On March 30, 2018, Land Day, demonstrations by residents of the Gaza Strip began near the border strip demanding the exercise of the right of return and the lifting of the illegal blockade imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip since 2007. The demonstrations continued until the end of 2019 and tens of thousands participated in them, including children, women and the elderly.
Israel considered the demonstrations of return illegal even before they began, and tried to prevent them in various ways.
Israel has made it clear in advance that it will use violence to disperse the demonstrations, and its army will deploy dozens of snipers along the border strip, and official authorities have announced that the shooting instructions will allow fatal shootings at those approaching the strip and those trying to harm it.
When the residents of the Gaza Strip nevertheless went out to participate in the demonstrations, Israel implemented these threats and issued shooting instructions allowing live bullets to be fired at unarmed demonstrators. As a result, 223 Palestinians were killed, including 46 under the age of 18, and about 8000 were wounded. The dead and wounded were not armed and did not pose a threat to the soldiers, as they were spread on the other side of the strip and were well fortified.
In response to the international criticism leveled against Israel over these results, the Israeli authorities announced that it would investigate the events. However, it has become clear today, more than forty months after the first demonstration, that the investigations conducted by the army regarding the demonstrations did not aim at redress for the victims or as a deterrent to prevent the recurrence of such acts in the future. These investigations – like other investigations conducted by the military law enforcement apparatus into other attacks by soldiers on Palestinians – are part of the apparatus of blurring the facts, and their main objective was to silence criticism abroad so that Israel can continue to implement the same policy without hindrance. The shooting policy is not investigated.
Responsibility for setting open fire regulations, for issuing illegal orders to soldiers, and for the lethal consequences of their implementation rests with policy makers. However, the main officials responsible for the events and the setting of the policy – the politicians who formulated, supported it and encouraged its implementation, as well as the attorney general of the government who confirmed its legality – were not investigated.
The investigations never examined the shooting regulations or the policy for their implementation during the events, but instead dealt with a few specific incidents that were considered “exceptional.”
Official bodies in Israel admit that one of the reasons to hurry to announce the results of these investigations is the procedures initiated by the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Israel, which are still ongoing.
One of the guiding principles of the Court is the principle of complementarity, which holds that the International Court only intervenes when a state “is not willing or able” to conduct the investigation itself. So if the state investigated the events itself – the court would remain out of the matter.
However, in order to prevent the court’s intervention, it is not sufficient for Israel to announce that it is conducting an investigation, as it requires serious and effective investigations in which the responsibility of those who formulated the policy is examined and, if necessary, leads to taking measures against them.
The investigations that took place do not meet these demands, because the army alone is managing it, that is, it investigates its own performance, and because it examines only low-ranking people within its framework, and because the investigators were assigned to a brief task limited to examining whether there was a violation of the instructions – ignoring For the instructions that violate the law and the shooting policy itself.
Nor can it be claimed – as official bodies claimed – that the shooting policy was approved by the Supreme Court after considering petitions claiming that the instructions were in violation of the law. The judges rejected the petitions and allowed the army to continue implementing the same policy. This is correct. However, the court did not ratify the instructions that were applied on the ground – because these were not presented to it. All that the court approved were the instructions that the state claimed that the army was acting in accordance with, and the judges did so in disregard of the huge and glaring gap between this claim and what is happening on the ground, although it was clear from the stage of the petition’s consideration.
What was investigated according to Israel’s claim?
The task of conducting investigations was entrusted to the Military Prosecutor, and this was employed by the General Staff to investigate exceptional events, a body established in the wake of the military “Operation Protective Edge”. The task he was assigned to carry out was predetermined in that it was limited to investigating only specific incidents where soldiers were suspected of acting contrary to the instructions given to them. These investigations are directed only at low-ranking field soldiers. Hence, even if the law enforcement body does its job perfectly and even if it carries out the task entrusted to it, its contribution to law enforcement remains limited. However, a closer look at the performance of this apparatus indicates that it does not even seek to carry out this limited task.
The army investigates only incidents in which Palestinians were killed by security forces and ignores the massive number of injuries during these demonstrations, some of whom were so badly wounded that they were left paralyzed or amputated. The total number of Palestinians wounded reached more than 13,000. Of these, about 8000 were hit by live bullets, about 2,400 by rubber-coated metal bullets, and about 3000 were directly hit by tear gas canisters. Of the wounded, 156 were treated with amputation – none of these injuries were investigated.
As human rights advocates, we believe that the investigations that were conducted were not independent – they were investigated only by the army without the intervention of any civilian body. In addition, the pace of work of the Military Prosecutor and the agencies is very slow: according to data announced by the Israeli army spokesman, as of 25.4.21, 234 cases related to the killing of Palestinians were referred to the services for consideration, including the deaths of other Palestinians who were killed during the demonstrations. The apparatus examined 143 cases and referred them to the Military Prosecution for consideration.
The Military Prosecutor decided that the Military Police Investigations Unit should investigate 33 of them, and he also instructed an investigation into three other incidents that the apparatus did not address.
There are four complaints, the investigation of which ended with closing the file without taking any measures. There is only one investigation related to the demonstrations – regarding the murder of the 14-year-old boy, Othman Helles – which ended with the filing of an indictment against the soldier involved. He was convicted of violating forces in a way that endangered the life or health of one of them, and was sentenced to perform service work for a month. In the 95 cases that the service ended processing, the Military Prosecutor decided not to open a criminal investigation and closed the file without taking any measures. The rest of the complaints received by the device are still being processed.
We stress that Israel’s performance in all matters relating to the investigation into the events of the Gaza demonstrations is neither new nor surprising. This performance characterizes the work of the military law enforcement apparatus, and we witnessed, for example, after the end of the fighting in “Cast Lead” (January 2009) and “Protective Edge (August 2014): at that time, too, Israel acted in contravention of international law; at that time, too, it refused to change its policy Despite its deadly results, at that time also Israel pledged to investigate its performance only in response to the criticisms leveled at it, and at that time also – with the exception of a few exceptional cases – no one was held accountable for the horrific results of the application of the policy of shooting that violates the provisions of the law and principles of morality.
We believe that there will be no real change in Israeli policy unless the state is forced to pay the price – the price of its performance, its actions and its policy. When the smoke clears from the investigations and Israel is forced to pay the price for violating human rights and international law, it will have to make up its mind: does it publicly admit that it considers the Palestinians unworthy of political rights and the right to protection, and is therefore not concerned with holding accountable those who violate their human rights – or is it moving toward Make a change to its policies.