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Two years on, no accountability for war crimes against children in Gaza
A Palestinian girl stands barefoot outside temporary housing during a winter storm in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip on January 24, 2016. (Photo: AFP / Mahmud Hams)
Ramallah, August 26, 2016—Despite overwhelming evidence of war crimes committed by Israeli forces two years ago during Israel’s summer military offensive on Gaza, justice and accountability remain elusive for Palestinian children.
Investigations undertaken by DCIP into Palestinian child fatalities during the 50-day military offensive, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, between July 8 and August 26, 2014 found overwhelming and repeated evidence of war crimes committed by Israeli forces against children. At least 547 Palestinian children were killed during the offensive, 535 of them as a direct result of Israeli attacks, according to documentation collected by DCIP.
Evidence of war crimes included direct attacks on civilians, and indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilian homes, schools, and residential neighborhoods. While Israeli authorities have selectively opened their own investigations into several incidents, not one indictment has been issued related to grave violations against children.
“Previous experience has shown that Israeli authorities persistently fail to investigate alleged war crimes committed by its armed forces in accordance with international law,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP. “Israeli military investigations are not independent or impartial, and routinely result in a finding of no wrongdoing.”
During the offensive, the Israeli military established the Fact-Finding Assessment Mechanism (FFAM), which was charged with assessing the facts of events deemed by the military to be “exceptional incidents.” The FFAM is not an independent investigatory process, rather it is a preliminary inquiry that provides Israel’s Military Advocate General (MAG) with information to assist in determining whether a criminal investigation should be opened.
Out of over 220 “exceptional incidents” transmitted to the FFAM for examination, criminal investigations have been opened in 24 cases, according to the latest MAG update. Of these criminal investigations, the only indictments issued have been against three Israeli soldiers accused of looting and of aiding and abetting looting. The majority of the cases have been closed without any criminal or disciplinary actions.
In one of the most high profile incidents, Zakariya Ahed Subhi Baker, 10, Ahed Atef Ahed Baker, 9, Ismail Mohammad Subhi Baker, 9, and Mohammad Ramez Ezzat Baker, 11, cousins from fishermen families, were playing on a Gaza City beach when when two missiles hit them just after 4 p.m. on July 16, 2014. Despite overwhelming evidence that Israeli forces directly targeted and killed the four boys, the Israeli military closed the investigation in June 2015 finding no wrongdoing by Israeli forces.
On August 3, 2014, in an apparent disproportionate attack constituting a war crime, an Israeli drone-fired missile struck men riding on a motorcycle near the front gate of a United Nations-run school in Rafah, killing nine children and injuring at least 12 others. The school served as a shelter for civilians, including children who had fled areas bombarded by Israeli air, naval, and ground forces.
This week, the Israeli military closed its investigation into the incident asserting there was no wrongdoing because Israeli forces “were not able to discern in real-time the group of civilians that were outside the school” and it was not possible to divert the missile.
An independent United Nations commission presented a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2015, detailing international law violations during the 2014 military offensive. The report, presented by Mary McGowan Davis, commissioner of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict, painstakingly details the degree to which Palestinian children were “savagely affected” by Israel’s military assault on Gaza. The report highlighted numerous violations by Israeli forces, including indiscriminate attacks against civilians and unlawful airstrikes on residential buildings, as well as violations by Palestinian armed groups.
In January 2015, the Government of Palestine accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court involving crimes committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, since June 13, 2014. The Office of the Prosecutor opened a preliminary examination into the situation of Palestine and is currently evaluating issues of jurisdiction and admissibility to determine if there are grounds to open a war crimes investigation.
So far, the international community has failed to hold Israeli forces or officials accountable for grave human rights violations against Palestinian children during the 2014 military offensive. Without accountability, Palestinian children will continue to bear the brunt of Israeli military offensives and prolonged military occupation.