Israel: inquiry seems difficult to be avoided

The Secretary General of UN Ban Ki-Moon acknowledged yesterday evening the reception of Israeli and Palestinian responses to the UN accusations of war crimes during Operation Lead Cast. Israel has reiterated in its message to the United Nations that its behavior during Operation Cast Lead had been “in line with international law”. Ban Ki-Moon has refused to comment on the « independent, credible and consistent with international standards » character of the internal investigations that were conducted on both sides (see Israel defends its Gaza probe as ‘in line with international lawHaaretz, 5/2/2010).

Before this, since one week, the investigation report of South African judge Richard Goldstone on the events of last winter has come back under the limelight. According to the Guardian, the « Goldstone effect » has been placed by Benjamin Netanyahu among the most serious security challenges for Israel (« Pressure mounts for Israel to hold Gaza war inquiry »Guardian, 3/2/2010). The integrity of the Israeli Defense Forces is questioned on the one hand, and the threat of sanctions is hanging over military officials. Although the international community has not voted in favor of direct sanctions, it has nevertheless called on the parties for credible and independent investigations to be conducted.

Since then, no such measure has been announced in Israel. This week in Haaretz, former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz expressed the importance of establishing an independent inquiry. His argument is not taking into account possible Israeli misdeeds during the Gaza war, but is meant to exonerate the Israeli army in order to safeguard its legitimacy and that of the country (« Menachem Mazuz: Israel must probe Gaza war to counter Goldstone »Haaretz, 31/1/2010).

But can IDF, self-described as « one of the most moral army in the world« , really be exonerated? It is more and more doubtful. Le Monde (L’armée israélienne a changé sa doctrine pour la guerre de Gaza, 3/1/2010)  and The Independent (Israeli commander: « We rewrote the rules of war for Gaza », 3/2/2010) show quoted this week a senior Israeli explaining that, the normal military code had been revised during the war in Gaza. The IDF operates generally according to the principle of “means and intentions « (in Hebrew: « emtza’im vé kavana ») which means that shooting a person is allowed only if she has both the means and the intention to kill. The man confessed that during Operation Cast Lead, this principle had been abandoned in favor of the principle of zero risk,that could be reduced to the formula, « If you’re uncertain, you kill. »

Did the circumstances justify it? Indeed, after the war against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, IDF officials understood the consequences of loss of lives and have tried to avoid it at all costs. This may explain, but cannot justify the behavior of the Israeli army during the war in Gaza. Beyond the arguments, the number of deaths is indeed not explainable, and even less justifiable: 1400 dead Palestinians, against 13 Israelis. At the end, if it wants to keep a semblance of legitimacy on the international stage, Israel will find it difficult to avoid carrying out an independent investigation.


Nathalie Janne d’Othée