B’Tselem: not holding out hope that investigations into Gaza hostilities will lead to results other than whitewash

In response to the MAG corps announcement detailing some of the investigations opened into “exceptional” cases during operation Protective Edge, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem stated that based on past experience, it isn’t holding out hope that this process will lead to results other than a whitewash. B’Tselem announced this week that it will not assist the current military investigation mechanism, which currently amounts is nothing more than a masquerade. The organization called for the establishment of an effective, transparent and impartial mechanism. B’Tselem Executive Director, Hagai El-Ad: “The announcement demonstrates one of the current system’s main shortcomings: its adamant refusal to investigate senior officials and examine honestly wide ranging policy issues pertaining to Israel’s use of military force”.

B’Tselem outlined three problems inherent to the system currently in place for investigating combat-related incidents:

The investigative apparatus is not structured to investigate top political and military officials responsible for policy and directives.
The MAG has a dual role: He gives legal counsel to the military before and during combat, yet is responsible for deciding on indicting those who violated the law. Where unlawful orders were issued following the MAG’s legal counsel, there is an inherent conflict of interests.
MPIU investigations focus solely on the soldier in the field. They are opened late, and the operational inquiry conducted before them allows soldiers to compare and alter their accounts of what happened; moreover, investigators often do not have access to the scene of the incident.
This week, B’Tselem and Yesh Din announced their joint conclusion that the Israeli authorities are unwilling to investigate harm caused to Palestinians. The two leading Israeli human rights organizations in monitoring the investigations of offenses committed by security forces against Palestinians, find that after results of hundreds of investigations lead to the inevitable conclusion that the existing investigation mechanism is marred by severe structural flaws that render it incapable of conducting professional investigations. The existing apparatus is incapable of investigating policy issues or breaches of law by senior ranking military officials, and fails to promote accountability among those responsible. The figures show that the Israeli authorities are unwilling to investigate human rights violations committed by security forces against Palestinians. The failure of the Government of Israel to implement the Turkel Commission’s recommendations, more than a year and a half after their publication, only reinforces this conclusion.

B’Tselem has decided to break with its previous practice concerning military operations in Gaza and reject a request made by the Military Advocate for Operational Matters Lt. Col. Ronen Hirsch to provide the military with information regarding “irregular” incidents that occurred during Operation Protective Edge. B’Tselem has changed its approach due to the poor track record of MAG Corps investigations so far. The organization explained the background to this decision in a detailed position paper. B’Tselem added that should the government decide to establish an independent investigation apparatus to seriously and objectively examine suspected violations of international humanitarian law by Israel during Operation Protective Edge, or should the Chechanover Commission decide to introduce a procedure that would automatically establish such a mechanism following every major military offensive in the Gaza Strip, we will be the first in line to welcome such a decision. A sufficient mechanism would be professional, viewed by the public as credible, and independent – both of the military system and of the political establishment.

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