Palestinians evacuate a demonstrator during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip January 11, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
The IDF legal division has five criminal investigations into the deaths of 11 Palestinians last year as part of the now year-long Gaza border crisis.
A larger number of incidents, in which about 250 Palestinians have been killed, have been probed by the Fact Finding Mechanism -an initial review process designed to quickly clarify whether an incident might have criminal implications. Military Advocate General Maj.-Gen. Sharon Afek has ordered five of the incidents to advance forward as criminal probes.
The first investigation is into the circumstances surrounding the death of Abad Al Nabi and three other Palestinians on March 30 - the first day of the "Great March of Return" protests almost a year ago.
The second is an investigation into the death of three Palestinians east of Jabalia on April 20.
Third is an investigation to clarify what led to the deaths of two Palestinians east of the city of Al Bureij on May 15 - which was also the period when there was a massive spike in the volume of protesters, both violent and non-violent.
Next is the investigation into circumstances surrounding the death of paramedic Razan Alnajar on June 1.
Finally, the last probe is to clarify what led to the death of Otman Halas on July 13.
The information surfaced following the UN Human Rights Council's initial report in early March which accused Israel of war crimes, and days before its full report is expected to come out.
The UNHRC report supported the narrative that the vast majority of Palestinians confronting the IDF have been peaceful protesters, which would make the IDF's use of deadly force a war crime.
The IDF has said that the protests have been a mix of violent and non-violent protesters, with most of the protests organized by Hamas and a large volume of the Palestinians killed being Hamas operatives.
There is also disagreement between the IDF and the UNHRC about the identity of the killed Palestinians, with the council identifying only 29 as Hamas operatives, while the IDF and the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center place the number closer to between 60 to 80 of those killed as being affiliated with Hamas or other armed groups.
As a subset of this debate, the IDF and the Meir Amit have said that some Palestinians, who the UNHRC identifies as journalists or having other special protected statuses, are donning two hats - both working for Hamas and doing other actual legitimate work as a cover.
Finally, there is disagreement between the mililtary and the council about the rules of engagement.
The UNHRC has said that the IDF is shooting to kill when there is no immediate danger to its soldiers, based on a lax interpretation of potential danger.
The IDF has said that many Palestinians have been killed when its forces were aiming not to use lethal force, but instead aiming for their legs in order to prevent them from breaching the border wall and potentially terrorizing Jewish villages that are very close by.
Furthermore, the military has said that some Palestinians were mistakenly killed when bullets ricocheted unintentionally or hit a violent Palestinian, but continued afterward to unintentionally hit a non-violent protester.
Part of the debate turns on whether the laws of war should apply since Gazans live in an area controlled by Hamas, which is in a state of indefinite armed conflict with Israel, or whether the law enforcement paradigm should apply since only two Israeli soldiers have been killed during the year-long protests and no Israeli civilians have as yet actually been hurt or killed.
Some more neutral critics have suggested that the IDF has not committed war crimes, but as a policy matter should be more restrictive in using live bullets.
In contrast, the internal Israeli debate has many political officials calling on the IDF to be more aggressive in using live fire so as to end the protests, which they say have gone on for too long.
The UNHRC has referred the issue to the International Criminal Court Prosecution, which has said it is keeping careful track of the situation as part of its preliminary review of potential war crimes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dating back to June 2014.
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