The army on Wednesday closed four cases of allegations of killing large numbers of Palestinian civilians during the 2014 Gaza war.
The decision was issued in the IDF legal division’s fifth report on war crimes probes since Operation Protective Edge ended two years ago.
The IDF, the UN Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court and others have been investigating war crimes allegations related to the killing of around 2,100 Palestinians – including an unclear number of civilians – during the 2014 war in which 73 people were also killed in Israel and Gaza rocket fire made hundreds of thousands flee their homes.
The report found that, in four cases of allegations of killing large numbers of civilians – adding up to a total of 49 people – the IDF strikes were legal due to either mistakes, Hamas being responsible or an attack not happening at all.
Out of 360 incidents the IDF has reviewed, 31 have led to full criminal investigations, 13 have been closed and one, a case of theft, has led to an indictment.
On July 20, 2014, it was alleged that seven civilians were killed in an attack on a structure in al-Bourj. The IDF explained that the target had been a Hamas site and that one Hamas agent and two Hamas senior agents were killed in the strike.
It did not dispute that the other four persons killed were civilians. Rather, it said that precautions had been taken to limit the collateral damage to civilians and that the military situation under the circumstances validly outweighed the harm to civilians.
Regarding a July 21, 2014, attack that allegedly killed 12 from the Chiam family in Rafah, the IDF said that it had no record of carrying out any attacks in that area at the time.
In addition, the report noted that pictures of the damage allegedly caused by the attack received by investigators did not support the allegations that the IDF was responsible.
Finally, it added that there was evidence Hamas had fired rockets and mortars from the surrounding area at the time, that some of its rockets had misfired and this meant it was possible Hamas had killed the civilians with its own shells or rockets.
Next, there were allegations the IDF had killed 15 civilians from the Zuarov family on August 1 in Rafah.
The IDF said the attack did occur and that one senior Hamas official, Nazmi Zuarov, and some other Hamas agents were killed. It did admit, however, in this case that civilians were killed due to faulty intelligence that indicated there were no civilians in the area.
Based on the intelligence available to the IDF’s attacking forces at the time, which indicated no civilians were present, they could not be prosecuted, said the report.
Further, the IDF legal division decided that commanders had acted correctly in choosing a less powerful explosive than they might have. Also, it added that no warning could be given in this case to potential civilians in the area as that would have allowed the Hamas target to escape.
The IDF explicitly denied this attack was connected with attempting to stop the abduction of the body of Lt.
Hadar Goldin, noting that this merely happened to occur the same day and in the same general area.
The report also addressed another attack on three Hamas operatives on motorcycles on August 3 next to a UNRWA facility in Rafah, in which 15 civilians were killed. It indicated that they were a legitimate target, but that as they drove, they moved toward a nearby UNRWA school.
Explaining that the operations personnel in real-time did not notice civilians in the courtyard outside the school, the report said the attack was legal and the IDF could not be prosecuted for harming innocents whom they did not see. It also noted that by the time the IDF noticed the civilians, the missile had already been fired.
The report also included some important new and more detailed information about the previously announced closing of the case against Lt.-Col. Neria Yeshurun for allegedly ordering tank fire on a pharmacy out of revenge for a soldier killed by fire from the location the day before.
Additional details included that Yeshurun presented intelligence indicating that the pharmacy location, even if not being used by Hamas at that moment, was still a threat and that higher ranking uninvolved officers supported his view of the intelligence.
The IDF legal division still recommended Yeshurun be censured, since he mentioned, on his units’ communications, revenge as an additional reason for attack, but that the additional details provided further support for avoiding criminal charges.
Two years later, there is still no decision on whether to criminally investigate the two other cases from the war, the Hannibal Protocol incident and the Shejaia incidents.
The fact there are still no decisions means IDF Military Advocate-General Brig.-Gen. Sharon Afek has decided not to follow the 2015 Ciechanover Commission recommendation to make an initial decision even in the most complex case within 21 months of its occurrence – the deadline which passed several months ago.
Indications are there will not be decisions on these two complex incidents in the coming months.