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Israeli military refuses to investigate deadly Gaza strike that killed 12 civilians

by Alex Kane

14dalu.jpg

Palestinians gather around the al-Dalou family home (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

April 14, 2013

The Israeli military will not open a criminal investigation into the most controversial strike carried out during the November 2012 assault on Gaza, according to a report in Haaretz.

The strike wiped out ten members of the same family and was investigated by Human Rights Watch, which concluded that the attack was a "clear violation of the laws of war." The justification for why there will be no investigation from the Military Advocate General does not take into account Israel’s changing explanations as to who the military was targeting. The general sticks to the disputed claim that the Israeli military targeted a Hamas militant.

On November 18, 2012, in the midst of Israel’s latest operation in the Gaza Strip, an Israeli warplane dropped a large bomb on the al-Dalou family’s home. The attack killed ten members of the family and two neighbors. It instantly became a grim symbol of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, the military name given for the assault in November that killed 101 Palestinian civilians, according to a UN Human Rights Council report.

Israel was put on the hot seat for the al-Dalou strike, and it couldn’t get its story straight. At first, the Israel Defense Forces claimed that they targeted Yihia Abayah, reportedly the commander of Hamas’ rocket launching operations. After that story was scrutinized, the Israeli military said that they did, in fact, mean to target a member of the al-Dalou family. The intended target of the strike was Mohamed Jamal al-Dalou, who the Israeli military claimed was a "terror operative" for Hamas.

But that wasn’t the last change to the Israeli military’s story. After Human Rights Watch cast doubt on Israel’s claim that Mohamed Jamal al-Dalou was a Hamas operative--there was no evidence to back that up--an Israeli military spokeswoman denied that she had said he was the target. The denial came despite the fact that Agence France Presse reported that the spokeswoman did say Mohamed Jamal al-Dalou was the target. The last explanation, given to Ma’an News, was that the unnamed target was a Hamas militant.

Israel’s shifting story, and the deaths of 12 civilians, were not enough to convince Israel’s Military Advocate General to open up an investigation. The Military Advocate General is the body responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged war crimes committed by the Israeli military.

Haaretz’s Gilli Cohen reports that "the Military Advocate General's Corps investigation into the incident supported the decision to target Rabia." That is an indication that the military is going back to saying they targeted Rabia, even though the al-Dalou family told Human Rights Watch that they knew nothing about this person.

Cohen reports that the Military Advocate General decision states that "military forces involved in the operation did not expect the attack to result in collateral damage to civilians that were not involved in fighting, to the extent that has been claimed was caused." The general, Danny Efroni, coldly adds that "the incident is not suspected of being a criminal offence, as the unfortunate outcome occurred despite efforts to reduce collateral damage to citizens who were uninvolved in combat." The general’s decision apparently does not grapple with the fact that the military was spinning the story around the deaths of the al-Dalou family, which, if nothing else, should be a signal that the full facts of the case are being concealed by Israel.

Human Rights Watch had called for Israel to investigate the attack, but that won’t be happening.

Haaretz also reports that the military is looking into other cases stemming from Operation Pillar of Defense, but that the vast majority of incidents "did not justify a criminal investigation." Here’s more from Haaretz:

The remaining cases are currently in the final stages of examination, pending a decision. They include reports of attacks on communications facilities in the Strip. Human Rights Watch published a report in December claiming that such an attack was a war crime. According to the organization, two Palestinian photographers were killed in the attacks and at least ten other members of the media were injured.

The advocate general ordered that additional investigations be carried out regarding these reports before a decision is reached as to whether to open a criminal investigation. The Military Advocate General's Corps says that a decision on the matter is "expected to be reached soon."

The Military Advocate General's Corps noted that in a number of cases, there is a basis for the claim that innocent civilians who were not involved in the fighting were harmed, or that civilian property was damaged: "Often, as a result of unwanted and unintentional damage as a consequence of attacking military targets, or as a result of operational errors in which civilians were mistakenly identified as terrorists."

It added: "This is an unfortunate result, but in itself it certainly does not constitute a war crime, and is a direct result of the activities of Palestinian terror organizations that have chosen to conduct their criminal operations within the civilian population."

Israel’s track record on investigating itself for war crimes is poor. Four years after the brutal 2008-09 assault on Gaza, only four soldiers have been convicted of wrongdoing--and only two of those have served jail time, according to Human Rights Watch. In August 2012, Haaretz decried the paucity of accountability for war crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead, an assault that killed some 1400 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians.



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