On August 15 Israel closed its military investigation into the Black Friday incursion in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip four years ago. The events between August 1 and August 4, 2014 took the lives of between 130-200 Palestinians and destroyed hundreds of homes, have been the subject of considerable condemnation owing to the colossal firepower directed at a civilian population. The Israeli bombardment followed the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin by Hamas militants and killing of two Israeli soldiers during Israel’s 2014 Gaza invasion. In response, Israeli troops adhered to the “Hannibal” directive, which encourages soldiers to prevent the capture of their comrade by employing massive force in pursuit of the captors, killing their fellow soldier if need be. The surreal logic informing this policy can be understood given Israel’s aversion to negotiated prisoner exchanges. Despite Goldin’s death being officially announced on the 2nd August, Israel persisted in its campaign of wanton destruction and annihilation for two more days, inflicting almost unprecedented horrors on the refugees of Rafah. Some of these have been detailed in 15 separate accounts – representing scores of civilian deaths–in Amnesty International’s Black Friday report,
“Jets, drones, helicopters and artillery [were] raining fire at pedestrians and vehicles at the intersections, indiscriminately hitting cars, ambulances, motorbikes and pedestrians”
“On 1st August, a bomb was dropped on a home, killing 15 out of the 19 family members present, including 10 children: ‘all were civilians,’ and all the adults except one (a 51-year-old unemployed worker) were female. One witness recalled, ‘It took three days to find all the bodies. The decomposing body of [one dead child] was found on the roof of a neighboring house.’”
“On 2 August, one or more missiles were fired at a civilian home in a refugee camp, killing four family members, including three children. One relative recalled, “They brought Youssef [aged 10] out on a blanket without a head or arms, only the lower part of his body.”
“On 2 August, a bomb was dropped on four adjacent makeshift dwellings, killing eight civilians including six children; none of those present were identified as members of armed groups….One dead child was ‘thrown onto the roof of a concrete window’ a second was ‘shredded into pieces,’ while a third’s ‘head was cut open and his brain was coming out.’”
In every case, Amnesty failed to find any evidence sustaining Israel’s illusory claims to the presence of Hamas militants, and in many cases, Israel did not bother locating a military target themselves. Indeed, Amnesty notes that “hardly any return fire was reported” while Israel was obliterating residential buildings, ambulances, civilian infrastructure, even a hospital. An independent commission of inquiry launched by the UN Human Rights Council noted in horror that “virtually every person or building in Rafah became a potential military target” and that Israeli “attacks on all vehicles” and the assault on “groups of citizens…amount to a deliberate attack against civilians and civilian objects.” So copious was the evidence of deliberate killing of innocents, and so sparse for any armed Palestinian resistance, that Amnesty was forced to conclude that Israel may have committed a “crime against humanity” in the destitute little city.
Perhaps these revelations presented a moment of anxiety for Israel’s true believers. After all, even unfettered chauvinism and a healthy contempt for the natives, cannot much ameliorate the image of “eight people burned to death in an ambulance.” Had the “most moral army” in the world finally lost its way? Would the treasured “right to defend itself” mantra be emptied of its platitudinous value? Would it become harder to breezily wave away thousands of civilian deaths as “probably Hamas’ fault”?
From the outset it was clear that Israel’s army investigation lacked rigor. While the war was winding down, senior Israeli officials were already balking at the idea that soldiers or commanders could face sanction. Notably former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni’s announced in August 2014 that she “will give each soldier and each commander in the IDF a legal bullet proof vest.” Other officials endorsed a military investigation, but said that there was no need to open a criminal probe where soldier conduct would be reviewed by investigators independent of the army. In 2015 Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told reporters events in Rafah amounted to an “operational incident” where “decisions of various kinds were made” rather than criminal activity on the part of Israeli forces. Referencing “rape” and “looting” allegedly committed by Israeli forces, Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman, the head of the Southern Command at the time said, “we don’t need investigations of judgments made in the heat of combat. That would have a destructive influence in the future.” Both Ya’alon and Turgeman supported a MAG investigation, but not a criminal indictment. Ultimately Israeli military prosecutors did criminally charge three soldiers for actions in Gaza, for the low crimes of looting and obstruction of justice.
Those of us less committed to the “purity of arms” cult should be able to recognize a whitewash. Israel has a long, ignoble history of effacing the most basic tenets of international humanitarian law, all the while providing legal immunity to its soldiers as they inflict one atrocity after another. In 2016, despite assisting Israeli investigators for 25 years, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem announced their decision to stop referring complaints to Israel’s military investigation and enforcement systems. Their report Occupation’s Fig Leaf detailed that only a nugatory 3.4 percent of the 739 referred human rights abuses resulted in soldiers facing charges, and in a full quarter of the cases, not even the pretense of an investigation was attempted. With palpable exasperation, B’Tselem concluded:
“The experience we have gained, on which we base the conclusions presented in this report, has brought us to the realization that there is no longer any point in pursuing justice and defending human rights by working with a system whose real function is measured by its ability to continue to successfully cover up unlawful acts and protect perpetrators.”
If Israel’s military investigation and enforcement system is characterized by a sort of petulant foot dragging, it counterbalances this by prosecuting Palestinians with astonishing zeal. Israel’s military court convicts 99.74 percent of Palestinians. This remarkable figure is the predictable outcome when Palestinians are routinely denied legal representation, beaten, tortured, and forced to sign confessions in a language they do not understand.
Palestinian children are not exempt from “the-only-democracy’s” brutalizing justice. As of June 2018, over 270 Palestinian children are held in Israeli detention facilities, mostly for the act of throwing stones – an atrocity which in some cases merits a maximum of a 20-year prison sentence.
Ahed Tamimi, then 17, was sentenced to 8-months in prison after slapping an Israeli soldier refusing to leave her property. Incidentally, this came only an hour after her 15-year-old cousin Mohammed Tamimi was shot in the head by an IDF soldier. Here again, however, the true believers were vindicated as a senior IDF official triumphantly informs us that the injury (which resulted in a large part of Mohammed’s skull being removed) was, in actuality, caused by his falling off his bike. The source of the rubber bullet surgeons dislodged from the teen’s skull remains an intractable mystery. It is only in the contrived imagination of ideologues that contemptible fiction is often mistaken for plausible truth. It is the same ideology which rationalizes and explains away the imprisonment of Dareen Tatour for the crime of publishing a poem on Facebook. After her sentencing she spoke up about her injustice: “Only Arabs go to jail. The court said I am convicted of terrorism. If that’s my terrorism, I give the world a terrorism of love.”
But still, don’t Palestinians have a “culture of terror” predisposing them to random, atavistic bursts of violence? Surely Israel would be exonerated if the world saw the incomparable threats faced by its soldiers? This is a bet Israeli ministers seem unwilling to make. Lawmakers in Israel are currently advancing a bill that will criminalize the filming of the IDF in public spaces, carrying a sentence of up to three years. Those who believe that soldiers should not be allowed to rampage through Palestinian villages unaccountable, may be surprised to learn that they are “terror supporters who try to humiliate, shame and harm” the most moral army, according to Israel’s defense minister Avigdor Lieberman. Similarly, those who see merit in an independent investigation into Israel’s massacre of unarmed protestors, in fact “empower Hamas and reward its terror strategy,” noted Israel’s ambassador to the UN Aviva Raz Shechter. It is difficult to think of a democratic principle which does not immediately render its proponent a fervent Hamas follower, in the Zionist purview. Perhaps it is only after exercising one’s latent Islamism that the destruction in Rafah can be understood.
Israel has whitewashed the inhumanity of Black Friday as it has whitewashed its other Gaza massacres, its invasions of Lebanon, its pirating of humanitarian flotillas, its brutal repression of popular democratic protests and innumerable other crimes. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted last month “the weak crumble, are slaughtered and erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive.” This repugnant philosophy is endured by Palestinians who time and again, must be subject to the mockery of a “thorough” investigation and are promptly forgotten after. It is the responsibility of those who believe in the inalienable dignity of all humans, to campaign in the name of real justice for the victims of Israeli state terror.