The IDF published on Wednesday the findings of a five-team investigation into conduct of soldiers during Operation Cast Lead in December and January and concluded that the IDF operated in accordance with international law. The investigation, approved for publication by IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, said that soldiers maintained a high professional and moral level while facing an enemy that aimed to terrorize Israeli civilians while taking cover behind uninvolved civilians in the Gaza area and using them as human shields.
Investigative teams were composed of officers who were not a direct part of the chain of command in Gaza. They investigated issues brought to the public's attention by various organizations and media, both international and Israeli. The incidents reviewed included
- incidents in which United Nations and international facilities were fired upon and damaged;
- cases in which there was shooting at medical facilities, buildings, vehicles and crews;
- events in which uninvolved civilians were harmed;
- allegations of the use of weaponry containing phosphorous and damage, and
- evidence of destruction by ground forces.
A very small number of incidents were discovered in which intelligence or operational errors took place during the fighting. These were “unavoidable and occur in all combat situations, in particular of the type which Hamas forced on the IDF, by choosing to fight from within the civilian population,” the report determined.
No direct fire on UN
The first investigation, which was conducted by Colonel Itzik Turgeman, considered claims that the IDF had fired on UN facilities during the operation. The IDF concluded that forces had fired on two separate occasions near UN warehouses after terrorist fired at troops from the vicinity. In both incidents the warehouses caught fire, although the forces had not fired directly on the UN facilities.
Turgeman also investigated one of the most highly publicized attacks in the war in which Hamas claimed 40 civilians were killed at an UNWRA school in Jebaliya. The IDF investigation concluded that fire was directed at a terrorist cell which had fired mortar shells at troops. At most 17 people were killed, five of whom were the terrorists responsible for the mortar fire.
Colonel Erez Katz conducted a second investigation into whether the IDF fired on medical buildings or crews in the course of the war. Katz concluded that out of seven medical staff who were killed, five were Hamas terrorists. In addition, the investigative team revealed that the Hamas leadership, including chief Ismail Haniyeh, established their headquarters in Gaza City's Shifa Hospital in order to avoid IDF attack.
Perhaps the most controversial investigation was that conducted by Colonel Tamir Yedai into incidents in which civilians were killed. In the case of a bombing which killed senior Hamas terrorist Nazar Rian and fifteen other civilians, the IDF concluded that it had warned the residents of all houses in the area to leave, and that the air force had even carried out warning fire before the bombing. The IDF had not known that the civilians were present at the time of the bombing.
The IDF admitted that it had committed an operational mistake in east Gaza when a house with 21 civilians inside was bombed, instead of the next house over which was being used as a weapons storage facility. The IDF had called the residents of the correct house to warn them of the impending bombardment, but planes hit the wrong target.
Many international organizations had accused Israel of using weapons containing phosphorous during the course of the operation. Colonel Shai Alkalai took charge of the investigation into those claims, concluding that the IDF had used phosphorous only within the boundaries of what was permitted by international law. He also confirmed that despite the legality of the IDF’s actions, the military decided to stop using phosphorous in the middle of the war, due to international criticism.
709 terroists killed
Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Harel released the IDF’s most up to date statistics of the number of Gazans killed in the operation as part of the reports. He said that 1,167 people were killed, 709 of them confirmed terrorists, 295 confirmed civilians, and 162 whose identity is not known.
The investigation confirmed that the fighting in Gaza took place in a complex battlefield against an enemy that chose, as a conscious part of its doctrine, to locate itself in the midst of the civilian population, booby-trapped its houses with explosives, fired from the schools attended by its own children and used its own people as human shields while cynically abusing the IDF’s legal and ethical commitment to avoid injuring uninvolved civilians.
According to IDF protocol for investigations, the teams operated independently and were provided with access to all relevant materials and the freedom to question any of the relevant personnel. They were given the complaints that reached the IDF and other Israeli authorities, interviewed many soldiers and officers, and gathered relevant documents and other materials.
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit emphasized that these experts' investigations are not a substitute for the main operational IDF investigation of the entire operation, which is continuing at various levels and which will be concluded by June. Additional issues are also undergoing a process of verification or investigation at various levels within the IDF.