On August 24, 2016, the IDF Military Advocate General (MAG) issued a statement providing detailed information on 12 incidents from the 2014 Gaza War in which allegations of potential war crimes had been raised. The MAG described the findings of its “examination and investigation of [these] exceptional incidents” and explained the rationale behind its decision to open or close criminal proceedings for each.
In many instances (see chart below), the details in the MAG publication contradict the claims and repudiate the conclusions of NGOs – including Adalah, Al-Mezan, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel – and the UN Schabas/Davis Commission of Inquiry regarding these specific incidents.
In response, the NGOs Adalah and Al-Mezan addressed the MAG’s findings in a seven-page report published on August 28, alleging the Israel was “unwilling to conduct genuine, independent investigations.” In addition, Human Rights Watch claimed that Israel had not conducted “adequate domestic investigations” and that the International Criminal Court should step in.
Despite these reactions, the MAG’s latest update highlights the fundamental difference in the salience of information provided by different investigations: The MAG report (as well as others released previously) gives inside details on intelligence, targeting, weapons systems, operational capabilities, commander decision making, and real-time field conditions; without these, it is impossible to make determinations as to whether a violation of the law occurred. In sharp contrast, the publications of NGOs and the Schabas/Davis Commission (largely based on these same NGO publications) contain speculation, innuendo, unverifiable (and sometimes clearly mistaken) claims, and “testimonies” from “eyewitnesses,” and lack the essential facts provided by the MAG.
In this respect, the MAG demonstrates that NGO publications issued during periods of armed conflict are full of inaccuracies and lack basic information, military expertise, and credibility. They should not be relied upon by policy makers, judicial frameworks, or the media. For more information on these issues, see NGO Monitor’s research in Best Practices for Human Rights and Humanitarian NGO Fact-Finding and Filling in the Blanks Documenting Missing Dimensions in UN and NGO Investigations of the Gaza Conflict.
|Incident||NGO claims||IDF response|
|Rafah Preparatory “A” Boys School, August 3||Human Rights Watch (HRW): The Israeli military did not explain “why it attacked the men in front of a school sheltering thousands of displaced people rather than before they arrived or after they drove away.”||“with the means that were at their disposal, and under the visibility conditions prevailing at that time, the operational authorities were not able to discern in real-time the group of civilians that were outside the school…a period of time after the munition had been fired, and mere seconds before it reached its target, the motorbike entered a traffic circle with a number of different exits, and left it via one of them”|
|HRW: “…strongly suggests that the munition was a Spike missile…The Spike is an optically guided munition with sensors that allow the operator to see the target even after the missile is launched and divert it in mid-course”||“at the moment upon which the motorbike exited the traffic circle and started to travel along the road bordering the wall which surrounded the school, it was no longer possible to divert the munition which had been fired at the motorbike” (emphasis added).|
|Al Mezan: “identified the two people (and not three as stated by the Israeli authorities) on the motorbike as civilians and not combatants.”|
(A volunteer at the school told HRW, “there were three people on a motorcycle.”)
|“It was further found, that on 3 August 2014, the IDF observed three people riding on a motorbike, who were identified, on the basis of up-to-date intelligence information, as military operatives.…|
|Allegation Regarding the Death of Seven Individuals as the Result of a Strike on a Building in Al-Bureij (20 July 2014)||Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR): “At approximately 14:00, an Israeli warplane launched a missile at a 3-storey house belonging to Jameel Sha’ban Ziada… The house was destroyed and 6 members of the family, including 2 women and a child, and a guest were killed.”||“On 20 July 2014, the IDF carried out an aerial strike on a structure that was being used as an active command and control center by the Hamas terror organization…the structure was also utilized by the military operative Mohammed Muqadama, a senior figure in Hamas' military observation force.”|
|Al Mezan: At approximately 2:00pm on Sunday, 20 July 2014, Israeli warplanes fired a missile at the house of Jameel Shaban Ziyada, 53. The 300-square-meter house of three stories is located in the Al Bureij refygee camp and was completely destroyed. Five of the victinms were three sons and their parents, and the sixth was a visitor.|
|Amnesty International Gaza Platform: Quotes PCHR and Al Mezan verbatim.|
|B’Tselem: Lists Muhammad al-Maqadmeh as a military branch operative and 'Omar Sha'ban Hassan Ziyadah as a member of Hamas. (No other family members are listed as “participated in hostilities.”)||“Among the casualties were three military operatives in the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror organizations, who were members of the Ziyadeh family, as well as the senior military operative mentioned above, Mohammed Muqadama.”|
|Allegation Regarding the Death of 12 Members of the Siyam Family in Rafah (21 July 2014)||Al Mezan: “At approximately 6:30 am on Monday 21 July 2014, Israeli airstrikes targeted the area where the extended Siyam family house is located, in the Al Siyamat neighbourhood, north of Rafah. Their neighbours - Ahmed Salman Abu Sneimeh - house was hit…As soon as they left the house door, an Israeli drone fired a missile directly on them. As a result, 13 people were killed, including eight children.”||“MAG indicate that no attack – aerial or otherwise – that could have resulted in a strike on the family as alleged was carried out by IDF forces in the area in question and on the relevant date…at the relevant time, and in close proximity to the Siyam family's residence, terror organizations in the Gaza Strip fired a series of mortars…’failed launches’, wherein the mortar shells that were aimed at Israeli territory, fell within the territory of the Gaza Strip.”|
|PCHR: At approximately 06:30, Israeli drones fired 5 missiles at al-Siamat neighborhood in the north of Rafah… hit a house belonging to Ahmed Salman Abu Snaima, wounding him. The fifth missile exploded near a house belonging to Mahrous Salam Siam, as members of the family were getting out of the house. As a result, 9 members of the family were killed.|
|Amnesty Gaza Platform: Quotes Al Mezan and PCHR verbatim.|
|B’Tselem: Lists the members of the family as being killed by “missile fired from an aircraft.”|
|Commission of Inquiry Report: “The third strike, which caused the most casualties, was most likely from a missile, probably an AGM 114 Hellfire Missile”|
|Physicians for Human Rights-Israel: “According to the patient at second interview…All the inhabitants ran out of the house and a second missile from an F-16 aircraft struck the ground near the house and shrapnel hit the patient.”
(Manned fixed-wing Israeli aircrafts do not fire Hellfire Missiles, thereby disproving this claim)
|Allegations Regarding Strikes on the Power Plant in Nusseirat (22-29 July 2014)||Al Mezan: “At approximately 9:30 pm on Monday 28 July 2014, bombarded the Gaza power plant…The boilers of the plant were hit. Later, around 6 am on Tuesday 29 July 2014, the IOF bombarded the plant again; this time hitting its fuel tanks and igniting a huge fire in them.”||“It was found that the damage did not occur as the result of any direct or intentional attack, aerial or otherwise, by IDF forces…
Evidence has also been obtained which indicates that a portion of the damage may have been caused as the result of rocket fire by Palestinian terror organizations…”
|PCHR: At approximately 06:00, Israeli warplanes and tanks bombarded Gaza Power Plant to the north of al-Nussairat refugee camp. Fuel tanks were burnt, and the plant was stopped.|
|Amnesty International Gaza Platform: Quotes Al Mezan and PCHR verbatim.|
|HRW: “Human Rights Watch was unable to determine whether Palestinian fighters were deployed in the area when the plant was hit.”||“…terror organizations located a large number of terror assets adjacent to the power plant…
on the day of the incident, an IDF armored force operating in the area identified a squad of terror operatives, bearing anti-tank weaponry…In light of the imminent threat posed by the squad to the armored force, the force fired, in a measured and direct manner, at the anti-tank squad, using the most precise munition the force had at its disposal.”
|Allegation Concerning the Death of Approximately 15 Individuals During a Strike on the House of the Zouarob Family in Rafah (1 August 2014)||B’Tselem: Only lists Nazmi Zo’rub as “participated in hostilities.” The others were “killed at home.”||“The IDF carried out an aerial strike on a building, which was an active command and control center of the Hamas terror organization. The attack aimed to neutralize both the command and control center and the military operatives who, according to assessments, were manning it, with special regard to Nazmi Zouarob, a senior military operative in the Hamas, who was carrying out military operations from within the structure.”|
|PCHR: Israeli warplanes bombarded a house belonging to Ra'fat 'Ouda Zo'rob in the Saudi neighborhood in the west of Rafah. Thirteen members of the family, including 7 children and 3 women, were killed.|
|Amnesty International Gaza Platform: Quotes PCHR verbatim|