B’Tselem, a leading Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, said on Wednesday it would no longer refer complaints of abuse carried out by Israeli soldiers to Israeli military courts because the system was biased and set up to whitewash cases.
The group, which was founded as Israel’s version of Amnesty International in 1989, has been monitoring Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and incidents of violence and abuse by soldiers against Palestinians for 25 years, and submitting complaints on behalf of thousands of Palestinians who say they have been abused by Israeli police, soldiers and settlers.
The group has decided to stop submitting cases about the alleged crimes of soldiers, saying that the Israeli army’s legal system was too narrowly defined and served to protect its own.
“B’Tselem will no longer play a part in the pretense posed by the military law enforcement system and will no longer refer complaints to it,” it said in an 80-page report entitled The Occupation’s Figleaf.
“B’Tselem’s cooperation with the military investigation and enforcement systems has not achieved justice, instead lending legitimacy to the occupation regime and aiding to whitewash it,” the report stated.
Since 2000, B’Tselem has submitted 739 incident reports – including cases where soldiers allegedly “killed, injured, beat or used Palestinians as human shields” – for investigation by the military prosecutor. Of these, 182 were never investigated at all and 343 resulted in no further action. Only 25 led to charges being brought, while 132 remain open in some capacity. Forty-four have been lost.
B’Tselem said the military justice system created the impression of action, with a multi-step process that allowed government officials to say that something was being done.
Moreover, it can take months – or even years – to process each complaint, during which time the accused soldiers often leave the army and are “no longer under military jurisdiction.”
“The experience we have gained… has brought us to the realization that there is no longer any point in pursuing justice and defending human rights by working with a system whose real function is measured by its ability to continue to cover up unlawful acts and protect perpetrators.”
Israel military said the picture presented by B’Tselem was inaccurate and did not reflect reality. They denied the accusations, while stressing their committed to the rule of law and its legal system acts and their willingness to investigate any and all claims of misconduct including those from B’Tselem and many other organizations.
“Among other things, the semblance of a functioning justice system allows Israeli officials to deny claims made both in Israel and abroad that Israel does not enforce the law on soldiers who harm Palestinians,” the B’Tselem report released Wednesday argued. “These appearances also help grant legitimacy – both in Israel and abroad – to the continuation of the occupation.”
One of B’Tselem’s workers in the West Bank city of Hebron captured video footage in March of an Israeli soldier fatally shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker. The Israeli soldier involved is currently on trial in a military court for manslaughter.
Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have called for clemency, saying the soldier did nothing wrong. Netanyahu has spoken to the defendant’s parents to reassure them that he will be treated fairly and urged prosecutors to consider the context.
At the time, army commanders described the shooting as a disgrace and a gross violation of military ethics. There were initially calls for the soldier to be charged with murder.
The incident took place on 24 March 2016, when two Palestinians stabbed an Israeli soldier and moderately wounded him in Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron. Both assailants were shot and neutralized by Israeli soldiers. One of the assailants died and the other, Abed al Fatah al-Sharif, remained badly wounded. Sharif was then shot again in the head by Elor Azaria, an Israeli medic serving in Shimshon Battalion of the Kfir Brigade.The video published by B’tselem shows him aiming weapon at motionless al-Sharif lying on the ground, and shooting him in the head.