B'tselem on Tuesday published details of 13 criminal investigations currently being conducted by the Southern District Military Police Investigations Unit.
So far, a total of 23 incidents are under criminal investigation by the military police according to figures provided independently by the Foreign Ministry and B'tselem.
This marks the first time that extensive details of criminal investigations conducted by the military police regarding events that occurred during Operation Cast Lead have been made public. The army refused to provide B'Tselem with a list of all the investigations.
However, 13 of them were launched as a result of complaints lodged by three human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch, Al-Mezan and B'Tselem. The organizations learned that the complaints had ripened into full-blown investigations when the Palestinian plaintiffs in these cases were summoned to give testimony before army investigators.
The list of investigations of alleged crimes provided by B'Tselem includes the following:
â€¢ The killing of Atta Azzam, 46 and his two sons, Mahmud, 13 and Hassan 2, by a Flechette shell fired into their house in the Mughraqa area on January 6.
â€¢ The killing of Ria Abu Hajaj, 64, and her daughter Majda Abu Hajaj, 37, by tank fire while they held white flags in Juhar a-Dik on January 4.
â€¢ The killing of eight members of the Abu Halima family including two-year-old Shahd Abu Halima in Beit Lahiya, by a phosphorous bomb, and firing at family members as they tried to flee the area on January 4.
â€¢ The killing of six members of the Abd a-Dayem family and the wounding of 10 others by a Flechette shell fired at a mourning tent in Beit Hanun on January 5.
â€¢ The killing of Rawhiya a-Najar, 48, by a soldier's gunfire while she was waving a white flag, and the wounding of the ambulance driver who had come to evacuate her in Khan Yunis on January 13.
â€¢ The use of Sami Muhammad and Ra'd Abu Seif, from the Abd Rabo neighborhood in the Jabaliya refugee camp, as human shields on January 5.
Altogether, wrote B'Tselem, the military police are currently investigating six incidents in which soldiers allegedly fired at Palestinians holding white flags, two incidents in which they allegedly fired Flechette shells at civilians, four incidents in which they allegedly used Palestinians as human shields and one case in which soldiers allegedly fired phosphorous shells at civilians.
The government has explained that in cases of suspicions of illegal behavior by soldiers, the army begins a field investigation to collect data. The findings are sent to the Military Advocate General, who decides whether the case warrants a criminal investigation. So far, about 100 field examinations have been conducted, yielding 23 criminal investigations. In addition to these 23, one soldier has already been tried and convicted of stealing a Palestinian's credit card.
According to the Foreign Ministry, seven incidents referred to in the Goldstone Report are among the 23 currently under investigation by the military police.
In response to B'Tselem's report, the army published a statement charging that the organization had "been hasty in publishing inaccurate and only partially reliable data." According to the IDF response, 27 incidents are currently under investigation by military police and 27 others are being investigated by field commanders. Forty-five other incidents investigated by field commanders have been closed. Furthermore, the army has carried out general staff investigations regarding allegations made by human rights organizations such as alleged attacks on UN facilities and Palestinian medical personnel. In the context of these investigations, many individual incidents were examined and these findings are currently being studied by the Military Advocate-General.
"B'Tselem has also ignored the fact that the IDF has not yet finished investigating all the incidents and that it is at this moment looking into events and complaints in which allegations were made that our forces acted illegally, the IDF statement continued. "It is possible that after these examinations are completed, more criminal investigations will be opened if it is necessary. From the investigations carried out until now, it is clear that in general, the IDF operated in Operation Cast Lead in accordance with international law and even went further than what the law requires."
The army spokesman said there were instances of unintentional operational mistakes, but that this was inevitable in war.