Saturday, June 25, 2005

Israel's Failure to Probe Civilian Casualties Fuels Impunity

Human Rights Watch has issued a report charging that the Israeli military has fostered a climate of impunity in its ranks by failing to thoroughly investigate whether soldiers have killed and injured Palestinian civilians unlawfully or failed to protect them from harm.

The report examines in detail more than a dozen cases of civilian deaths and serious injury caused to Palestinians and foreigners by Israel Defense Forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, most of which clearly occurred in law enforcement rather than armed conflict situations.

“Most of Israel’s investigations of civilian casualties have been a sham,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s failure to investigate the deaths of innocent civilians has created an atmosphere that encourages soldiers to think they can literally get away with murder.”


As of May 22, the Israeli military had initiated 108 investigations resulting in 19 indictments and six convictions, according to Israeli human rights organizations. Two soldiers were convicted for manslaughter, two for causing grave harm, and 2 for illegal use of a weapon. The longest prison sentence in these cases, handed down on May 18 for causing grave harm, was for 20 months. However, most of the convictions have drawn penalties less severe than those handed down for petty theft or to conscientious objectors.

Human Rights Watch said that the heart of the problem was a military justice system that relies on the debriefing of soldiers—often misleadingly called “operational investigations”—to determine whether a Military Police investigation is warranted. These “investigations” do not seek or consider testimony from victims or non-military witnesses, and do not attempt to reconcile discrepancies between soldiers’ accounts and video, medical or eyewitness evidence.

Low level, continual violence against Palestinians goes unnoticed by the world press, only the spectacular suicide attacks by Palestinians.

More balance is required if a solution is ever to be reached in Palestine.

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