During last summer’s war in Gaza, in July, an Israeli missile strike killed four Palestinian boys on a beach. Many witnessed the incident, including journalists. Now, Israel has exonerated itself, the Guardian reports, with the advocate general’s office calling the boys’ death a “tragic accident.”
In the aftermath of the bombing, a Washington Post journalist on the scene reported that the airstrikes had appeared to target a fisherman’s hut. At the time, the Israeli Defense Force said the target had been “Hamas terrorist operatives,” and blamed Hamas for its “cynical exploitation of a population held hostage.”
After “an extensive criminal investigation” conducted by military police, the IDF has maintained this same line. In a statement posted to Facebook, military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner wrote, “From the factual findings collected by the investigators, it revealed that the incident took place in an area that had long been known as a compound belonging to Hamas’s Naval Police and Naval Force (including naval commandos), and which was utilized exclusively by militants.”
After reviewing the investigation’s findings, the Military Advocate General found that the attack process in question accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements. The decision to attack was taken by the competent authorities, and the attack was aimed at figures who were understood to be militants from Hamas’s Naval Forces, who had gathered in order to prepare to carry out military activities against the IDF. At the time that the decision was made, the attack was not, according to the assessment of the operational entities, expected to result in any collateral damage to civilians or to civilian property. Moreover, the attack was carried out while undertaking several precautionary measures, which aimed to prevent any harm to civilians. Such measures included, inter alia, the choice of a munition which was not expected to cause any harm to civilians, and the deployment of real time visual surveillance. The Military Advocate General found that the professional discretion exercised by all the commanders involved in the incident had not been unreasonable under the circumstances. However, it became clear after the fact that the identification of the figures as militants from Hamas’s Naval Forces, was in error. Nonetheless, the tragic outcome of the incident does not affect the legality of the attack ex post facto.
Accordingly, the Military Advocate General ordered that the investigation file be closed without any further legal proceedings – criminal or disciplinary – to be taken against those involved in the incident. Nonetheless, inter alia as a result of this incident, the IDF has been working to improve a number of its operational capabilities, including technological capabilities, in order to minimize the risk of the recurrence of tragic incidents of this kind.