Border Police officers in the West Bank town Awarta 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini)
In a bid to minimize criticism of IDF actions in the West Bank, Military
Advocate- General Maj.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit announced on Wednesday that the
Military Police will immediately open criminal investigations into the deaths of
allegedly innocent Palestinians.
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The new policy was presented to the
Supreme Court on Wednesday. It changes the guidelines that had been in place
since 2000, under which Military Police investigations were only launched after
operational probes, conducted by field commanders, uncovered alleged wrongdoing
Under the new policy, a criminal investigation will be
opened immediately after an innocent Palestinian is killed by the IDF, except in
cases involving an exchange of fire. For this reason, the new policy does not
apply to the Gaza Strip.
Mandelblit began a review of the old policy
under then-chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, and the new policy
was approved by his successor, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz.
The IDF will present
the new policy to the Turkel Commission that was set up to investigate the IDF
operation to stop the Gaza protest flotilla last year but is also conducting a
review of the military legal process.
Mandelblit’s decision to change the
policy is a result of the lull in terrorism in the West Bank, where there are
currently no combat operations, unlike in the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank,
though, such Palestinian deaths are rare.
Mandelblit has reserved the
right to reverse the decision if hostilities escalate in the West
Mandelblit’s decision met with mixed reactions throughout the
Some officers said that it was sign of how the military was becoming
more “legalized” and that such a move could limit commanders’ operational
On the other hand, officers said they understood the decision as
being part of the military’s efforts to prove to the world that it can be
trusted to investigate itself.
This was a central Israeli claim against
the Goldstone Report, which was recently reinforced by the Davis Committee set
up to evaluate Israeli investigations following Operation Cast Lead. The Davis
Committee concluded that Israel was responsibly investigating allegations of
misconduct, albeit a bit slowly, leading Judge Richard Goldstone to publish his
retraction in The Washington Post last Friday.
B’Tselem – The Israeli
Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and the
Association for Civil Rights in Israel, welcomed Mandelblit’s decision on
At the same time, the organizations said that the policy
change was insufficient to uphold Israel’s obligations regarding
“The MAG’s [military advocate- general’s] announcement
indicates that the policy change is dependent on the security
This means that renewed security tension could lead to the
policy’s reversal and a return to the situation in place over the past 10 years,
in which the vast majority of civilian deaths were never investigated,” the
organizations said in a statement.