The Israeli military says it has opened criminal investigations into two high-profile cases involving Palestinian civilian casualties in this year’s Gaza war.
The two cases cited on Wednesday are the first to result in criminal investigations. Seven other cases were closed, and three more are awaiting a decision.
By investigating the killing of Palestinian children on a Gaza beach and the shelling of a United Nations school, the decision seems to be an attempt to try and fend off international investigations into its conduct.
More than 2,100 Palestinians, three-quarters of whom were civilians, were killed during the July-August conflict, according to Palestinian and UN estimates.
On the Israeli side, 66 soldiers and six civilians died. Israel said it went to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, but the high death toll has sparked international condemnation.
Several incidents in the war, including the two that Israel is now investigating, have attracted special attention.
But international observers are not convinced that the probe will lead to justice.
Noura Erakat, assistant professor at George Mason University and a human rights expert, told Al Jazeera that by deciding to investigate itself, “Israel is seeking to diminish international scrutiny” of its most recent assault on the Gaza Strip.
“In particular, it may be trying to avert a potential International Criminal Court investigation by establishing complementarity.
“However, there is nothing to suggest that this probe will meet international standards and should therefore not be accepted at face value,” Erakat said.
Palestinians have been threatening to seek access to the International Criminal Court, a venue usually reserved for charging those from countries without reputable judiciaries of their own.
The UN Human Rights Council appointed a commission of inquiry to look into the fighting.
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Following a similar military operation in 2009, a UN fact-finding mission headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone found strong evidence that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes.
While Goldstone later backtracked from his main conclusions, the report was never changed.
Israel did not cooperate with that probe, saying that its conclusions were known in advance, and it is unclear if it will cooperate with the upcoming UN probe.
But it has readied itself for the battle by beefing up its legal staff and preparing a detailed public relations campaign of satellite photos and video clips – hoping to persuade the world that its war against Hamas was justified.
As part of the effort, a senior Israeli military officer detailed on Wednesday the two main incidents legal officials had begun to pursue.
The first is the July 16 strike on the beach beside a coastal road west of Gaza City that killed four boys, cousins aged 9 to 11.
The second was the firing upon a UN school in northern Gaza on July 24 that killed 14 civilians who were among hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fighting.
The Israeli military already has launched three criminal investigations into the potential misconduct of soldiers, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.
These relate to suspicions that a Palestinian woman had been shot after coordinating her travel with the military, that a Palestinian man had been assaulted and threatened by soldiers and that a soldier stole money from a Palestinian home during the fighting, the official said.