IDF commander cleared of war crimes charges for opening fire on Gaza pharmacy

The case centers around whether the commander ordered the shelling improperly or whether it was within his authority to do so during the 2014 Gaza war.

IDF soldiers take part in Operation Protective Edge (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
IDF soldiers take part in Operation Protective Edge
In a highly anticipated war crimes case decision, Lt.-Col. Neria Yeshurun was cleared Tuesday by the IDF legal division of unlawfully shelling an uninhabited civilian location during the summer 2014 Gaza war. However, Yeshurun was censured for his actions.
Yeshurun reportedly ordered the shelling as revenge for the killing of an officer under his command, Capt. Dmitri Levitas, who died the day before (July 22, 2014) when Gaza terrorists shot at him from the location.
The high profile case has been carefully followed by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Throughout coverage of the case, the media has referred to the location as a pharmacy, but The Jerusalem Post has learned that it was either a residential building or had not been functioning as a pharmacy for an extended period.
Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek ruled that the evidence that Yeshurun's actions were unlawful as opposed to against the army's higher purity of arms ideals did not meet the high standard required for filing a criminal indictment.
At the same time, Afek said that Yeshurun sent the wrong message to his soldiers by suggesting that a fallen soldier could be honored by firing on a civilian target.
Yeshurun will now face a disciplinary proceeding before Deputy IDF Chief-of-Staff Maj.- Gen. Yair Golan. That hearing could lead to Yeshurun being demoted in rank or sidetracked from a future promotion.
When interrogated last July, Yeshurun was the first high-ranking commander to face a criminal investigation for alleged war crimes committed during the summer 2014 Gaza war.
Yeshurun’s questioning followed the IDF’s decision (taken in June 11, 2015) to open a full criminal investigation into the incident.
No one has claimed that civilians were hurt during the shelling, another point Afek made in justifying the absence of criminal charges.
The heart of the dispute is whether Yeshurun ordered the shelling improperly or whether it was within his authority.
Under the improper order theory, his order was illegal as it was motivated by revenge.
According to a letter from former MAG Danny Efroni’s bureau chief, Maj. Matan Solmos, Efroni ordered a criminal investigation after hearing an audio recording of the incident.
That recording included a eulogy by Yeshurun during which he ordered his troops to fire at the pharmacy, allegedly saying the shelling was intended to avenge Levitas’s death.
Efroni had gone on record that Yeshurun’s case was likely to result in a criminal indictment.
But Afek had the most updated evidence, and made his final decision after Efroni stepped down around half a year ago.
Yeshurun’s defense attorney, Lt.-Col. (res.) Shlomo Tzipori, had previously said that Efroni made a mistake by ordering a full criminal investigation, and had been “fooled by the [audio] recording” of the incident.
He said that the audio recording only tells a snippet of the story, and that Yeshurun’s order to fire on the pharmacy was a “military necessity” within the ongoing war.
In Tzipori’s narrative, Yeshurun’s order was justified.
The eulogy recorded on audio was meant to encourage his troops to stay focused after being distracted by Levitas’s death, he said. Revenge was not the reason for the order, he argued.
Supporting that argument of military necessity, Tzipori said the pharmacy disguised a Hamas tunnel, and that one of the IDF’s primary objectives was to eliminate those tunnels, even if that necessitated firing on structures nearby.