Israel has just released an update in its ongoing investigation of itself during Operation Cast Lead. This Report Update is the third of its kind, the first two released in July 2009 and January 2010. While one cannot expect much from an investigation that lacks independence, some of the Report`s findings are especially alarming.
Of particular note is the Report`s findings on the case of Majdi Abed Rabbo. As documented by several international media agencies, the Israeli Army used Abed Rabbo as a human shield during its ground investigation in contravention of international humanitarian law`s prohibition on the conscription of civilians during a military operation into its forces. The Israeli investigation concludes that Abed Rabbo volunteered to settle a dispute between Israeli soldiers and three militants hiding in a building in Izzet Abed Rabbo in order to save his home from demolition, (see paragraphs 43-46). The investigatory team only has harsh words for the commanding officer who permitted Abed Rabbo to assume this duty. According to the Report, "after a thorough investigation, various aspects of Mr. Abed -Rabbo`s testimony could not be substantiated." The investigators did not interview civilians in Izzet Abed Rabbo nor did they interview Abed Rabbo himself. They did interview 15 soldiers and officers from the unit involved in the incident, however. Their orwellian findings, which contradict the accounts of other investigations and reports, are to be expected of an investigatory process where only the alleged perpetrators are interviewed.
During the National Lawyers Guild`s fact-finding mission in Gaza in early February, I had the opportunity to interview Abed Rabbo. Far from expressing his quixotic desire to arbitrate a non-violent resolution between invading Israeli ground troops who pummeled his neighborhood and the three Hamas militants hiding on the top floor of the home adjacent to his own, he described with indignation and anxiety his horrific account of being forced to enter the home at Israeli gunpoint to identify the militants` location; of being strip searched each time he exited the home so that the Israeli soldiers could verify that he was not armed by the militants, of being forcibly separated from his wife and children, of being forced to endure hours of sitting near the soldiers when as a civilian he should have been taking refuge, and worst of all of believing that his entire family had been killed during the offensive for days before reuniting with them in a shelter.
According to Abed Rabbo, he was used as a human shield. A contravention of laws of war and specifically of the Hague Convention which states that “[a] belligerent is likewise forbidden to compel the nationals of the hostile party to take part in the operations of war directed against their own country, even if they were in the belligerent’s service before the commencement of the war.” This is reiterated in Article 28 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which states "[t]he Parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations." It is also affirmed in Article 51 (7) of the Additional Protocol I that prohibits the use of human shields "in an absolute form and applies to the belligerents’ own territory as well as to occupied territory, to small sites as well as to wide areas” The gravity of Abed Rabbo`s abuse is severe and amounts to a war crime.
During our meeting with him Abed Rabbo wanted justice. He wanted to hold the soldiers to account for their forced use of him as a human shield. He wanted to be able to answer his children who asked him, "Baba why did they do this to you? Why did they do this to us? What did we do?" The Israeli investigation surely is not another step on the path towards answering those questions or affording that justice. Instead it makes a mockery of the experience of those Palestinians held hostage within Gaza`s borders during the 22-day offensive with no place to seek refuge. And worse, it makes a mockery of those international laws that were established in the aftermath of horrific wars in an effort to eschew lessons wrought from tragedy. Rather than build on those milestones, in allowing the Israeli investigation to continue without scrutiny, the international community is allowing Israel to regress to a time when war was not subject to law and to drag with it the entire world.