Israel's High Court of Justice is expected to support a decision to end an investigation into the bombing of several children on a fishing beach just west of Gaza City during the 2014 War, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on 16 July 2014 fired two missiles at the beach killing four children of the Bakr family: Mohammed Bakr, aged 9; Ahed Bakr, 10; Zakaria Bakr, 10; and Mohammed Bakr, 11.
Their funeral took place an hour after the attack.
Several other boys were wounded with shrapnel wounds to their heads and stomachs.
The court indicated during a hearing on Monday that it accepted the IDF's intelligence and surveillance of the area had been faulty, causing the nearly 20 personnel involved in the operation to mistakenly believe that the children were Hamas Naval Commandos.
The IDF and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit's decision to end the investigation is being challenged by The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel through a petition to the high court, which it is processing on behalf of the parents of the boys who died in the attack.
The center told the court the beach was a civilian area, and in other instances, the IDF had delayed attacks and invested more surveillance resources to definitively establish the identities of persons in a civilian area before approving an attack.
The center argued "that even if the military had intelligence indicating that it was a military area, they are obliged under international humanitarian law to verify that the targets are combatants and not civilians and are not subject to special protection such as children.'
The High Court judges on Monday indicated however they were leaning towards accepting the IDF's version of events, including that the area was a military site as it was being used by Hamas Naval Commanders, and if so, they would be unlikely to intervene.
The twenty officers interrogated during the IDF investigation were from several disparate operations, intelligence analysis, and intelligence operations units spread out in different parts of the country.
Parts of the transcripts of the interviews were redacted, with four of them totally classified, on the grounds of national security. The center indicated it was concerned that follow-up questions were not asked when testimony warranted it. There was a concern that some of those interviewed expressed doubts about the attack.
The investigation into the events of 16 July 2014 began immediately after the attack following international outrage. The investigation concluded in June 2015 when the IDF and the Military Advocate General announced that the investigation had determined that what had occurred was "in error." The report said the area housed a compound being used by Hamas Naval Commandos. It said the "tragic outcome" did not affect the legality of the attack, which it described as being in accordance with Israeli law and international law. The report said several precautionary measures were undertaken 'which aimed to prevent any harm to civilians.' These measures, according to the report, included 'the choice of a munition which was not expected to cause any harm to civilians, and the deployment of real time visual surveillance.' The conclusion of the report is reproduced in full at the end of this article.
Reports on the day of the attack from journalists staying at a hotel adjacent to the beach described it as a civilian area, a beach where children played. The so-called compound they said was a badly dilapidated fishing hut.
In August 2018 The Intercept reported that it had a copy of the investigators' final report. It confirmed that the attack was carried out by an armed drone, which confirmed for the first time that the Israeli army was using armed drones to launch attacks in Gaza.
The report indicated the IDF had fired at a container near a jetty on the beach the day before the attacks that killed the children. They said they had intelligence that Hamas was using the container to store weapons.
On the day of the attack, surveillance indicated a person entering the container so a decision was made to take that person out.
The report indicated that a number of 'figures' were seen fleeing after this first missile hit.
Operatives, according to the report, then sought clarification as to how far into the beach they could go. Before a response was given, the drone was directed to chase the targets and to launch a second missile. It was later learned the first missile struck and killed a child, while the second struck several fleeing children, three of whom were killed, while others were wounded. All of those killed were boys. They were all cousins.
According to the UN, fifty-five percent of the population of Gaza, which has been the subject of a land, sea, and air blockade since 2007, are children.
"It is outrageous that children in Gaza continue to pay such a heavy price in a conflict for which they have no responsibility. Children on both sides of the conflict must be protected from this senseless violence. Those who are in a position of command have an obligation to keep children out of the line of fire," UNICEF said in a statement a day after the 16 July 2014 attack.
Israel's Military Advocate General (MAG)'s Report conclusions as released in July 2015:
Allegations Concerning the Death of Four Children on the Gaza Strip Coast (16 July 2014) -
As previously reported, the MAG Corps received reports, as well as complaints from NGOs, wherein it was alleged that as a result of an IDF attack on 16 July 2014, four children were killed (Ahed Atef Bakr, Zakariya Ahed Bakr, Mohammad Ramiz Bakr, and Ismail Mahmoud Bakr) on the beach, adjacent to the Gaza port.Subsequently, and in accordance with the MAG's investigation policy, the incident was referred to the FFA Mechanism for examination. The factual findings and materials collated by the FFA Mechanism, and which were presented to the MAG, indicated the existence of grounds for a reasonable suspicion that the attack was not carried out in accordance with the rules and procedures applicable to IDF forces. As a result, the MAG ordered the opening of a criminal investigation into the incident.
The MPCID investigation was recently completed, and after the MAG reviewed its findings, he decided to close the investigation file, in the absence of a suspicion regarding the commission of a criminal offence by IDF soldiers.
The investigation that was conducted was thorough and extensive. During the investigation process testimony was collected from a large number of IDF soldiers and officers who were involved in the planning and execution of the attack. Additionally, an extensive number of documents relating to the attack were reviewed, along with video footage documenting the attack in real time, as well as media images and video footage which documented parts of the incident. Moreover, MPCID investigators made efforts to collect the testimonies of Gaza Strip residents who were, allegedly, witnesses to the incident. In this context, the collection of testimony from three witnesses was coordinated. Regretfully, despite the prior coordination, the witnesses eventually declined to meet with the MPCID investigators, and instead provided affidavits in regard to the incident.
From the factual findings collected by MPCID investigators, it arose 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 (naval commandos), and which was utilized exclusively by militants. The compound in question spans the length of the breakwater of the Gaza City seashore, closed off by a fence and clearly separated from the beach serving the civilian population. It further arose in the course of the investigation (including from the affidavits provided to the MPCID by Palestinian witnesses), that the compound was known to the residents of the Gaza Strip as a compound which was used exclusively by Hamas's Naval Police. The IDF carried out a number of attacks on the compound in the days prior to the incident. In the course of one such attack, which took place on the day prior to the incident (15 July 2014), a container located inside the compound, which was used to store military supplies, was attacked.
Shortly before the incident, an intelligence assessment was established which indicated that operatives from Hamas's Naval Forces would gather in the military compound in order to prepare for military activity against the IDF. On 16 July, aerial surveillance identified a number of figures entering the compound at a running pace. These figures entered a shed adjoining the container which had been attacked the day prior. Against the backdrop of the aforementioned intelligence assessment, these were believed to be militants from Hamas's Naval Forces, who had arrived at the compound in order to prepare to execute the aforementioned military activity against the IDF. It should be stressed that the figures were not identified at any point during the incident, as children.
In light of the above, it was decided to conduct an aerial attack against the figures which had been identified, after all the necessary authorizations for an attack had been obtained, and after a civilian presence in the area had been ruled out. When one of the identified figures entered into the remains of the container which had been attacked on the day prior to the incident, one missile was fired from the air towards the container and the adjoining shed. As a result of this attack, it appeared that one of the figures identified was hit. Following this attack, the rest of the figures began to run in the direction of the compound's exit. Shortly before their exit from the compound, an additional missile was fired from the air towards them, which hit the figures in question after they had exited the compound. Tragically, in the wake of the incident it became clear that the outcome of the attack was the death of four children, who had entered the military compound for reasons that remain unclear. It further arose from the investigation that, under the circumstances in question, it would not have been possible for the operational entities involved to have identified these figures, via aerial surveillance, as children.
After reviewing the investigation's findings, the MAG 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 MAG 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 MAG 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.