Rights group: IDF doesn't prosecute civilian deaths

Yesh Din says only 10% of soldiers suspected of harming Palestinian noncombatants indicted.

checkpoint nablus 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolomski)
checkpoint nablus 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolomski)
In the past seven years, the IDF has indicted just 10 percent of soldiers suspected of criminal offenses against Palestinians, an Israeli human rights group reported Tuesday, saying the figures raise questions about Israel's willingness to prosecute. The Yesh Din group said just 9% of investigations led to convictions. The conviction rate was less than 7%when the investigations focused on the killing and injury of civilians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it said. "The low number of investigations opened and the minute number of indictments served reveal the [military's] de facto derogation of its duty to protect the civilian Palestinian population against offenses committed by its soldiers," said Michael Sfard, Yesh Din's legal counsel. "It means that in this area, too, non-enforcement prevails in the occupied territories, and there is no doubt that the soldiers who serve there enjoy a feeling of immunity from investigation and prosecution, which inevitably leads to a rise in the number and severity of the offenses committed by them," Sfard added. Basing its report on statistics solicited from the military, Yesh Din reported that 1,091 criminal investigations were launched between September 2000 and June 2007. Of that number, 118, or 10%, were indicted, and 101, or 9%, were convicted. Of the 239 investigations into the killing and injury of Palestinian civilians, 16 resulted in convictions, or 6.7%, Yesh Din reported. Government spokesman Mark Regev said the Israeli legal system takes all complaints seriously. "Israel is a country in which we pride ourselves on our independent and professional judiciary," he said. "No one - no institution and no individual - is above the law." The military said it was looking into Yesh Din's report. Yesh Din's board includes Michael Ben-Yair, a former Israeli attorney general, and retired Gen. Shlomo Lahat, a former Tel Aviv mayor. The military statistics showed that 427 of the investigations were opened on suspicion of violence not involving gunfire, like abuse at West Bank checkpoints, and 308 involved property offenses, Yesh Din said. Earlier this week, Yediot Aharonot reported that one-fourth of the Israeli soldiers who have served at West Bank checkpoints have witnessed, heard about or taken part in the physical or verbal abuse of Palestinians. The newspaper report cited an internal military survey. Israel has put up hundreds of roadblocks and barriers across the West Bank since late 2000 to keep terrorists from attacking Israeli civilians. According to the B'Tselem human rights group, more than 2,000 civilian noncombatants have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza, and thousands of others were wounded. Haaretz reported that the military revised its investigations policy in the West Bank and Gaza shortly after the second intifada began and quickly escalated to investigate only cases in which civilians were suspected of being harmed without justification. The previous policy had been to investigate every Palestinian death. Civilian casualties during air strikes are rarely investigated.