NEW YORK, June 23, 2005 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – The Israeli military has created a climate of impunity in its ranks by failing to thoroughly investigate killing and injuring of Palestinian civilians by its occupation soldiers, a leading US human rights watchdog has said.
Human Rights Watch said Wednesday, June 22, on its Web site that Israeli soldiers killed and wounded thousands of Palestinian civilians since the outbreak of the 2000 Palestinian Intifada, but the Israeli authorities have investigated fewer than five percent of the fatal incidents.
In a report titled “Promoting Impunity: The Israeli Military’s Failure to Investigate Wrongdoing”, the New York-based rights watchdog said the Israeli investigations into the civilian deaths fell far short of international standards for independent and impartial inquiries.
“Most of Israel’s investigations of civilian casualties have been a sham,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, according to the watchdog's Web site.
“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.”
More than 3,300 Palestinians and 975 Israelis have been killed since the eruption of the Palestinian Intifada that erupted in the wake of the provocative visit of then Israeli opposition leader Sharon to Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.
The 126-page report said Israel has failed in its legal obligation to investigate Palestinian civilian deaths and injuries resulting from the use of lethal force in controlling demonstrations or enforcing curfews.
“Even when Israeli soldiers have killed and maimed civilians in law enforcement situations, the military has failed to meet its obligation to investigate,” Whitson said.
Israel's military claimed that it had investigated more than 130 cases of soldiers opening fire at Palestinian civilians.
Twenty-eight indictments have been handed up, including one indictment on a manslaughter charge, it said.
Six soldiers have been convicted, and one has been acquitted. The rest of the cases are being processed, the military added.
Hundreds of Palestinian children and teens have been killed by army fire in the past four years, often in clashes between stone throwers and Israeli troops.
Last year, an Israeli soldier, dubbed "Captain R", was acquitted of killing a nine-year-old Palestinian schoolgirl, Iman Al Hams, whose body was riddled with more than 20 bullets.
A 10-year-old Palestinian schoolgirl died October 13, of her wounds after Israeli occupation troops shot her in the chest while sitting inside a United Nations school in a Gaza refugee camp.
The report said the Israeli investigations into the Palestinian civilian deaths fell far short of international standards. (Al-Jazeera)
The rights group said the crux of the problem lies in the Jewish state's military justice system which 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 nor attempt to reconcile discrepancies between soldiers’ accounts and video, medical or eyewitness evidence, the group said.
“While rapid ‘operational investigations’ may serve a useful military purpose, the Israeli military should stop using them as a pretext to avoid serious and impartial inquiries,” Whitson commented.
The rights group urged the Israeli army to set up an independent body to receive and investigate complaints of serious human rights abuses by Israeli soldiers and other security forces.
“The Israeli army should investigate allegations of wrongdoing out of self-interest as well,” said Whitson.
“Holding soldiers accountable upholds the integrity of the armed forces.”
Responding to the watchdog's report, the Israeli army claimed it “thoroughly and seriously” examines all Palestinian civilian deaths by Israeli soldiers, according to Al-Jazeera Web site.
"All allegations claiming that innocents or terrorists had been killed as a result of the (military) opening fire in violation of official rules of engagement are thoroughly and seriously examined," the Israeli military said in a statement.
An Israeli army spokesman said the figures in the HRW report would be considered within the overall context of what he termed Israel's “war on terror”, referring to the Palestinian resistance attacks against Israeli targets.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry, for its part, declined to comment on the HRW report, saying it needed more time to study it.
For its part, the Palestinian Authority hailed the HRW report, calling it a "belated but welcomed condemnation of Israeli crimes".
"We hope the entire world and the various human and civil human rights organizations around the world will study and internalize this report," said Ahmed Subh, director-general of the Palestinian Ministry of Information, according to Al-Jazeera.
Subh accused Israel of "committing every conceivable crime against the Palestinian people under the false rubric of fighting terror and suicide bombings".
"We call upon the international community to pressure Israel to respect the international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs the treatment of the occupied by the occupier."
In September, 2004, four senior officers of an elite Israeli air force unit hit out at the military's “immoral” policies in the occupied territories in a letter published by Israeli newspapers.
An Israeli reservist said in March, 2004, that a growing number of reservists are skeptic about the “moral principles” of the army.
Erlik Alhanan said 80 percent of reservists have lost confidence in the declared moral principles of the Israeli army due to the practices in Lebanon , whose southern parts were occupied southern parts for more than 20 years, and attacking Palestinians.