IDF to open probe after every W. Bank civilian death

Some officers warn that commanders will have operational freedom restricted as part of policy change regarding innocent Palestinian deaths.

Border Police officers in the West Bank town Awarta 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini)
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.
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 or negligence.
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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 Bank.
Mandelblit’s decision met with mixed reactions throughout the IDF.
Some officers said that it was sign of how the military was becoming more “legalized” and that such a move could limit commanders’ operational freedom.
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 Wednesday.
At the same time, the organizations said that the policy change was insufficient to uphold Israel’s obligations regarding accountability.
“The MAG’s [military advocate- general’s] announcement indicates that the policy change is dependent on the security circumstances.
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.