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B'Tselem to Turkel Commission: Independent investigation apparatus must be appointed to investigate suspected breaches of laws of war

B'Tselem yesterday called (on 11 April) for the establishment of an independent and effective investigative apparatus to examine suspicions of breaches of the law by security forces. The apparatus would operate in circumstances in which the Military Police Investigation Unit (MPIU) cannot investigate properly. B'Tselem’s executive director, Jessica Montell, raised this demand before the Turkel Commission, which is studying the question whether Israel’s present apparatus for examining and investigating claims of breach of the laws of war conforms to its international obligations. In her testimony, Montell related to four subjects:

  • The Judge Advocate General’s Office’s handling of cases investigated by the MPIU; 
  • Investigations involving Operation Cast Lead; 
  • Handling of investigations into combat incidents and incidents in the Gaza Strip in general; 
  • Investigation of complaints of abuse alleged against Israel Security Agency personnel. 

In her testimony, Montell welcomed the judge advocate general’s announcement of change in the investigation policy in cases in which a Palestinian is killed in the West Bank. Under the new policy, an MPIU investigation will be opened in every case in which soldiers kill a Palestinian who was not taking part in hostilities. However, Montell emphasized that the automatic-investigation policy must not be dependent on the existence of relative security calm. Also, dozens of completed MPIU investigations await the decision of the judge advocate general on whether to file an indictment or close the file. The change in policy does not solve this problem. 

Appearing the same day before the Commission were Saker and Hayfa a-Tameizi, the father and widow of Yasser a-Tameizi, a resident of Idna, a town next to Hebron, who was killed by soldiers’ gunfire in January 2009.

In her testimony, Montell added that the state is also obligated to investigate suspicions of breach of the laws of war that occur in the Gaza Strip. The events that took place there last weekend illustrate the need for an independent investigation of combat activity in the Gaza Strip. In response to the firing of missiles at civilian targets in Israel that resulted in critical injuries to a 16-year-old boy – Israel bombed targets in Gaza. The bombings killed ten members of Hamas’s armed wing and other armed persons, and seven civilians who were not taking part in the hostilities, including two minors. 

B'Tselem’s field researchers are currently investigating two especially worrisome incidents: the injury to an ambulance driver while he was evacuating injured persons in Rafah, and the killing of a mother and her daughter while they were in the yard of their house. 

Currently, most complaints of breach of the law committed by soldiers are carried out by operational inquiries, which are not an appropriate tool for determining the facts in such cases, Montell added. Rarely does the MPIU become involved, and when it does, the investigations only focus on individual soldiers. Therefore, an independent apparatus is necessary to investigate also the senior military echelon, as well as the political echelon. The apparatus must be independent and effective.