Military Advocate-General Maj.-Gen. Dani Efroni has opened five criminal investigations into IDF actions in the recent Gaza war, senior army sources said on Wednesday.
Efroni has closed seven cases and is investigating another 99 incidents so far.
As in the past, the incidents are separated into larger incidents affecting multiple potential victims and smaller ones involving as few as one alleged victim.
The war ended on August 26, and two weeks later Efroni has already ordered an investigation into a larger incident surrounding the military strike on a Gaza City beach on July 16, in which four Palestinian boys were killed.
The second larger incident investigation will look into the circumstances around an IDF strike on an UNRWA school in Beit Hanun on July 24, in which 14 Palestinians were killed.
Other major incidents involving alleged attacks on hospitals, mosques, rehabilitation clinics and the likely use of the controversial, aggressive “Hannibal Procedure” to pursue Hamas fighters who the IDF believed might have kidnapped a soldier are still at initial stages of being probed. No decision has yet been made on whether to close the cases or open a full criminal investigation.
Further, while the IDF has provided large amounts of material on a public diplomacy basis to combat broader allegations that it fired artillery indiscriminately during the fierce Battle of Shejaia in eastern Gaza City, such as that it warned civilians to leave, Hamas systematically used human shields to prevent evacuations and huge areas were booby-trapped, it has not yet addressed the broader allegations there legally.
Addressing larger incidents often takes longer, as more parties and victims are involved, making collecting evidence far more time-consuming, among other reasons.
Additionally, since the end of hostilities in Gaza, Efroni has ordered immediate, in-depth investigations into three smaller cases.
The first involves suspected looting, in which it appears that a soldier may already have confessed.
The second investigation is examining how a woman who coordinated an exit from her home in Gaza was nevertheless shot and killed.
The third incident being fully investigated involves claims that a 17-year-old Gazan was taken into custody and held for five days, during which, he said, he was moved from place to place by soldiers and beaten.
In recent weeks, the Military Advocate-General’s Office has also closed several initial probes related to the war, prior to a full criminal investigation, after concluding that no criminal wrongdoing occurred.
One example was that an officer in the office decided not to open an investigation into a strike on a journalist in Gaza after it was discovered that he was a terrorist operative suspected of carrying a missile in his vehicle.
Another case that was closed involved an air strike on a home in Khan Yunis following the evacuation of the Kaware family from it on July 8. Family members left the home after a small, unarmed, “roof-knocking” warning bomb was dropped on the structure, but then ran back into the house after a second, armed missile was fired at the target. Eight members of the family were killed in the strike.
“There is no suspicion that international law was violated here,” the sources said on Wednesday.
Regarding whether IDF warnings were sufficient in that case, while a number of rules could apply to different circumstances, recent manuals specifically on air and missile warfare emphasize a balance of an obligation to provide an “effective” and “specific” warning with what is “permitted by circumstances.”
So, while in an ideal world there will be no civilian casualties, as effective and specific warnings and surveillance of the area will ensure civilians’ safety, if civilians return to an area they evacuated after a “roof-knocking” warning, the “circumstances” may make avoiding civilian casualties impossible.
“Roof-knocking” is hotly debated as a warning technique, with some countries praising its use and some groups criticizing it as ineffective.
Responding to the information, B’Tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories – said that “based on past experience, there is not much hope that the probes will lead to serious investigations or to any real result other than a cover-up.”
The Israeli NGO added that earlier this week, it announced “it will not cooperate with the existing military investigations apparatus, since its current plan is nothing other than to provide a theatrical superficial sense of there being investigations,” and that it has demanded new “independent, transparent and impartial investigations.”
Among the group’s specific criticisms, it said the IDF refuses to investigate senior IDF officers for issuing commands to attack certain categories of targets, claiming that instead the military emphasizes mere individual incidents concerning low-ranking soldiers.
Throughout Operation Protective Edge, IDF legal experts provided counsel to military commanders at the division level but did not take part in minute-by-minute operational decisions, which were left to commanders.
Following the quasi-governmental Turkel Commission Second Report issued in February 2013, which reviewed whether the IDF’s investigative apparatus met international standards, and recommended changing the procedure by which the military advocate-general makes his initial decisions, the new procedure involves more manpower and more sophisticated initial investigators than mere operational investigations.
Whereas operational investigations focus on how to improve aspects of an operation gone awry from a purely military perspective, the new mechanism uses a combination of lawyers, specially trained investigators and military experts in specific areas to develop a quick, more legally focused report for the military advocate-general to review.
In addition to following another Turkel Commission recommendation of speeding up decisions on cases, this new mechanism is one of the reasons that the Military Advocate-General’s Office appears to be making at least some decisions faster than following operations Cast Lead (December 2008-January 2009) and Pillar of Defense (November 2012).
Six teams led by senior officers at the rank of brigadier-general, mostly reserves officers and experts, are expediting the investigations so the IDF can complete checks into claims within weeks, rather than months or years, and provide detailed reasons for decisions.
The reservists are not a part of the chain of command and, unlike what sometimes happens with operational reviews, have no connection to the military decisions being examined, a senior officer said.
The teams are currently looking at 44 incidents from the war. Of those, two have resulted in criminal investigations so far, 12 are being examined, seven have been closed, and three are pending with decisions expected possibly even next week, army sources said.
The increased role of the IDF’s investigative and legal bodies is a reflection of the growing importance of international and national laws in modern combat, the sources said.
“We’re better than we were during Operation Pillar of Defense and Operation Cast Lead,” a senior officer said.