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From the field

Military’s investigations into Operation Cast Lead focus on individual soldiers, not unlawful policies

Reveals list of 13 investigations into isolated incidents

Today (Wed. Nov 4th), B'Tselem is publishing the most complete list to date of investigations opened by the Military Police Investigations Unit (MPIU) into cases in which Palestinian civilians were allegedly harmed by the military during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. To the best of B'Tselem's knowledge, MPIU Southern District is currently conducting 21 such investigations, of them 13 following complaints by B'Tselem, al-Mezan and Human Rights Watch. Although the military has refused to provide B'Tselem with the full list of cases investigated, the organization has managed to compile a partial list based on the list of witnesses summoned with the assistance of human rights organizations, to provide evidence.

B'Tselem knows of 6 investigations opened into cases in which soldiers allegedly fired at Palestinians holding white flags, killing 9 civilians. The MPIU is also investigating 2 incidents in which soldiers allegedly fired Flechette shells at civilians, killing 9. In another incident under investigation, soldiers allegedly fired a white phosphorous shell at a home, killing 6 persons, including two minors, and two more family members were killed by small-arms fire. Dozens of persons were injured in these incidents. B'Tselem also knows of four investigations into the alleged use of civilians as human shields.

To the best of B'Tselem's knowledge, none of these investigations has led to charges being pressed, thus far. Since the end of the operation, only one soldier, from the Givati Brigade, has been put on criminal trial for actions during the operation, for stealing a credit card.

B'Tselem is doing all that is in its power to assist the investigations. However, it stresses that these investigations do not fulfill Israel's obligations and are not sufficient, for the following reasons:

First, the only investigations opened to date relate to isolated incidents. No investigation has been opened into policy-making regarding the operation and the responsibility of civilian decision-makers. According to recent announcements by official Israeli sources, there is no intention to investigate these issues. Therefore, even if the current investigations lead to charges being pressed against soldiers, they will indict the lowest echelons only, while those responsible for policy will not be held accountable for their actions.

Second, the investigations are being conducted by a body that is an integral part of the army, and as such, cannot be independent and impartial by definition.

Third, the members of the Judge Advocate General's office who will have to decide on the results of these investigations were themselves involved in setting military policy during the operation and even gave prior approval to particular operations.

B'Tselem reiterates its demand that Israel conduct an independent and effective investigation into the military's conduct during Operation Cast Lead. This investigation must be carried out by people who were not involved in any way in conducting the operation. B'Tselem stresses that this kind of investigation is the only way for Israel to effectively deal with international criticism over its conduct during Operation Cast Lead, and remove the threat of international legal measures against Israelis.