B’Tselem says “the army cannot investigate itself” 2Feb10 February 3, 2010

IMEMC -  2 February 2010


The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Tselem) sent an urgent letter to the Israeli advocate general, Maj. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit demanding him to order an immediate Military Police investigation into the circumstances of the firing of phosphorus at UNRWA facilities in Gaza during the war.

B’Tselem said that brig. General Eyal Eizenberg, the commander of Gaza Division, and Givati brigade leader, Col. Ilan Malka were “disciplined for authorizing the shelling”.

Last week, Israel submitted a report to the United Nations but omitted the details of the incident; Israel only said that the two commanders had been brought for disciplinary hearing for exceeding their authority and endangering lives as they permitted the shelling of civilian populated areas.

“A comprehensive investigation of the incident conducted by Human Rights Watch indicates that on the morning of 15 January 2009, the army began firing artillery shells at an UNWRA facility in which the headquarters of the entire organization’s activities in the Middle East were located. At that time, 700 civilians who had fled from their homes had found shelter in the facility, which also housed storehouses containing food and medical supplies”, B’Tselem reported.

B’Tselem added that some of the shells contained white phosphorus and that the shells started fires that could have easily spread to the UNRWA’s diesel fuel reserve facility and two fuel tankers. This issue placed a large number of civilians, who took shelter at the UNRWA facilities, at grace risk.

B’Tselem also stated that UNRWA general director, John Ging, and UNRWA workers placed dozens of calls to senior Israeli army officials demanding them to cease the shelling of UNRWA facilities.

The Israeli group said that this incident is severe as the Israeli army was aware of the danger, yet continued to shell the facility.

B’Tselem further stated that although no lives were lost in this particulate incident, disciplinary hearings are not an adequate punitive measure. Several residents suffered severe burns due to the shelling.

The group said that the Israeli army covered the details of the incident, and the army report did not mention why the UNRWA facility was shelled although several civilians were killed in several similar incidents.

The army did not open a criminal investigation into the issue and only decided to bring the two officers before disciplinary hearings.

B’Tselem stated that this issue, and the cover-up of the details, proves that the army cannot investigate itself, and demanded the Israeli government to appoint an independent investigation team to probe the violations of the International Law during the “Operation Cast Lead” offensive against Gaza last year.

The team, B’Tselem added, must be able to question officers and soldiers, and must also be able to question civilian officers who participated in shaping the policy of the operation.

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