Israel’s military prosecution announced Tuesday that no legal steps will be taken against those responsible for the killing of 21 members of the Samouni family during the 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
A letter was received by the human rights group B’Tselem from Major Dorit Tuval, Deputy Military Advocate for Operational Matters. Tuval said that the case has been closed after the investigation has found that the attack on the civilians, “who did not take part in the fighting,” and their killing were not done knowingly and directly, or out of haste and negligence “in a manner that would indicate criminal responsibility.” . . .
Attorney Yael Stein of B’Tselem said in response, “It cannot be that in a well-managed system no person will be found guilty of the army operation that led to the killing of 21 people who were not involved in combat, and resided in a structure on the instructions of the army – even if the attack was not done purposefully,” she said.
“The manner in which the army rids itself of responsibility in this case… again illustrates the need for an investigatory body outside of the army.”
It should be remembered that Richard Goldstone held up the Israeli investigation of the Samouni attack as exemplary, but a March, 2011 UN followup committee thought otherwise:
The Committee does not have sufficient information to establish the current status of the on-going criminal investigations into the killings of Ateya and Ahmad Samouni, the attack on the Wa’el al-Samouni house and the shooting of Iyad Samouni. This is of considerable concern: reportedly 24 civilians were killed and 19 were injured in the related incidents on 4 and 5 January 2009. Furthermore, the events may relate both to the actions and decisions of soldiers on the ground and of senior officers located in a war room, as well as to broader issues implicating the rules of engagement and the use of drones. There are also reports indicating that the MAG’s decision to investigate was opposed by the then Head of the IDF Southern Command. Media reports further inform that a senior officer, who was questioned “under caution” and had his promotion put on hold, told investigators that he was not warned that civilians were at the location. However, some of those civilians had been ordered there by IDF soldiers from that same officer’s’ unit and air force officers reportedly informed him of the possible presence of civilians. Despite allegedly being made aware of this information, the officer apparently approved air strikes that killed 21 people and injured 19 gathered in the al-Samouni house. Media sources also report that the incident has been described as a legitimate interpretation of drone photographs portrayed on a screen and that the special command investigation, initiated ten months after the incidents, did not conclude that there had been anything out of the ordinary in the strike. As of 24 October 2010, according to media reports, no decision had been made as to whether or not the officer would stand trial. The same officer who assertedly called in the strike reportedly insisted that ambulances not enter the sector under his control, fearing attempts to kidnap soldiers.