Major Dorit Tuval, the deputy Military Advocate for Operational Matters, informed B'Tselem on Tuesday that the Military Police investigation into an incident in which 21 members of the al-Samouni family were killed during an IDF strike on Gaza's Zeitoun neighborhood during Operation Cast Lead in 2009 has been closed.
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In her letter to the human rights group, Tuval wrote that the military prosecution has decided not to take any legal action against those responsible for the incident after "the investigation completely disproved any claim about deliberate harm to civilians, as well as haste and recklessness about possible harm to civilians, or criminal negligence."
"The operational circumstances of Operation Cast Lead, which was conducted mainly in highly-populated urban areas, had direct implications on the manner in which operational decisions were reached during the incident in question," she wrote.
Samouni family home after IDF strike (Archive photo: AFP)
Attorney Yael Stein, B'Tselem's head of research, said in response: "It is unacceptable that no one is found responsible for an action of the army that led to the killing of 21 uninvolved civilians, inside the building they were in under soldiers' orders, even if not deliberately. The way the army has exempted itself of responsibility in this case, even if only to accept the severity of the event and clarify its circumstances, even if accidental, is outrageous.
"Shirking the responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of other civilians and the immense damage caused by Operation Cast Lead demonstrates yet again the need for an Israeli investigation mechanism that is external to the army," she said.
During the investigation, then-Givati Brigade commander Col. Ilan Malka, who approved the airstrike on the structure in which the Samouni family was staying, was interrogated under warning. The probe's findings were submitted to the IDF chief of staff, who decided to put Malka's promotion on hold due to his conduct during the incident.
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit said, "Military Advocate General Danny Efroni has decided that the investigation completely disproved the harsh allegations of war crimes leveled at the IDF by various elements."
Salah Samouni was outraged after learning of the IDF's decision. "The senior officer who authorized the bombing became a heralded officer at the expense of our children's blood and the people he killed.
Samouni told Ynet that his father gathered the entire family in the house a day before the airstrike in accordance with instructions he had received from the Israeli army. "He explained to the army that we were civilians who have nothing to with the fighting and asked that they refrain from attacking the house."
According to Salah Samouni, the officers lied when they said they did not know civilians were residing in the structure. He mentioned that one of the officers asked him whether terrorists were launching rockets from the area in which the house is located. "I told him that yes, they were firing rockets, but not from where the house stands, but from a nearby agricultural field, located a kilometer from the house," he recalled.
Samouni insisted that there were no armed gunmen in the house's vicinity, and also criticized Tzipi Livni, who served as foreign minister at the time. "She claimed we were a family of terrorists. And I ask her – this is a family of terrorists? The members of this family have worked in Israel for more than 40 years."