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From the field

19 Oct. '09: Israel must investigate army’s conduct in Operation Cast Lead

Since the Goldstone mission published its report, B'Tselem has persistently advocated for implementation of its principal recommendation: that Israel investigate suspicions that its forces breached international humanitarian law in the Gaza Strip.

The Goldstone mission held that both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. The report demands that each side initiate criminal investigations into the suspicions and prosecute the persons responsible for these war crimes.

Israel's response was to immediately condemn the report as erroneous, tendentious, and biased. B'Tselem rejected these claims, and stated in many forums that the report was the result of a serious, professional investigation, reflecting a deep and genuine commitment to ensure that justice is done. 

B'Tselem indeed criticized some of the report's findings. Among other things, B'Tselem argued that the criticism of the way that Hamas members chose to fight did not reflect the severity of their acts, and that in some of the cases the threshold of proof demanded by the mission for determining that Hamas violated international humanitarian law was a higher threshold than that applied to Israel. Also, the mission's conclusions regarding Israel's overall objectives in carrying out the operation were not sufficiently supported by facts arising from the mission's research. However, B'Tselem declared that these faults do not nullify the report's main recommendation, that Israel must investigate the suspicions that its army acted in Gaza unlawfully and immorally. The suspicions go beyond the acts of individual soldiers, and center on questions of policy relating to rules of engagement, selection of targets for bombing, and the degree to which civilians were protected, among other issues.

At the last meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, Israel and the United States argued, each for its own reasons, that the peace process is not consistent with an international investigation of the suspicion of war crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead, and that the diplomatic process should take precedence. B'Tselem does not accept this argument, and believes that neither a peace process nor any other reason eliminates the moral and legal obligation to do justice and ensure accountability for infringement of human rights.

During and after the fighting in the Gaza Strip, B'Tselem documented and brought to the attention of Israelis and the world at large many cases that raised suspicions that the army breached international humanitarian law, and in some cases even its own orders. B'Tselem sent more than twenty cases to the Attorney General and the military prosecutor with a demand to investigate the actions of soldiers in the field and the responsibility of the command echelon.  To date, B'Tselem knows of only three of said cases in which witnesses were interviewed. 

B'Tselem provided assistance to the investigative staff of the Goldstone mission from the beginning to the end of its research. Since the report was published, B'Tselem has advocated in Israel and abroad to promote an independent and effective investigation of Israel's actions during the operation. The organization will continue these efforts.