From 2006-2009, over 1,700 Palestinian civilians were killed by IDF fire in the Occupied Territories. Leaving aside non-combatant deaths attributed to Operation Cast Lead, that leaves over 600 killings. Of those, the Israeli human rights NGO demanded an investigation into 300 of these deaths. Of these, how many do you think resulted in a military prosecution? Ten? Five? One? Would you believe, none? Yes, I know you would you cynic.
The ever intrepid B’Tselem with impeccable timing calibrated to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks underway today in Sharm, reports the shameful news (Haaretz news article and full report in pdf) that the IDF military prosecutor does a miserable job of investigating and prosecuting wrongful civilian deaths:
Soldiers who killed Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are almost never held accountable, even if the circumstances raise a grave suspicion that they acted criminally…The army refrains, as a rule, from conducting a Military Police investigation in cases in which soldiers kill Palestinian civilians. In addition, the research shows that the Judge Advocate Generals’ Office routinely procrastinates in making decisions on files for many months, even years.
A word of explanation: the army does conduct an investigation (or more accurately a report) of such killings, but it is done in the field by the unit which committed the act. You can imagine what kind of report will result from this sort of cozy self-interest. Before the second Intifada, the IDF held a formal investigation of every such killing. But then it stopped doing so, by classifying the Territories as in a state of “armed conflict,” which essentially meant that they were an ongoing battlefield. This left the policing of such incidents in the hands of the commanders in the field.
Of the 600 deaths, B’Tselem demanded a formal military investigation into the deaths of half these civilians. In only 15% (23) of the cases, did the military police open an investigation. In the rest, it either declined or has yet to make any decision. In those few cases when it did agree to investigate it did so after inordinate delay, thus impairing the investigation. It isn’t unusual for a year or more to elapse from the date of the incident. After the police complete their investigation and forward it to the military prosecutor for a decision on whether to charge anyone another delay of months or years ensues. Finally this most telling statement from B’Tselem on its rate of success:
None of the cases in which B’Tselem referred to the JAG’s office led to criminal charges.
The Israeli NGO further analyzes the reasoning behind the IDF’s unwillingness to investigate itself:
…Investigations are not opened even where there is a grave suspicion that the law has been broken. Also, analysis of the files shows that the authorities’ interpretation of the events is based solely on the results of an operational inquiry and the statements of the soldiers, without any reliance on the eyewitness testimony of other persons and on other evidence that contradicts the soldiers’ position…This policy grants immunity to soldiers and officers,
Some of my readers will undoubtedly shrey about how mean and one-sided my reporting is concerning Israel and the IDF, which I of course dispute. But if you want to avoid reading posts like this do what you have to do to instill a discipline of accountability within the IDF. Reinstitute formal military investigations for every civilian killing, investigate them seriously, prosecute a few, send a soldier to prison once in a while. Then you may not have to read reports or posts like this one.
A final note: there were several egregious incidents in which civilians were killed and the circumstances were so blatant (the Aramin murder is one example) that the IDF DID open its own investigation without the prompting of B’Tselem. These few cases were not counted towards the numbers in the group’s report since it never requested an investigation.