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Top Israeli Military Lawyer Investigating About 70 Possible Legal Violations During Gaza War

12:00 May 27 2024 Eilat (אילת إيلات)

Top Israeli Military Lawyer Investigating About 70 Possible Legal Violations During Gaza War Top Israeli Military Lawyer Investigating About 70 Possible Legal Violations During Gaza War Top Israeli Military Lawyer Investigating About 70 Possible Legal Violations During Gaza War Top Israeli Military Lawyer Investigating About 70 Possible Legal Violations During Gaza War
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Photos: Published by Haaretz
Israel's Military Advocate General Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi speaking at an Israel Bar Association conference on Monday. Credit: Sassi Horesh

Palestinians search for food among burnt debris in the aftermath of an Israeli strike on an area designated for displaced people, in Rafah, on Monday. Credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters

An Israeli truck with Gazan detainees, in December. Credit: Moti Milrod
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Israel's Military Advocate General said that while the IDF is given legal advice on how to achieve its goals of war in accordance with the law, 'in a war of such magnitude and intensity, severe incidents happen'

by Chen Maanit for Haaretz
May 27, 2024

Israel's Military Advocate General, Major General Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, said on Monday that the IDF is investigating about 70 cases of suspected violations of the laws of war.

Speaking at the annual Israel Bar Association Conference in Eilat, Tomer-Yerushalmi said that the army's investigations focus on the incarceration conditions in the Sde Teiman detention facility in southern Israel, the deaths of Palestinian detainees held by the IDF, incidents in which civilians uninvolved in the fighting were killed by Israeli forces and other violent incidents that include property crimes and looting committed by Israeli soldiers.

"We take these allegations very seriously, and are working to clarify them," Tomer-Yerushalmi said. She also referred to the IDF strike in the southern Gaza city of Rafah overnight into Monday – in which dozens of civilians were reportedly killed – saying that it was "a very severe incident" that will be thoroughly investigated.

According to Tomer-Yerushalmi, since the beginning of the war in the Gaza Strip, the Military Advocate General's Office has been aiding army commanders to achieve the war's goals set by the government in accordance with the law, advising them on a variety of operational issues

"In a war of such magnitude and intensity, severe incidents happen … incidents in which there is a suspicion that the laws of war and the army's orders have been violated … These suspicions are examined thoroughly and decisively, as part of our deep commitment to the law," she added.

Tomer-Yerushalmi further claimed that the IDF's investigation channels are strictly professional and independent and are not subject to the army's chain of command.

"The findings are forwarded to the Military Advocate General's Office to decide on the necessary legal measures," she said. "Each decision is made after a thorough examination and from a deep understanding of the war's unique challenges, but always by [the prosecutor's] independent judgment and our sole commitment to the law," she said.

Israel's Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, who also spoke at the conference, said that the prosecutor's office "doesn't shy away from bringing to justice any person – including army and state leaders – as long as there are well-founded suspicions of crimes committed."

During her address, Baharav-Miara also referred to the charges against Israel at the World Court and the possibility that arrest warrants will be issued against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Hamas' leaders.

"The comparison between the many murderers of Hamas and Israel's leaders is a moral deficiency," she said, adding that the IDF is committed to international law while Hamas flagrantly violates it.

"Israel's war is against Hamas and the terrorist organizations in Gaza and not against the Strip's residents," she added. "We'll examine and thoroughly look into any suspicions of illegal actions. We don't need foreign assistance to investigate the suspicions of crimes … the State Prosecutor's Office is also promoting the investigation of war-related statements [by soldiers] that violate the law."

In February, Tomer-Yerushalmi sent a letter to IDF commanders noting that during the war in Gaza she had encountered actions by IDF soldiers that "do not meet IDF values, deviate from orders and disciplinary boundaries – and have crossed the criminal threshold."

Baharav-Miara added that Israel's Supreme Court is conducting a judicial review of the humanitarian policy concerning aid going into Gaza and the government and military actions on the matter. She also emphasized that Israeli law allows for the establishment of an independent state commission of inquiry.

"The last year showed us all that our democracy is fragile,"she added, referring to the judicial coup brought by the Netanyahu government. "Israel doesn't have a comprehensive system of checks and balances that can regulate the significant power held by the government," she said.

In December, Haaretz revealed that hundreds of Palestinian detainees arrested in Gaza were being held for weeks at the Sde Teiman detention facility in Israel's south. At the facility, the detainees are blindfolded and handcuffed for most of the day, and the lights are on at the facility throughout the night. A source told Haaretz in January that they are exposed to violence and punishment that soldiers carry out at their own volition. These acts include beatings and handcuffing detainees to the fence or with their hands above their heads.

As of March, 27 Gazan detainees have died in custody at Israeli military facilities since the outbreak of the war, according to figures obtained by Haaretz. Last month, a doctor at a Sde Teiman field hospital reported that conditions at the facility could compromise the inmates' health and put the government at risk of violating the law. "Just this week, two prisoners had their legs amputated due to handcuff injuries, which unfortunately is a routine event," the physician said, warned that "the facilities' operations do not comply with a single section among those dealing with health in the Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants Law."
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