NY Times: Israel Begins Process to Punish Military Personell for War Crimes in 2008 Gaza War

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military said Tuesday that it had indicted “a number of” officers and soldiers for their actions during Israel’s three-week offensive in Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, including a staff sergeant accused of deliberately shooting at least one Palestinian civilian who was walking with a group of people waving a white flag.

The announcement came nearly 18 months after the end of the war, and on the day that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, met President Obama in what many saw as a fence-mending visit after months of strained ties. A spokesman for the Israeli military denied any link between the timing of the announcement and the prime minister’s trip.

According to the army statement, the chief military prosecutor has decided to take disciplinary and legal action in four separate cases, including some already highlighted by human rights groups and by a scathing United Nations report on the war. The report, by a committee led by Richard Goldstone, a South African judge, was published in September 2009 and pointed to evidence of possible war crimes.

The offensive came as a response to years of rocket fire against southern Israel from Gaza, and after Hamas, the Islamist militant group, won elections in 2006 and took full control of Gaza in mid-2007. Up to 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the war.

Israel refused to cooperate with the Goldstone mission, arguing that the mandate was biased from the outset, and it rejected the report. It also resisted calls by Israeli and international human rights organizations for an independent Israeli investigation outside the military framework.

The staff sergeant accused of killing at least one civilian faces a manslaughter charge. Beyond that, the military said a battalion commander was indicted on suspicion of deviating from “authorized and appropriate” army behavior and from an Israeli Supreme Court ruling when he authorized a Palestinian man to act as a kind of human shield by entering a house where militants were sheltering in order to persuade them to leave.

The Goldstone report accused Israel of several cases of using Palestinian civilians as human shields during the Gaza war, a practice forbidden by the Supreme Court. The Goldstone report stated that such practices violated international law.

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