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The well-oiled legal machine that enables IDF violence

The majority of complaints by Palestinians about violence by Israeli soldiers go nowhere, and when they do, it can take over a year for the military prosecution to decide whether to even open an investigation.

An Israeli soldier checks the ID of a Palestinian man the Old City of Hebron, West Bank, January 14, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

An Israeli soldier checks the ID of a Palestinian man the Old City of Hebron, West Bank, January 14, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

In his latest article, my colleague Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man described the way in which Israel’s civilian and military court system is used as a fig leaf to prevent the International Criminal Court from investigating Israeli crimes in the occupied territories. The idea is simple: as long as the local legal systems effectively fulfill their role, the ICC has no mandate to intervene.

Meanwhile, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan is working to promote a new bill that would grant immunity to soldiers who are suspected of criminal wrongdoing during military operations. The truth is that Ben Dahan’s bill is entirely redundant: a new report published this week by Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din show that soldiers who allegedly commit crimes against the Palestinian population in the occupied territories enjoy near-full immunity.

According to Yesh Din, between 2011-2016 (data from 2017 has yet to be published), only 3.4 percent of investigations into attacks on Palestinians opened by the IDF’s Criminal Investigations Department ended in indictments. That’s 32 out of 948 cases. That number is especially striking considering the fact that the military prosecution decides ahead of time which cases it will prosecute. This means that most complaints by Palestinians do not lead to investigations.

In 2016 the military prosecution received 302 complaints of crimes committed by soldiers against Palestinians or their property. Forty percent of those complaints had to do with soldiers opening fire on Palestinians, 34 percent revolved around soldier violence, and 24 percent were lodged in response to property damage and looting. In 220 of those incidents, the military prosecution decided to either open an investigation or close the case. Out of those, only 46 led to investigations. The remaining 174 cases were ordered closed. Of the cases that were opened, only 6.4 percent led to indictments by the end of the first quarter of 2017. That’s five cases. One of them was the case of Elor Azaria, an Israeli soldier who was filmed while executing a dying Palestinian.

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So how does the military prosecution decide which cases will be opened for investigation? When it comes to incidents in which soldiers kill Palestinians, official policy says that the Criminal Investigations Unit must immediately open an investigation, “except in cases where it is clear that the activities during which the Palestinian resident was killed were clearly of a real combat nature.”

According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, 57 Palestinians were killed by IDF fire in 2016. In at least 79 percent of those incidents, the military prosecution ruled that the killings occurred during activities that were “of a real combat nature,” meaning that no investigation needed to be opened. According to Yesh Din, “The ambiguity of the concept of activities of ‘a real combat nature’ actually serves the military law enforcement system in a way that robs the investigation policy of its substance and contributes to the normalization of the killing of Palestinians as a result of the actions of soldiers in the West Bank.”

The small percentage of these indictments comes from an already small number of cases in which an investigation is opened in the first place. And all this from an even smaller number of Palestinians who filed a complaint (Palestinians often refrain from lodging complaints with the Israeli authorities, whether due to issues of access or t0 a deep distrust in the military legal system). According to Yesh Din, there were 40 cases in which Palestinians who had faced either bodily harm or harm to their property by soldiers told the organization they were uninterested in submitting a complaint to the army.

Israeli soldiers check the ID's of Palestinian boys in the Old City of Hebron, West Bank, May 23, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Israeli soldiers check the ID’s of Palestinian boys in the Old City of Hebron, West Bank, May 23, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Take for example the case of AA, a resident of Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, who told a Yesh Din researcher about an incident in which soldiers arrived at his home in the early hours of the morning, arresting him and his 21-year-old son. According to AA, when he exited his home to find out the whereabouts of the officer in charge to find out who approved the arrest, the soldiers beat him unconscious. He was hospitalized for a week.

When AA was asked if he was interested in help in submitting a complaint, he responded: “I do not want to file a complaint because I am afraid that they will come back to my house. Although I am blacklisted by the Shin Bet, I do not want to be prevented from traveling abroad and they will surely close my case, say things against me, and won’t pay me damages, so what is the point? These incidents happen every day in our refugee camp and I never heard that a complaint helped anyone or gave him back his rights.”

One of the indications that confirm the military prosecution’s lack of seriousness vis-a-vis complaints by Palestinians is the time that passes between the moment the complaint is lodged and until things begin moving. Between 2014-2017, Yesh Din’s legal team filed 103 complaints with the military prosecutor in the name of Palestinians who were victims of soldier violence, including 11 cases in which Palestinians were killed.

Israeli soldiers detain a Palestinian man following a house raid in the West Bank city of Hebron September 20, 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Israeli soldiers detain a Palestinian man following a house raid in the West Bank city of Hebron September 20, 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

In 77 of those cases, the military prosecution took an average of 177 days — more than 25 weeks — from the day the complaint was filed until a decision was made on whether or not to open an investigation. The military prosecution’s response was especially delayed in cases in which it decided not to open an investigation, and in some cases took a year and a half from the date the complaint was filed.

That means that a Palestinian who fell victim to a crime by Israeli soldiers — and who bothered to file a complaint — could wait up to a year and a half, only to hear that the military prosecution decided not to investigate his complaint. Think about how quickly the military legal system acted when it investigated Breaking the Silence Spokesperson Dean Issacharoff or left-wing activist Ezra Nawi. But when it comes to Palestinians, there’s no hurry. Take your time. Moreover, as the announcement of the decision not to open an investigation is delayed, the ability of the Palestinians to appeal becomes significantly smaller. Win-win.

Two years ago, B’Tselem announced that it would cease cooperating with the military legal system, after it came to the conclusion that such cooperation was not only worthless, it actually serves as a fig leaf that the army exploits to create a semblance of the rule of law. For now, Yesh Din continues with its Sisyphean task. But the statistics they published this week show that they, too, understand the utility in expecting that the army — which receives sweeping support from its commanders and the political echelon for any crime against the Palestinian population in the occupied territories — will investigate its own crimes without bias.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Lewis from Afula

      The Arabs have no right to complain of Israeli occupation ‘cos they don’t recognise Israel’s right to exist in the 1st place.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        First of all, even thought Lewis is kind of changing the subject here (the subject is IDF violence and impunity), at least Lewis implicitly recognizes it IS an occupation. As for “the Arabs” not recognizing Israel’s right to exist, poppycock, the Palestinians recognized it repeatedly, over many years. (The Saudi Crown prince recently did the same.) But get nothing in return.

        Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday said that the Palestinian people recognize Israel’s right to exist and they hope the Israeli government will respond by “recognizing the Palestinian state on the borders of the land occupied in 1967.” The PA president’s comments came in a speech to the Dutch parliament in the Hague.
        BY JPOST.COM STAFF JUNE 30, 2011
        https://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/We-recognize-Israel-they-should-recognize-Palestine

        In fact, the Israelis will simply take the Saudis recognizing their right to exist as license to shaft the Palestinians, not reach out. No one not born yesterday can think that the GOI has any intention whatsoever of ending the occupation under any possible terms.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      The question of Israel’s “right to exist” is like asking if the moon has a “right to exist”, it’s meaningless hasbara and distracts from more important issues. As for Israel’s demand to be recognized as a “Jewish state”, that too is meaningless – international law doesn’t recognize the concept.

      https://www.huffingtonpost.com/mj-rosenberg/the-bogus-demand-to-recog_b_765218.html

      It is up to Israelis to decide what kind of state they want to live in — a secular democracy or a theocracy (the majority will obviously choose the first). The Palestinians have enough to worry about without defining Israel….Once borders are decided upon, Palestinians recognize Israel as the “State of Israel.” Israelis recognize Palestine as the “State of Palestine.” It’s that simple.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Well said.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ido

        No it isn’t, this is absurd. As long as the Palestinians don’t accept Israel’s legitimate existence they will never stop “the Jihad” against it because as they say very, very clearly they see all of Israel as theirs, it should be an Arab Palestinian state “cleansed of Jews”.
        This is the core of the issue, the Palestinians refusal to accept the legitimate existence of Israel. The driving ideology behind their terrorism and calls for Israel’s destruction and murder of Jews. For Hamas this is based on Islamic doctrine and they say so openly and have it in writing in their charter.
        Fatah has it detailed in Arafat’s ‘Phased Plan’ and the PLO charter still calls for Israel’s destruction.

        You don’t understand that ‘Israel the homeland of the Jewish people’ does not mean theocracy, Jews are a nationality as well, not just a religion.
        You mention borders without touching the fact that the Palestinian leadership consider all of Israel as theirs, they say so openly and if you are hard of hearing just take a look at every symbol or image they have of their “Palestine” showing all of Israel, from the sea to the river, draped in a Palestinian flag. Are all of those a printing error ?

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          1. Honeybunch, I hate to break this to you, but if an Israeli general or political leader ever bases Israel’s security on what some Palestinians somewhere might feel about them or fantasize doing, and think Israel’s security depends on therapizing “hatred” out of millions of others all the while continuing to brutalize them and steal their land, or think that if the Palestinians say some magic words then presto, Israel’s security is strengthened, you should fire that man or woman right away. This “Jewish state” demand concocted in 2007 out of thin air is as fake as a three dollar bill. Bless your heart you sweet innocent child, but I wouldn’t put you in charge of anybody’s security for one day. It is quite clear that Netanyahu’s “Jewish state” demand trick was meant to reset the clock to before 1993 after the Palestinians formally recognized Israel, so as to continue to indefinitely gobble land. No state that truly wants to withdraw settlers and make peace puts out tenders for 2000 more housing units deep in occupied territory. You know, Bruce and I were not born yesterday, honeybun. Now you on the other hand…

          2. We also don’t fathom your interminable confusion about what you think you are getting across with this “Jews are a nationality as well, not just a religion” preaching or what confusion about us you have manufactured inside your head. We fully understand that for you and Netanyahu and Shaked, Jews are very much a “nationality” in all the right wing connotations of that term, as well as a religion, and they want an ethnocracy, a racist apartheid state.* It is a fused amalgam of religion and ethnicity they are obsessed with. Tribalism. No one has ever been confused that the Israeli right wing are all theocrats. They are racists. Many of them quite secular racists. Ethnocrats. Tribalocrats. Jewish supremacistocrats. Ayalet Shaked it totally non-religious. So is Netanyahu. What on earth ever is your point? Don’t answer that, you’ll only spin more confusion.

          * EVIDENCE! PROOF! ==> ==> ==>
          The Knesset Wants Apartheid
          Haaretz Editorial Jun 01, 2018
          https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/editorial/the-knesset-wants-apartheid-1.6137367

          Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            Ben, apparently firing guns, using firebombs, Molotov Cocktails, firing mortar shells, using fire kites and trying to breach the border, etc is “what Palestinians feel”. A fantasy. Now I don’t know if you are aware but the riots at the Gaza borders were not exactly peaceful unarmed civil protests. The riots near the borders are well documented, like everything I just mentioned. Just like the fact that tens of thousands of protesters who didn’t riot were not hurt.
            “This Jewish state demand concocted in 2007 out of thin air” – nope, it was a necessity to react to the Palestinians delegitimization of Israel, how they still insist of turning it into a de-facto Arab state, how they see all of Israel, from the sea to the river, as theirs. All the facts you ignore over and over again.
            The Palestinians are not hiding their goals, they have them in writing and say them on a regular basis, the ‘Phased Plan’ to end Israel is not exactly new. The Palestinians refuse to accept the fact that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people because they see this as contradicting with their ideology of ‘all Israel is ours’.
            “Bless your heart you sweet innocent child” – Hilarious.. you again have no idea what you’re talking about, you should listen to the people you’re representing here. They (again) contradict you.
            The Palestinians don’t accept Israel’s legitimacy, I proved this to you in great detail over and over again, see the links in my answer to your first post above. You, again, ignored it completely: the people you’re defending literally contradicting you, very, very clearly so. This is hilarious.
            “1993 after the Palestinians formally recognized Israel” – no they didn’t, Arafat is on record explaining how it was a deceit, see the multiple links I posted in the Facebook comments section in this site’s article titled “How Gaza’s Return March can elevate the one-state movement”.
            Also they didn’t recognize Israel before and after and are on record admitting they never will. I already proved this to you in detail, you, again, ignore all of this. You think it’ll make it go away ?
            “No state that truly wants to withdraw settlers and make peace” – reality, as dictated by the several peace offers made by Israel which include settlers withdrawal, a couple backed by the US, literally contradict you. Are you going to ignore this fact again ?
            “Jews are a nationality as well, not just a religion preaching or what confusion about us you have manufactured inside your head” – how many times have I proved this to you ? saying that one of the oldest nationalities on earth doesn’t exist is insane.
            A nation with shared history, culture, language, ancestry and even religion, is fiction ? how stupid can someone be to say something this absurd ? you are again confusing Jewish religion with Jewish nationality, as an Atheist Jew I find your confusion and ignorance quite amusing. If I needed more proof that you have no idea what you’re talking about.
            “a racist apartheid state” – so you also have no idea what is happening in Israel or you have no idea what Apartheid means. your link talks about attempts at legal annexation of settlements areas in the West Bank, which of course will not pass the Supreme Court. This is not Apartheid, maybe you should educate yourself what that word means.
            You want to discuss racists ? the Palestinians themselves openly say that their future “Palestine” should be Jew-Free. How many Jews live right now in the Palestinian Authority ? in Gaza ? zero. How many Muslims Arabs who identify as Palestinians live right now in Israel ? but Israel is the racist.

            Reply to Comment
          • mig

            Ido :”The Palestinians don’t accept Israel’s legitimacy”

            Can you show us what legal requirement for Palestinians is to do so? International law etc. Thanks.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            You want me to show you a legal requirement why it’s not OK for the Palestinian leadership to call for the elimination of Israel and the murder of Jews ? the actual meaning of the Palestinians refusal to accept Israel’s existence ? the core of their ideology, seeing all of Israel, from the sea to the river, as theirs ?
            This is nuts. You know what ? they don’t have to, just don’t act surprised when Israel responds accordingly.

            Reply to Comment
          • mig

            Ido :”This is nuts. You know what ? they don’t have to, just don’t act surprised when Israel responds accordingly.” I really don’t act surprised when nuts Israel acts like it always does, acts like total nuts. They don’t have to? Care to explain why did you call that then? Wanna make things to happen just because you invented something out of the blue?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            I have no idea what you just said but the idea that Hamas’ refusal to accept the legitimate existence of Israel, their guiding ideology to calling for Israel’s destruction and the genocide of Jews, seems very logical to you is literally insane.
            And asking Hamas nicely to stop bombing Israeli cities and murder Israelis doesn’t seem to work, sadly.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            As I said, you’ll only spin more confusion. I can’t help you with that.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            Ben, so proving in detail your ignorance and nonsense is now “spinning more confusion”. I see. Just like firing guns, using firebombs, Molotov Cocktails, firing mortar shells, using fire kites and trying to breach the border, all well documented, are not violent riots.
            Hey, whatever helps you deal with the fact that I expose your ignorance and lies, I’m not judging.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            We know you by now. We factor that in. Thanks.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            “We” ? or are those “the folks” you asked to ignore the huge pile of posts showing how you are a clueless liar who has no idea what he’s talking about, just like here on this article, in great detail backed by evidence in the comments section here:
            https://972mag.com/how-gazas-return-march-can-elevate-the-one-state-movement/135870/

            ?
            I ask again: how does proving, in detail, your ignorance and nonsense is “spinning more confusion” ?
            How does firing guns, using firebombs, Molotov Cocktails, firing mortar shells, using fire kites and trying to breach the border, all well documented, are not considered violent riots ?
            Why is this so difficult for you to answer ?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            It certainly was a “huge pile.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            Ben, acting like a child and ignoring the huge amount of posts where I show in great detail how you’re a clueless liar who has no idea what he’s talking about is not going to make all my posts, backed by evidence you repeatedly ignored, go away.
            It does say a lot about you though.
            I’ll make it easier for you, let’s start from the last question: how does firing guns, using firebombs, Molotov Cocktails, firing mortar shells, using fire kites and trying to violently breach the border into Israel, all well documented, not considered violent riots ?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Thanks. I don’t need it made easier. As you may have noticed. I need it made honest-er. Much honest-er. So no thanks. I prefer honest, intelligent truth seeking to dim, manipulative, repetitive propaganda rants depending on a huge apparatus of disinformation. Avnery is right. To sum up, I prefer truth to propaganda. That’s why I read +972 Magazine and pay for a subscription to Haaretz. Troll control is everyone’s civic minded duty. Do your part.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            Well, since you avoid acknowledging reality and refuse to notice evidence refuting your nonsense, it seems like you do.
            Just like you (again) refused to touch the fact that firing guns, using firebombs, Molotov Cocktails, firing mortar shells, using fire kites and trying to violently breach the border into Israel, all well documented, is not “peaceful unarmed protests”.
            Again: calling the facts I post backed by evidence (you refuse to touch) “propaganda” doesn’t cancel said facts out. It only shows how you have a problem dealing with reality. For example when I said how the Palestinian leadership, both factions, refuse to accept the legitimate existence of Israel I provided proof, including videos of their own leaders and spokesperson spelling it out to you, in very easy to understand way.
            You ignored it and continued to cling to your lies. Of course I repeat myself because as I already explain you repeat your lying clueless nonsense and you continue to ignore evidence backed facts.
            “Avnery is right” – as I proved in great detail to you, Avnery is a delusional ‘Useful Idiot’ who doesn’t seem to know what is going on around him. He also lies about basic facts like Hamas’ intentions, their idea of cease-fire, Arafat’s origin, etc. which I assume he heard from his great friends, the Jihadist genocidal terrorists Hamas.
            “o sum up, I prefer truth to propaganda” – so do I and that’s why I proved in great detail how you’re a clueless liar who has no idea what he’s talking about.
            “Do your part” – oh I did. I proved in great detail how you lie repeatedly, ignore facts not to your liking, disregard evidence which contradicts your delusional views, unable to back up your claims, how you don’t seem to know basic facts about the people you’re defending even after I bring you evidence of them literally saying it to your face.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Ido disagrees. The shock is profound. An unprecedented development. We’ll convene an emergency committee to deal with this urgent situation and get back to you.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            Again with the ‘you disagree’ nonsense. I don’t disagree, I simply point out very clearly how you’re wrong and provide evidence for it.
            What’s shocking is how you repeatedly ignore the evidence I provided which also include the people you’re defending literally shouting in your face how wrong you are. This is amazing.
            Why are you ignoring the huge amount of proof, in great detail, how you’re so very wrong ? you think ignoring it will make it go away ?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “I proved in great detail how you’re a clueless liar who has no idea what he’s talking about.”

            A classic, old-tyme, Gellerian staple. We’ll treasure it. We’re having it attractively framed and will hang it on our wall. And burst out laughing when we look up and see it’s fatuous message.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            So you’re saying all the posts in the following comments section:
            https://972mag.com/how-gazas-return-march-can-elevate-the-one-state-movement/135870/

            Showing in great detail how you’re a clueless liar who has no idea what he’s talking about, one post literally listing your lies, does not exist ?
            Now that’s some powerful denial of reality. I hope no illicit drugs are involved.
            “Well treasure it” ? is that the royal “we” or are you referring to the “folks” you asked in the comments section on the linked article to just ignore the huge amount of posts where I prove in great detail how you’re a clueless liar without a basic understanding of the people he’s trying to defend ?

            Reply to Comment
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