Israel's mechanisms for investigating its own alleged violations of the laws of armed conflict are "generally in keeping with the obligations of the State of Israel and are in accordance with the rules of international law," retired Justice Jacob Turkel, who chaired the Turkel Commission into the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, said Wednesday. However, Turkel said improvements could be made and the law should make it clear that military commanders and their civilian bosses are responsible for violations by soldiers under their command.
Turkel was presenting the second half of his commission's report to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His commission, established after the lethal clash on a Turkish vessel attempting to break the maritime blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, was mandated to evaluate the manner in which Israel examines and investigates allegations that it has violated the laws of armed conflict. The first part of the report, presented in January 2011, found that Israel's naval blockade of Gaza and its raid on the Marmara were both legal under international law.
In the second part of the report, while saying that Israel kept within international laws of war, Turkel did point out that in certain areas "there is room for improvement in the examination and investigation mechanisms. In some areas, there is room for changes in the accepted policy. The view of the commission is that the implementation of the recommendations will contribute to improved efficiency in the examination and investigation mechanisms, as per the norms of enlightened nations."
The commission concluded that military commanders and their civilian superiors were responsible for any violations of international law committed by soldiers.
"The law should lay out that commanders and their civilian superiors face direct criminal responsibility for crimes committed by their subordinates, or if they did not take all reasonable measures to prevent such crimes or bring the perpetrators to justice once they were informed of the violations," the commission wrote.
In response to the report, Netanyahu said, "I welcome the commission's determination that, in general, the investigation mechanisms in Israel operate in accordance with the standards set in international law. We will consider the areas in which the commission has made recommendations regarding changes and improvements."
"The establishment of the commission and the mandate that it received underscore how determined we are to continue operating according to international standards," Netanyahu said. "This is despite the fact that we must deal, in various spheres, with terrorist organizations that rudely trample on the principles of international law. Some of our enemies perpetrate two-fold war crimes, when they fire at civilian populations from inside civilian populations. Israel is fighting for its life but will do so, as much as possible, in accordance with the international rules."
The commission accepted Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem's position that an operational inquiry was not a suitable basis for deciding whether the Military Police Investigation Unit should investigate an incident, and also that an obligatory time frame had to be set to prevent the procrastination prevalent among military law enforcement authorities. The commission also determined that in the West Bank, an investigation should be begun immediately not only in cases of civilian fatalities, but also in cases of serious injuries to civilians.
The commission declared that the duty to investigate alleged violations of the laws of war was applicable even during combat situations. It recommended the establishment of a civilian body in the Justice Ministry to oversee the legal advice of the Military Advocate-General Corps.
The committee recommended that all interrogations — including of Palestinians — by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) be filmed, and that the task of interrogation complaints comptroller be transferred to the Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Department. The commission also stated that Palestinian victims must benefit from all provisions accorded to victims in Israeli law.
Chief Military Advocate-General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni said the report's main message was that "all of the investigation systems that check complaints about violations of the laws of war in Israel are in accordance with the international laws of war."
"The commission's report proves once again that there is no basis for the accusations against Israel that Israel does not adhere to the standards of international law when it investigates allegations of war crimes," Efroni said.