Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gaza War Crimes Revisited

Remember the Goldstone Report. Remember how it was reviled as "anti-semitic" for its highlighting probable Israeli war crimes in Gaza, and for demanding that Israel instigate credible and independent criminal investigations of these allegations or face the International Criminal Court.

Well whether out of good will or a wish to avoid the ICC, Israel has instigated criminal investigations. Whether they are credible remains to be seen. (They are certainly not independent, since it is the army doing the investigations of itself.) One of the cases currently being investigated is the incident in which 30 members of the al-Samouni family were massacred on January 5, 2009, after taking refuge in a building to which they had been directed by Israeli troops. The building was subsequently attacked with missiles ordered up by the same brigade that directed them to this "safe haven".

The Tikun Olam blog gives a pretty thorough review of the evidence presented so far. And while it seems that there was no genocidal preconceived plan to round up these Palestinians and massacre them, there was a series of sloppy mistakes, an attitude of "shoot first ask questions later", and a general disregard for Palestinian civilian lives that lead to this massacre.

The initial Israeli missile attack - on a group of men just outside the "safe haven"- was based on the mistaken identification - itself based on very grainy areal photos - that pieces of lumber being carried by members of the al-Soumi family were in fact RPG launchers. This despite a warning given to the commander that the pictures were inconslusive. A subsequent direct attack on the building where the family was huddled was undertaken despite a warning that "there may be civilians inside." No one bothered to check first with the Israeli troops on the ground in the area - the same ones who had told the al-Soumi family to take refuge in that particular building. Whether the "refuge" had ever been communicated to the brigade commander who ordered the missile attacks is still unclear. But what is clear is that he was ordering missile attacks based on the filmiest of evidence of perceived threat and without doing any checking to see if civilians where in the line of fire.

If this is not murder than it is at least criminal negligence. But those are civilian categories, and this is military tribunal investigating one of its own, so I wouldn't expect any real justice here. Still the details are fascinating. Worth a read.

It also worth nothing, that the brigade commander involved - Col. Molka (pictured above) - was a direct subordinate of than OC Southern Command, Gen. Yoav Gallant. Gallant fought hard to suppress this investigation entirely, but was overruled by the chief military prosecutor - presumably with the backing of current IDF COS Motti Ashkenazi, who is known to dislike Gallant and have lobbied hard against his further advancement. But since then, Gallant was been as named the next Chief of Staff of the Israeli armed forces. (He is a favourite of Defense Minister Barak.) So its a safe bet this investigation will not go higher up the chain of command than Col Malka.


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