Since the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, the Israel Defense Forces has initiated investigations in 1,091 cases against IDF soldiers suspected of criminal activity against Palestinians or their property. Of these cases, only 118 resulted in indictments, according to army statistics recently released to the Yesh Din human rights organization.
According to the same statistics, released following a request from Yesh Din, during the first seven years of the intifada, 239 Military Police investigations, 22 percent of the total, were initiated in cases involving the injury or killing of Palestinians.
Over the same period, the B'tselem human rights organization maintains that more than 2,000 Palestinian civilians were killed. The IDF's figures for the number of Palestinian civilians killed is much lower, but they too acknowledge that during those years, more than 1,000 "bystanders" were killed.
The Military Advocate General's office altered its investigations policy in the territories during the first few weeks of the outbreak of the intifada, which very quickly escalated into broad fighting. Instead of investigating every single Palestinian death, a decision was made by the MAG to investigate only the cases in which there was suspicion that civilians were harmed without justification.
For example, investigations are currently initiated in (the relatively few) cases involving the death of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank as a result of IDF shooting.
However, in the cases when innocents are harmed during assassinations carried out from the air in the Gaza Strip, there is almost never an investigation.
A number of human rights organizations have petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding that the IDF be required to initiate a criminal investigation in every instance in which a civilian is killed. The justices have still not offered a ruling on the petition filed four years ago.
Of the investigations initiated, 427, some 39 percent, were opened because there was suspicion of violence - not involving gunfire. Some 308 investigations (28 percent), involved cases of suspected violations against Palestinian property in the territories.
A total of 117 other investigations, about 11 percent, are described as "other," a category which involves the illegal use of firearms, which did not cause injuries, accepting bribes, unbecoming conduct, and so on.
The number of indictments resulting from these investigation is very low. The IDF does not specify how many cases were closed because the investigators concluded that the suspects commited no felony, and how many were closed because those responsible were not found or that there was insufficient evidence against the suspects.
Only in 30 cases, involving the killing or wounding of Palestinians, were indictments filed. Of these, only one has been filed since January 2005.
In 16 cases the suspects were convicted - the percentage of guilty verdicts in cases where charges were filed for violence being much higher than other cases.
Yesh Din described the picture that emerges from the data as "depressing," suggesting a failure to enforce the law on soldiers operating in territories. The human rights group says this is all the more evident when the numbers of Palestinian civilians killed during the intifada is taken into account.
The group says that the IDF has an obligation to protect civilians who are not involved in the fighting but that the data shows that the army is evading its responsibility.
© 2007 Haaretz