This past week, Israel made the decision to exonerate themselves from a deadly attack on Gaza in 2014 that left a number of Palestinian civilians dead. During the incident, now known as ‘Black Friday,’ Israeli forces used airstrikes and a mass of artillery behind the shield of the Hannibal Directive in an attempt to prevent the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, which ultimately proved to be unsuccessful. The military advocate general (MAG), Major General Sharon Afek, closed this case, without finding any wrongdoing, and effectively leaving the deaths of the civilian victims without justice. This event would normally cause much stirrup internationally, but it seems to be overshadowed by the timely news of a United Nations ordered embargo lift on one of Gaza’s largest ports.
Amnesty International published a full report in 2015 on the initial Black Friday incident, calling Israel out for being guilty of war crimes, citing “strong evidence” that included seemingly deliberate attacks leading to the deaths of some 135 civilians. This claim is strengthened by statistics provided by The New York Times, stating that “Israel fired more than 1,000 artillery shells in Rafah and dropped more than 40 bombs” within the first three hours. In response to the decision made by the MAG, the Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, is now calling for independent investigations, asserting that the military is not able to be unbiased about its actions. This non-profit has also accused the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) of whitewashing, burying the incriminating facts no matter the situation. Furthermore, the Hannibal Directive, which essentially gave the order to use whatever force is necessary to prevent an Israeli soldier from falling into Hamas hands, was eliminated in 2016, after a similar situation of whitewashing created much criticism for the protocol.
By allowing such violence to go unpunished, the Israeli military is perpetuating the idea that killing civilians in the name of preventing the capture of a soldier, even if it means killing the soldier, is acceptable. It condones violence and civilian casualties all the while making the ceasefire attempts moderated by the United Nations and Egypt seem futile if Israel is not willing to hold itself accountable for its actions. What seems to be the only positive outcome from this decision is that it has proven Israel’s inability to effectively prosecute its own cases that have threatened human rights, and therefore the International Criminal Court will now be able to step in. A preliminary investigation has already been launched, but the prosecutor has not yet decided to move forward with the case.
Seemingly coincidentally, news of Major General Afek’s decision came only a few hours after the announcement of the embargo lift at Kerem Shalom. While allowing trade to normalize again is certainly a step in the right direction, it is possible that the IDF took advantage of that and announced this abhorrent piece of information while everyone was still preoccupied with the news of open cargo trade for Gaza. The Israel-Palestine conflict is a very delicate situation, but one that has brought about a large amount of violence in the past 13 years since Israeli troops moved out of the Gaza Strip and Hamas came into power. While Israel claims that only a maximum of 70 civilians were unintentionally killed on Black Friday, Amnesty International’s numbers point to up to 135 civilians killed, including 75 children. It is hard to believe that so many Palestinians ended up in the line of fire unintentionally, even with invoking the controversial Hannibal Directive, which calls for “light-arms fire … to be used in order to bring the abductors to the ground or to stop them. … [E]verything will be done to stop the vehicle and not allow it to escape,” according to Haaretz. Israel’s probe should have concluded that this constituted a war crime and those responsible need to be held accountable.
If the ICC takes up the case and finds Israel guilty of war crimes, this could potentially prove to be effective in deterring future similar events. The IDF will continue to whitewash their atrocities as long as they are still getting away with it. The international community must not let this blow over and Israel should continue to make efforts such as the embargo lift that could help ease tensions. In addition, returning the remains of Lieutenant Goldin would be a step Hamas could take towards making the long-term ceasefire being brokered by Egypt and the United Nations a reality. With both nations being such proud peoples, treading carefully is of the utmost importance. Respect is key to achieving peace in this case, including recognizing each other’s legitimacy.