Yesterday, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that disciplinary action had been taken against a number of army officers and soldiers for their conduct during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip between December 2008 and January 2009.

Following Israel’s campaign to severely reduce the power and potential of the Hamas regime to attack targets in Israel using daily rocket fire, the United Nations condemned Israel and then launched a fact finding mission headed by South African judge, Richard Goldstone.

Israel refused to assist with the Goldstone enquiry on the grounds that it was quite capable of conducting its own investigations. Members of the team that put together the report had announced their view that Israel had committed war crimes even before they began their investigation.

The report found Israel and Hamas probably guilty of war crimes and insisted that both Israel and Hamas conduct their own investigations. Nevertheless, the UN seemed intent on indicting Israel and tainting the Israeli government of the time and the Israeli Army with accusations of war crimes.

Israel rejected the Goldstone report on the grounds that it was factually inaccurate, one-sided, did not take full account of the asymmetric nature of the conflict or the gross violations of the rules of armed conflict, the Geneva Convention and just about every international and civilised code of conduct by Hamas.

Notwithstanding Israel’s rejection of the report and the UN’s singling out, yet again, of Israel for condemnation when countries such as Sri Lanka do not merit any similar international condemnation or investigation despite strong evidence of state sanctioned war crimes, Israel had already begun its own internal investigation of its own conduct, and this has now led to both a change in its rules of engagement in the West Bank and the indictment of a number of its soldiers.

Some of the incidents reported by Goldstone and investigated by the IDF have led to indictments but the Ministry report stresses:

the report of the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict (i.e. the Goldstone Report) was published in September 2009, presenting 30 specific incidents related to the IDF, most of which were already familiar to the IDF and were in various stages of examination prior to the report’s publication.

It is interesting to note that the Goldstone Report took mere weeks whilst the IDF has taken over a year. This is comparable to any similar investigation carried out by the United States or Great Britain, for example.

When the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal broke in April 2004, convictions took place in January 2005 of Charles Graner and Lyndie England when the documentary evidence was a lot more clear cut and had taken place outside of any military conflict. It was not until March 2006 that the investigations and convictions were concluded. It should be noted that there was no call for a UN enquiry.

The UK launched a second major enquiry into the Iraq war in June 2009. One year later, this is still ongoing and it will be 2011 until it is completed.

The Goldstone Report effectively began in April 2009 and delivered by September. The IDF has understandably taken a little longer than the rush to judgement required by the UN and delivered by Goldstone. Apparently its investigations are ongoing.

The specific of the indictments of IDF soldiers are as follows:

1. Complaint by Majdi Abed-Rabo:

An investigation into a claim that a Palestinian man was used as a “human shield” was opened by the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division, in accordance with the investigative policies of the IDF, which require that a criminal investigation be opened regarding claims of this kind. (my emphasis)

However, when you look at what actually happened, it is doubtful that any other army in the world would indict:

The investigation found that a battalion commander authorized the sending of a Palestinian man into a house (adjacent to his own) sheltering terrorists, in order to convince them to exit the house. The battalion commander, not present on the scene, authorized the order following reports that the Palestinian man asked the soldiers if he could do this so as to prevent the destruction of his house if a battle were to transpire.

The Military Advocate General indicted the battalion commander because he deviated from authorized and appropriate IDF behavior, and the Israeli Supreme Court jurisdiction regarding the use of civilians during operational activity, when he authorized the Palestinian’s request to enter the house.

2. Complaint by the Hajaj Family:

The original investigation into the incident was based on a claim, which also appeared in the Goldstone Report, that fire killed two women on January 4, 2009, in the neighborhood of Juhar Al-Dik. It was claimed that the women were part of a group of civilians, some of whom were carrying white flags.

This was one of the most notorious incidents until now only reported from the Palestinian side. There was enormous scepticism amongst supporters of Israel who could not believe such a thing could happen.

After reviewing the evidence, the Military Advocate General ordered that an IDF Staff Sergeant be indicted on charges of manslaughter by a military court.  This decision is based on evidence that the soldier, who was serving as a designated marksman, deliberately targeted an individual walking with a group of people waving a white flag without being ordered or authorized to do so.

Well, apparently it did. You shoudl note the last sentence where the report says that the soldier was indicted for firing on individuals with a white flag without being ordered to do so.

This may seem an indictment in itself; why should any officer ever require that his men would shoot at someone carrying a white flag? The answer is simple and damns Hamas as much, or even more than it dams the IDF soldier responsible. The reason is that there were documented incidents recorded by the IDF of Hamas operatives forcing civilians to leave houses carrying a white flag whilst they hid amongst or behind them. One such video can be seen here, for example:

This explains the last sentence quoted in the report above and why an IDF soldier might have to shoot at someone with or behind a white flag. However, thi scannot condone the actions and hence the indictment.

3. Ibrahim Al-Makadma Mosque

The report explains that initial investigations could show no air strike on this mosque. Several independent reports insisted that the mosque had been hit and this provoked further enquiry. The air strike was in fact near to the mosque where a a Hamas operative was firing rockets. As a result of the air strike shrapnel penetrated the mosque injuring people inside. It should be noted that the operative himself was not concerned that he was operating near a place of worship where people were gathered.

Again, look at NATO reacting to one of its strikes that went wrong.

But Israel acts thus:

The investigation also showed that the officer who ordered the attack had failed to exercise appropriate judgment. Therefore, the Chief of the General Staff ordered that disciplinary actions be taken against the officer, and that he would not serve in similar positions of command in the future. The officer also stood trial for negligence before the Commander of the Ground Forces Training Center, Brig. Gen. Avi Ashkenazi, who rebuked him for his actions.


The Military Advocate General decided that the attack did not violate international laws of warfare because the attack did not target the mosque, rather it targeted a terror operative, and when the attack was authorized, no possibility of harming civilians was identified. According to this assessment, the Military Advocate General decided that legal measures were not necessary.

Finally, the report reminds us:

It should be noted that the IDF conducted the operation after eight years in which Hamas fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians living in the southern communities surrounding the Gaza Strip.  Despite the fire and the injuries suffered by Israel, Israel practiced a policy of restraint for a long period of time. Since Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip, the terrorist organization has implanted its military system and terrorist infrastructure in the heart of urban areas while using the population as human shields.  Operation Cast Lead was limited in the scope of fire and forces used. IDF soldiers operated in crowded urban areas while Hamas made deliberate and cynical use of the Palestinian population, creating a complex security situation. Hamas operated from within civilian homes, schools, kindergartens, mosques, hospitals and UN facilities while the population in the Gaza Strip was made hostage.

Israel has acted and continues to act no differently and perhaps to even more stringent rules than most western democracies in similar circumstances.