No indictment in killing of four Palestinian kids on Gaza beach

Israeli army prosecutor decides not to open a criminal probe into a widely reported-on air strike against four children playing on a Gaza City beach during last year’s war. The MAG says it will, however, investigate the shelling of a medical clinic ‘in honor’ a fallen soldier.

A Palestinian child, killed in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza beach, is carried away by paramedics, Gaza City, July 16, 2014. Four children were killed during the attack. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)
A Palestinian child, killed in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza beach, is carried away by paramedics, Gaza City, July 16, 2014. Four children were killed during the attack. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The Israeli military will not seek any indictments over the killing of four Palestinian children on the beach in Gaza last summer, the Military Advocate General announced on Thursday. The four children were killed in a July 16 airstrike that targeted them while they played on a Gaza beach adjacent to where a sizable foreign press contingent was staying.

In its announcement, the MAG claimed that the children had run into — and subsequently out of — what it described as a Hamas naval compound, “closed off by a fence and clearly separated from the beach serving the civilian population.” At least two foreign journalists who were in Gaza at the time disputed that claim on Friday, asserting that the site was easily accessible to the public and only meters from a stretch of sand popular with swimmers and sunbathers.

Paramedics, journalists and bystanders run toward the the scene where four Palestinian children were killed by Israeli military shelling at a Gaza City beach, July 16, 2014. The Israeli military prosecutor described the site as a ‘Hamas naval compound.’ (photo: Activestills)
Paramedics, journalists and bystanders run toward the the scene where four Palestinian children were killed by Israeli military shelling at a Gaza City beach, July 16, 2014. The Israeli military prosecutor described the site as a ‘Hamas naval compound.’ (photo: Activestills)

One of those journalists, Peter Beaumont of The Guardian, told +972 on Friday that he later mentioned to MAG officials that he had witnessed the event and told them he would be willing to provide a statement — but that nobody ever contacted him to follow up. Other veteran journalists published first-person accounts of the incident at the time.

The MAG stated that its preliminary investigation was “thorough and extensive,” but it appears to have interviewed only people within the military in its probe. The MAG report notes that three Palestinian witnesses declined to meet with IDF officials, instead providing them with affidavits. It makes no mention of attempts to interview other witnesses, including any of the journalists who witnessed the air strike and reported on it at the time.

Explaining why it is not pursuing a criminal investigation, the MAG asserts that the failure to identify the children as, well, unarmed children, before firing missiles at them did not violate Israeli or international law. The MAG essentially chalked off the killing as a “tragic incident” to be used as a learning moment.

Israel hopes that by investigating its own conduct during Operation Protective Edge it will trigger a concept called complementarity with regards to the International Criminal Court. According to the Rome Statute, which governs the court, the ICC prosecutor may only bring war crimes charges if state parties are incapable or unwilling to conduct an investigation themselves.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has already opened a preliminary examination of the war last summer, a step before a formal investigation. As part of that examination period, she told Haaretz last month, her office will “determine whether national investigations and prosecutions are genuine.”

IDF will investigate shelling of clinic

In the same document, the Israeli army announced that it is opening a criminal investigation into another high profile case in the Gaza war, one reported on by +972 earlier this month.

On July 23 of last year, in the early days of the ground invasion, a tank formation allegedly fired shells at a medical clinic in honor of a fallen comrade. We know this because a recording of an army officer ordering his tank gunners to do so was published by the Israeli media a day later.

Medics take cover from shooting in the Shujaiyeh area during a short humanitarian ceasefire, Gaza City, July 23, 2014. (Ann Paq/Activestills.org)
Medics take cover from shooting in the Shujaiyeh area during a short humanitarian ceasefire, Gaza City, July 23, 2014. (Ann Paq/Activestills.org)

While the fallen soldier was being buried at a military cemetery in Jerusalem, his comrades decided to honor him in Gaza.

“Here, in the middle of Shujaiyeh, in Gaza, I want us to join all of those people who are accompanying Dima on his final journey,” Lt.-Col. Neriya Yeshurun appears to tell his soldiers in the recording. “We will fire a barrage in his honor, for this officer, toward the clinic from which the scoundrels fired on his tank and took his life.”

There was no reported military threat emanating from the medical clinic at the time.

While the recording of Yeshurun was published in the middle of the war last summer, it received scant attention. It was thrust back into the Israeli news cycle earlier this month after Electronic Intifada dug up and published the story.

The Military Advocate General wrote of its decision regarding that incident:

In the wake of media reports, wherein it was alleged that IDF forces had intentionally fired tank shells at a medical clinic from which there had emanated fire resulting in the death of an IDF officer on the day prior, the MAG ordered the opening of a criminal investigation into the incident.

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