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Israeli army exonerates itself in scores of investigations into 2014 Gaza war crimes

Aug. 25, 2016 3:28 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 29, 2016 4:49 P.M.)
A Palestinian man looks on while standing in what remains of his house in part of the northern Beit Hanoun district of the Gaza Strip. (AFP/Marco Longari, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israeli military has closed 13 criminal investigations into cases of Israeli soldiers committing violations against Palestinian civilians during the 2014 Israeli assault on the besieged Gaza Strip without imposing any punitive measures, while some 80 incidents were closed without opening a criminal investigation, according to a statement released by the Israeli army on Wednesday.

The statement said that the Israeli army received 500 complaints regarding 360 violations committed by Israeli forces during the offensive, with the Israeli military opening an investigation into 24 cases and so far indicting three Israeli soldiers for crimes involving looting.

One of the cases which was closed without prompting a criminal investigation was the July 21, 2014 killing of 12 members of the Siyam family who were reportedly struck by Israeli shelling after fleeing their home which was damaged by an airstrike.

The Israeli army ruled that their deaths were not caused by Israeli fire, but instead by “terror organizations” in the besieged enclave who fired mortars at the Israeli army but failed to hit their intended target and fell within Gaza’s territory, causing the death of the family members.

Another case which was closed involved the killings of 15 members of the Zurub family in Rafah on Aug. 1, 2014 following an Israeli airstrike on their home, ruling that Israeli forces had acted according to "Israeli domestic law and international law requirements,” claiming that the "collateral damage" was proportional to the "military advantage" of striking the building, which it said was reportedly being used as a Hamas command and control center where alleged senior Hamas military operative Nazmi Zurub was residing.

“The decision to strike was taken by the competent authorities and the attack was aimed at military targets -- an active command and control center of the Hamas terror organization and the military operatives who were manning it, among them a senior military operative of that organization,” the statement read.

The shelling of a UN-run school in Rafah, which resulted in at least 10 civilian deaths as Gaza residents sought shelter in the school after losing their homes during the Israeli assault, was also closed without prompting an investigation, as the statement said the Israeli army had observed three alleged Palestinian military operatives riding a motorbike near the school. According to the statement, the Israeli army decided to carry out the strike after conducting “aerial surveillance on the motorbike's path,” while surveying “a wide radius of the estimated continued route of the motorbike, in order to minimize the potential for harm to civilians on the route or in proximity thereto.”

The Israeli army also deemed this attack acceptable under Israeli domestic and international law.

The cases which did prompt criminal investigations were limited to Israeli soldiers physically assaulting a Palestinian man and a child when they were in Israeli custody, “unlawful firing” at civilian buildings, and several cases of Israeli soldiers looting.

None of the numerous cases which culminated in the deaths of more than 1,000 civilians were submitted for criminal investigations, despite various human rights groups charging Israel with international war crimes and submitting several cases from the 2014 Gaza war to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat slammed on Thursday the Israeli army’s announcement.

“We did not expect anything less than Israel’s justification of war crimes during its last major military attack on Gaza, by clearing itself of all wrongdoing in an investigation conducted by its own colonial regime,” Erekat said in a statement.

“To accept the outcome of the Israeli ‘investigation’ would set a dangerous precedent,” Erekat added.

“After Israel’s official position clearing itself of any responsibility and confirming its commitment to the practice of war crimes, we believe it is time for the (ICC) to act. The international community has a responsibility to protect the Palestinian people from the belligerent Israeli military occupation and put an end to Israel's impunity for all the crimes committed against the land and people of Palestine.”

According to a report released by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem in May, since the start of the Second Intifada in late 2000, of the 739 complaints filed by B’Tselem regarding Palestinians being killed, injured, used as human shields, or having their property damaged by Israeli forces, roughly 70 percent resulted in an investigation where no action was taken, or in an investigation never being opened.

Only three percent of cases resulted in charges being brought against the soldiers, according to the report.

Various rights group have accused Israel of indiscriminately labeling all civilians in Gaza as potential “militants” during periodic military offensives on the small coastal enclave, while using the "terrorist" designation to lawfully target Palestinian residential homes by declaring them as "Hamas command centers."

The 51-day Israeli offensive, termed “Operation Protective Edge” by Israeli authorities, resulted in the killings of 1,462 Palestinian civilians, a third of whom were children, according to the United Nations.

At least 142 families have lost three or more members in attacks on residential buildings during the Israeli assault, which caused the deaths of 742 civilians, the UN reported in a statement, adding that there were credible allegations that the incidents amounted to war crimes.

The Gaza Strip has suffered under an Israeli military blockade since 2007, when Hamas became the de facto ruling party in the territory. Residents of Gaza suffer from high unemployment and poverty rates, as well as the consequences of three devastating wars with Israel since 2008.

The UN has warned that the besieged Palestinian territory could become "uninhabitable" by 2020, as its 1.8 million residents remain in dire poverty due to the nearly decade-long Israeli blockade that has crippled the economy.

Residents have continued to experience trauma in their daily lives following the 2014 Israeli offensive, as reconstruction efforts have moved at a glacial pace and with some 75,000 Palestinians still displaced after losing their homes in 2014.

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