It has been one year since Israel launched a military offensive against the Gaza Strip, termed “Guardian of the Walls”. For Israel, cause for this operation was rocket fire at Israeli cities by armed Palestinian organizations, which persisted until a ceasefire was declared by both parties at dawn on May 21.
For 11 days Israel bombed one of the most densely populated places in the world. As in its previous military campaigns in Gaza, the Israeli army applied a deliberate and destructive policy of attacking residential buildings. Hundreds of sites in the Gaza Strip were bombed from the air, land, and sea, including civilian infrastructure, neighborhoods and residential towers, schools, and hospitals.
According to data collected by human rights organizations, 151 civilians were killed by Israeli bombings, over a third of them children; most were killed at home or in the vicinity of their homes. Approximately 2,000 people were wounded, including many children. Tens of thousands of people were left homeless after the bombings fully or partially destroyed thousands of homes.
Israel’s offensive led to a wave of criticism against Israel, as well as calls to investigate suspected war crimes. According to the army’s investigation policy, suspected breaches of the laws of war were transferred to the “General Staff Mechanism for Fact Finding Assessments” (FFA), a body whose sole function is to perform a swift factual review before deciding whether to order an investigation.
This position paper analyzes the work of this mechanism based on data the army provided Yesh Din with. Its main findings reflect that of the hundreds of Israeli strikes carried out in May 2021 in the Gaza Strip in which civilians were killed and/or wounded, just 84 incidents were transferred for review by the FFA Mechanism. To date, just one of these cases led to an investigation, 25 incidents (approximately 30%) were closed without an investigation after review.
Nearly one year after the offensive against Gaza, 69% of the incidents forwarded for review by the FFA Mechanism are still being assessed; in 48 incidents (57%), the allegedly swift assessment is still underway and 10 additional incidents are being examined by the Military Advocate General Corps and a decision whether to order an investigation or not is still pending (12%).
The fact that nearly 70% of all the incidents transferred to the FFA Mechanism are still under review, being assessed or awaiting the Military Advocate General’s decision, almost one year after the Israeli offensive, questions Israel’s capacity or willingness to properly and effectively investigate suspected breaches of the laws of war during “Operation Guardian of the Walls”.
Israel’s lethal policy of attacking homes and residential buildings in the Gaza Strip coupled with its military legal system’s incapacity to investigate properly create a dangerous reality in which residents of the besieged Gaza Strip lack any protection, their lives forsaken to military strikes and arbitrary harm.