan cooperation, it probably cannot force Israeli cooperation either.
But as Israel at least aspires to be in better global standing than Kenya, and with the UN Schabas Report into the war coming out in March, the conflict over the legality of IDF actions and its investigations will continue for some time.