Israel’s leading human rights groups will no longer provide information on solider misconduct to army investigators. After years of delayed military investigations for two Israeli wars in Gaza, the last without any army abuse convictions, the Israeli legal rights group Yesh Din and the human rights organization B’Tselem said, “the military law enforcement system is a complete failure” and is “incapable of conducting professional investigations.”
In the past B’Tselem and Yesh Din submitted evaluations of “irregular” army practices to internal investigations. When an army official requested reports of illegal conduct in Gaza after the 50-day offensive Operation Protective Edge, the human rights organizations announced they will no longer submit claims to the military. “Initial investigation indicates that some 40% of Palestinians killed in the operation were minors, women, and people over the age of 60,” responded B’Tselem to Lt. Col. Ronen Hirsch in a letter, “This reality is, in part, the direct result of directives given to the military, some of which raise grave suspicion of unlawfulness,” the letter continued.
Over the past few years of thousands of suspected army violations, only a handful of convictions have been handed down to low-ranking soldiers. Yesh Din research found before 2008 only 2.2 percent of army investigations led to indictments. Three wars later that number has dropped in half to only 1.4 percent.
In the aftermath of Cast Lead in 2008-09, which killed over 1,500 Palestinians in three weeks, there were 400 incidents noted for possible misconduct, only 62 cases were investigated, of which a mere three indictments issued. “The harshest sentence,” of seven and a half months prison, said B’Tselem, “was given to a soldier who stole a credit card.” No criminal investigations have opened against the army after Operation Pillar of Cloud in 2012.
Perhaps the most notable crime during Cast Lead was the use of white phosphorus on a United Nations school that caused indiscriminate death and burns on Palestinian civilians taking shelter. However, Israeli law prohibits the investigation and prosecution of war crimes. There is no internal system to censure those who ordered the attack on the civilian infrastructure. And, since the second Intifada, no officers have ever been convicted of wrongdoing.
Moreover, the army unit responsible for conducting investigations is the same unit that provides legal assistance in advance of military operations.
“Common sense has it that a body cannot investigate itself,” said Executive Director of B’Tselem Hagai El-Ad, “Yet, again, the military will be investigating its own conduct in Operation Protective Edge; again, these investigations will not be supervised by anyone outside the military,” continued El-Ad.
“Every year, we caution against the sorry state of the investigation system,” said Yesh Din’s Executive Director Neta Patrick. Those recommendations to army investigators include basic steps such as the presence of a fluent Arabic speaker and launching timely investigations. Of the cases of on-going army investigations independently reviewed in 2011, Yesh Din found the average time between a submitted request to begin and the start of the investigation was 702 days. “The inescapable conclusion is that the Government of Israel is not willing to investigate harm caused to Palestinians,” said Yesh Din’s Director Neta Patrick.
Separately evaluators with the international human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been barred from entering Gaza to conduct their own assessments. Human Rights Watch received their latest rejection from Israeli officials on August 19, 2014. “I’m afraid that’s still the case,” said Bill Van Esveld, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher in Jerusalem via telephone to Mondoweiss. “We need to get more people in,” continued Van Esveld who said Israeli officials in the Civil Administration told him they are “not processing any application” to enter Gaza for human rights investigators.