A Palestinian boy sleeps on a mattress inside the remains of his family's house that witnesses said was destroyed by Israeli shelling during Operation Protective Edge.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF on Sunday published a speech given by Military Advocate-General Maj.- Gen. Danny Efroni in which he implied the army is moving toward indicting its first senior officer for a war crime.
Efroni gave the speech last week at a legal conference in Tel Aviv, but his comments on the 2014 Gaza war crimes investigations have not been reported.
The incident he referred to was when an IDF unit under the command of Lt.-Col. Neria Yeshurun allegedly improperly shelled the Gaza pharmacy where one of his officers, Capt. Dimitry Levitas, was killed by Hamas fighters in Shejaia, Gaza City, in July 2014.
The day Levitas was buried, Yeshurun was recorded ordering his soldiers to fire a shell on the pharmacy as part of his eulogy to Levitas or to avenge his killing.
The law of armed conflict prohibits combatants from firing from a civilian location such as a pharmacy. The law also permits return fire on a civilian facility if combatants are illegally firing from it, which turns it into a legitimate military target.
But the law does not allow the IDF to target the pharmacy on a later date, if it was no longer being used militarily, simply to honor Levitas or avenge his killing.
Efroni began discussing his approach to investigating war crimes more generally, saying, “It is our obligation to probe, and where necessary, to fully investigate exceptional incidents” - in other words, violations of the law or armed conflict.
He then commented on the specific incident involving Yeshurun. “This is how I acted when I immediately ordered a full investigation into complaints of theft [by IDF soldiers from Palestinians] and also about reports about presumed illegal firing of shells on [presumed civilian] targets out of respect for the memory of a fallen IDF soldier. This is not our way!” Efroni’s language was striking, as the defendants in the theft cases have already been indicted and most consider there to be a high degree of likelihood of a conviction, and he was linking those cases to the case involving Yeshurun.
Yeshurun is not only being investigated, but was questioned under caution in July like a criminal suspect. The officer has claimed that his speech about honoring Levitas was not the reason for firing on the pharmacy, which he said was a military target following its use by Gaza fighters, but had merely been intended to boost troop morale.
Until Yeshurun is indicted, there is still a chance that he may get only a disciplinary rebuke for speaking out of turn. However, Efroni’s exclamatory remark that “this is not our way” seems a clear implication that he will be indicted like those charged for theft.
If Yeshurun is charged, he would be the first senior commander to be indicted involving a war crimes allegation from the 2014 Gaza war.
A previous Channel 10 investigation of the incident said that there was no military activity at the pharmacy at the time that it was shelled.
The IDF’s statements on the issue have not mentioned any civilian casualties on the Palestinian side. If Yeshurun were indicted and convicted, his sentence probably would be less severe than if civilians had been harmed.