Two reports from 1) the Turkel committee and 2) Yesh Din on the refusal of the Israeli government and IDF commanders to enforce any system of accountability for soldiers’ actions, however damaging.
Israeli soldiers fire teargas during clashes at the funeral of Samir Ahmed Awad, 17, in the West Bank village of Budrus on January 15, 2013. Photo by Abbas Momani, AFP. See also 56 Palestinians killed since 2005 with ‘crowd control’ weapons
The second part of the Turkel report could have long-term ramifications for how Palestinian deaths are investigated, but its fate will be in the hands of Netanyahu’s next government.
By Amos Harel, Ha’Aretz
February 06, 2013
The committee headed by former Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, some of whose members were foreign jurists, was established to rebuff the claims that Israel had violated international law when it raided the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara as it was en route to Gaza in May 2010. As far as the second Netanyahu government was concerned, that objective was achieved.
But it’s the second, much longer part of the Turkel panel’s report, released today, that could have long-term ramifications. The conclusions in this second part are meant to improve the way the security forces conduct themselves in the West Bank, and in particular, the way enforcement authorities supervise their activities there.
A senior retired Israel Defense Forces officer, who filled several senior command positions in the territories going back to the first intifada, once said that he would make it a point to rush to the scene of every incident that raised suspicions of soldiers killing a Palestinian even though their lives were not endangered.
“If you got there a quarter of an hour late, forget it,” he said. “By then the commanders and their soldiers had coordinated their versions [of the incident] and chances were you’d never find out what really happened.”
These observations have 45 years’ worth of confirmation, and it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that they are relevant to a series of recent incidents in the West Bank in which soldiers killed four unarmed Palestinians, including a young woman and two teenagers.
The Turkel Committee says pretty similar things, albeit in legal language and a more restrained tone. The panel notes that several western countries to which Israel was compared had in recent years made structural changes to increase the independence of the investigatory bodies and improve the external oversight of the security forces’ examination procedures.
The report observes drily that while Israeli mechanisms for investigating incidents in the territories fulfill the demands of international law, policy changes are advised “to establish practices” more clearly.
In its polite way, the committee expresses a lack of confidence in the way legal procedures are conducted. To improve the processes of examination and control, it recommends imposing personal responsibility on commanders who do not prevent their soldiers from committing serious crimes or who do not investigate them properly after the fact.
The committee notes that the procedure fixed by the IDF chief of staff in 2005 regarding reporting Palestinian casualties is not being implemented. It also notes that an operational debriefing is not at all similar to a military-criminal investigation and it recommends firmly establishing a maximum time frame (of a few weeks) for the military advocate-general to decide whether to open a criminal investigation, and how long such an investigation is meant to take.
Former military advocate-general Avichai Mandelblit saw how things were developing, and in April 2011 he changed IDF policy and ordered a Military Police investigation of every incident of soldiers killing a Palestinian in the territories. Such investigations had been markedly reduced during the years of the second intifada, on grounds that most Palestinians were being killed during military confrontations.
But data released today by the B’tselem organization show that of the 12 investigations opened since the orders were changed, not one has been completed. Turkel’s proposals aim to expedite these investigations.
Another suggestion by the panel seems so obvious that it’s hard to believe that the IDF didn’t implement it a decade ago: to establish Military Police field units in the territories that include investigators who speak Arabic and can collect evidence from Palestinian residents.
The report also includes remarks that aren’t really connected to its mandate, but are nonetheless important. Turkel thinks the status of the military advocate-general should be redefined by law. To a certain extent, he is asking to do for the military advocate-general what the state comptroller’s report on the Harpaz document tried to do regarding the appointment of the chief of general staff.
According to Turkel, the rank of the military advocate-general should be fixed (over the past decade it has bounced between major-general and brigadier-general), as should his term (six years) and the process of his selection (by the defense minister, after he receives recommendations from a committee, one of whose members should be the attorney general).
All these are worthy suggestions. Now we must see if the Netanyahu government and the IDF adopt them in full, or let their implementation slide, as happens with so many other directives in the territories.
In Na’alin, a soldier takes aims at a Palestinian, in blindfold and handcuffs. Photo by B’tselem (screenshot from Channel 10)
Of the 240 complaints received by the army in 2012, not one resulted in an indictment. In certain respects, the IDF has outsourced to human rights NGOs its system for receiving complaints against soldiers. When it comes to investigating those complaints, however, it does a totally unacceptable job.
By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz, +972
February 05, 2013
The most significant fact in our new fact sheet about law enforcement on IDF soldiers in the Occupied Territories is that although 240 complaints were registered in 2012, they resulted in not a single indictment. It is possible indictments will be filed in the coming years based on the complaints of 2012, but so far the percentage of complaints maturing into indictments is a fat, round zero. 2012 is somewhat problematic in this regard, but the average rate is not much better: around five percent. [Yesh Din fact sheet here.]
Another less obvious point is also of importance. Out of 240 complaints, all of which deal with allegedly unlawful conduct – from violence to looting to unlawful killing – only six, about 2.5 percent, were made directly to the Military Police Criminal Investigative Division (MPCID), which then made only a desultory effort to investigate them. This rate was somewhat higher in 2008-2009, though still minor – nine percent (see pg. 35-46 Yesh Din fact sheet). The rest of the complaints made it to MPCID by Palestinians registering complaints with Israeli policemen in the DCOs [District Coordination Offices], but the majority came through human rights organizations, either directly (in 42 cases), or indirectly (when the NGOs went to the Military Judge Advocate, in 90 cases).
Only four complaints were made directly to MPCID by military officers, even though IDF orders make it clear that when a suspicion of certain offenses arises, MPCID must be informed. One single complaint came from the Shin Bet’s ombudsman responsible for examining detainee complaints, which given the notoriety of this department in closing complaints about torture, means that some soldier must have been spectacularly out of line. A similar number of complaints came from the Let the Animals Live NGO (an animal rights group), and another came from a righteous person, an individual Israeli citizen.
Anyone filing a complaint through an Israeli cop at a DCO – assuming one is actually present – is sometimes surprised to find that the complaint was lost on its way to MPCID. Sending your complaint via a human rights NGO has an added benefit: they do a good job. If the ratio of complaints coming from the police developing into an investigation is a lowly one in six, which is still much higher than those coming from an interrogation facility (1 in 18), the rate of complaints coming through NGOs and leading to investigations is one in 2.5 or 1:3.
Why is the rate for direct complaints so low? The answer is simple. MPCID does not have bases in the West Bank (and obviously, not in Gaza). The IDF and Border Police have a large number of bases in the West Bank, as well as plenty of training areas; recently, using the excuse for expelling Palestinians from their lands because they are in a “firing zone” has become depressingly common. The West Bank has bases of various ground forces, regimental bases, brigade bases expressly intended for occupation purposes (the Kfir Brigade), which has six battalions. The IDF has been in the West Bank since 1967, and never stopped building in it. And yet, MPCID has not a single base in the West Bank.
What this means in practice is that a Palestinian who wants to register a complaint against a soldier who hurt him or her needs a permit to enter Israel, because that is where MPCID’s only bases are. Most Palestinians do not have such a permit. This means that there is no practical way to directly register a complaint, making certain that only the most obdurate will be able to register theirs. This certainly reduces the workload for MPCID, and saves some trouble for soldiers. One must wonder if this is truly accidental.
During the first years of the occupation, complaints about soldiers’ violence were rare. This changed immediately when the First Intifada broke out in late 1987. Between the two intifadas, complaints were supposed to travel from the Palestinians to MPCID via the Palestinian Police. This was, one could say, an unstable arrangement that collapsed when the Second Intifada broke out – but even in the 12 years since, MPCID hasn’t built a single base in the West Bank.
In certain respects, MPCID is an early example of privatization: it outsourced the system for receiving complaints to human rights NGOs. Those NGOs do MPCID’s work for it without its being forced to spend its own resources. When it comes to investigating those complaints, however, it does a totally unacceptable job. Yet, this is appears to be one public service the government of Israel won’t be in a hurry to privatize.
Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.