Israel ‘disciplines’ army officers (Al Jazeera 1.2.2010)
Al Jazeera 1.2.2010
Two Israeli army officers have been “disciplined”, but not demoted, for firing artillery shells towards a densely-populated area near a UN compound during its war on Gaza last year.
The two officers were named on Monday as Brigadier General Eyal Eisenberg and Colonel Ilan Malka by the Israeli Haaretz newspaper, but have not been officially identified by the military.
The army did not say what form of discipline the men faced, but both were accused of “exceeding their authority in a manner that jeopardised the lives of others” during the shelling of Tel al-Hawa on January 15, 2009.
The report documented how Israeli troops “fired several artillery shells in violation of the rules of engagement prohibiting use of such artillery near populated areas”.
However, Israel’s military advocate general ruled there was no basis to order a criminal investigation into the incident.
Jacky Rowland, Al Jazeera’s corrrespondent in Jerusalem, said that the credibility of the military investigation is being called into question, especially as the January 15 incident was well-known for the Israeli military’s widely-condemned use of white phosphorus.
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“This is yet another case of the army investigating itself. The government is now under increasing pressure, both from within Israel, and from overseas, to establish an independent commission”.
So far only one Israeli soldier has been prosecuted for misconduct during the war – for stealing a credit card from a Palestinian house – even though hundreds of Palestinian women, children and elderly people died in the war.
Israel’s 22-day offensive between December 2008 and January 2009 on the coastal territory resulted in the deaths of about 1,400 Palestinians, mostly women and children. It also left Gaza in virtual ruins following indiscriminate bombing and shelling by Israeli forces.
Some 13 Israelis, including three civilians, were also killed in the conflict.
Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, said the two officers disciplined had not committed any crime, they had only “breached guidelines” and would have an official reprimand put into their file.
“Some 36 Israeli soldiers and officers are currently under criminal investigation over conduct during the Gaza conflict. But in this incident, there was no evidence of any criminal behaviour”, Regev said.
Tel al-Hawa attack
However, a UN Board of Inquiry report in 2009 that investigated Israeli attacks on UN buildings and staff during its war on Gaza accused the Israeli army of “negligence or recklessness” in its use of white phosphorus munitions.
And a report by the South African judge Richard Goldstone, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, found that three high-explosive shells and seven white phosphorus artillery shells had hit the compound at Tel al-Hawa.
It concluded that the Israeli military violated customary international law by firing toward a warehouse, run by the UN Relief and Works Agency, that was the biggest food storage depot in Gaza.
In the past two weeks, Israel has paid $10.5m in compensation to the UN for the damage.
But in its report, the Israeli authorities maintain that their use of white phosphorus munitions “was consistent with Israel’s obligations under international law” and was disciplining the two officers specifically for firing artillery shells and not phosphorus incendiaries.
White phosphorus is designed to be used as a smoke screen in open areas and is used by many countries for that purpose.
But human rights groups say its use in civilian-populated areas is illegal, since the compound ignites on contact with oxygen and can burn human flesh to the bone.