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attack in 2014

A French television crew reported from the beach when the Israeli military killed four Gazan boys on July 16, 2014. (Photo: TF1/screenshot)

As Victims' Families Fight for Justice, Secret Report Details How Israel Used Armed Drone to Kill Gazan Children

Israel's use of the technology to kill Palestinians, says the families' attorney, raises "many questions concerning human judgment, ethics, and compliance with international humanitarian law."

Jessica Corbett

A secret report by the Israeli military police—obtained by The Intercept's Robert Mackeyreveals that a week into Israel's Operation Protective Edge in 2014, "air force, naval, and intelligence officers" mistook four 10- and 11-year-old boys who were playing on a beach in Gaza for Hamas militants and killed them by firing missiles from an armed drone.

While "hacked Israeli surveillance images provided to The Intercept by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden showed an Israeli drone armed with missiles in 2010," Mackey notes that "the Israeli government maintains an official stance of secrecy around its use of drones to carry out airstrikes"—meaning this report provides perhaps "the most direct evidence to date that Israel has used armed drones to launch attacks in Gaza."

The 2014 attack on the four boys, which occurred in the middle of the afternoon, provoked outrage the world over after it was documented by several international journalists staying in the area, who captured photographs of the dead children on the beach. It was initially suspected that Israel had launched the missiles from naval boats.

The four boys—Ismail Bakr, 10; Ahed Bakr, 10; Zakaria Bakr, 10; and Mohammed Bakr, 11—were cousins, the sons of Gazan fisherman. Their families, with support from the Israel-based Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, or Adalah, are still fighting in court to hold accountable the members of the military directly involved with the airstrikes that killed the children.

Armed drones "alter the process of human decision-making," and "[expand] the circle of people responsible for the actual killing of the Bakr children," Suhad Bishara, one of the attorneys representing the families, told The Intercept. Israel's use of the technology to kill Palestinians, Bishara added, raises "many questions concerning human judgment, ethics, and compliance with international humanitarian law."

As Mackey outlines:

After images of the attack prompted widespread outrage, Israel's army conducted a review of the mission and recommended that a military police investigation into possible criminal negligence be conducted. The testimonies collected by the military police from the strike team were included in a report presented to Israel's military advocate general, Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, 11 months after the boys were killed.

Efroni did not release the testimonies, but did make a summary of the report's findings public on June 11, 2015, when he closed the investigation without filing any charges. Israel's chief military prosecutor decided that no further criminal or disciplinary measures would be taken, since the investigators had concluded that "it would not have been possible for the operational entities involved to have identified these figures, via aerial surveillance, as children."

Efroni did not explain why that was impossible. Two days before the strike in question, Israel's military PR unit had released another video clip in which drone operators could be heard deciding to halt strikes because they had identified figures in their live feeds as children.

Hagai El-Ad, director of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, told The Intercept that the Israeli government's use of armed drones is an "open secret," and emphasized the responsibility of the military figures who order such attacks. In 2016, his group released a report titled "Whitewash Protocol: The So-Called Investigation of Operation Protective Edge," which criticizes the Israel for inadequately reviewing the killings of Gazan civilians.

"The various specific delays, gaps, failures in the so-called investigation are all part of that broad systematic way to eventually close the files, while producing all this paper trail which may look from the outside as a sincere effort," El-Ad told The Intercept. "It's all totally routine."

The Intercept's reporting, published Saturday, came after Israel conducted a bombing campaign in Gaza on Thursday, killing a pregnant woman and her 18-month-old daughter. As Common Dreams reported, Israel's attack "was characterized as the largest escalation since 2014."


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