Israel’s Military Advocate General (MAG) announced the closure of another seven of Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights’ (Al Mezan) complaints relating to serious incidents of torture and looting, without conducting criminal investigations. Al Mezan submitted 11 criminal complaints to the MAG: five regarding Palestinians from Gaza who were subjected to torture and ill-treatment during detention by Israeli soldiers and six regarding Palestinians whose homes were robbed by soldiers during the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip codenamed “Operation Protective Edge” (OPE) in 2014. The MAG’s decision to close the files comes after more than two years of Al Mezan submitting evidence–in the form of witness and victim testimony–and personal documents, and in some of the cases, victims giving witness testimony at Erez crossing. The MAG claims “insufficient evidence” as justification for closing the files.
The incidents in the case files date back to Israel’s ground invasion during OPE into the eastern parts of the Gaza Strip from 18 July 2014. During the invasion, the Israeli forces attacked residential houses in the areas of Al Shoka in Rafah, and Khuza’a, Abassan, Al Qarara, and Al Zanna in Khan Younis, among others. In search of relative safety, the populations attempted to flee their homes. The invading soldiers vandalized the houses and stole money and property of the residents. The occupying forces arrested tens of people–who subsequently reported torture, cruel and degrading treatment by the soldiers. Some residents were forced to remain in an open area under direct sunlight without water at the height of the summer period in the Gaza Strip. Those held in detention reported being beaten, verbally abused, and threatened to be shot, while blind folded and cuffed by their hands and legs.
The MAG’s initial response to Al Mezan’s request for criminal investigation stated that files would be opened in each case and the claims would be examined. Al Mezan assiduously submitted comprehensive, clear evidence–including affidavits and documents–to the MAG to verify the commission of the alleged violations. Eight complainants presented themselves before the military police and gave their testimonies concerning torture and robbery at Erez crossing; three complainants refused to testify at the Israeli-controlled border crossing out of fear for their safety. After 12 months without word from the MAG, Al Mezan received the notice that seven of the files would be closed without criminal investigation due to “insufficient evidence”.
The seven closed files are added to a long list of straight-forward, evidence-based instances of serious violations of international law that the Israeli authorities refused to genuinely, independently investigate in furtherance of protecting its troops. The result is a system that is primarily geared towards blocking investigations and fact-finding efforts in order to maintain the impunity of the Israeli forces and government officials for what international criminal law would put in the remit of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The unwillingness of Israel to hold itself accountable is therefore clear. Even if willing, Israel’s judicial mechanisms would still exist outside the internationally accepted standards for investigation and would require restructuring. The MAG’s dual military role consists of advising and planning military operations on the one hand, and on the other, investigating those operations; such a structurally deficient system fails the impartiality and independence criteria.
Al Mezan continues to reiterate our strong condemnation of Israel’s policy of immunity to obligations under international law. Accountability and redress for the victims are principles based in customary international humanitarian law and human rights law. Israel’s failure to uphold these obligations requires the international community to implement international accountability tools, particularly by supporting the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in launching an investigation into the situation in Palestine.
Al Mezan will continue to document the systematic and widespread violations of international law in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) committed by Israel’s forces, authorities and government. Al Mezan’s mandate necessitates our continued coordination with local and international human rights organizations to push the international community to uphold its legal obligation, particularly under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, to ensure protection of civilians and hold perpetrators of international crimes to account.
Al Mezan reasserts our steadfast pursuit of our mandate in the face of a continuing campaign on the part of the government to defame human rights organizations and threaten the lives of human rights defenders. Al Mezan will continue our efforts to provide the relevant international justice mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court, with reliable information and evidence on acts perpetrated on the oPt that fall within the remit of the Rome Statute.