Will Israel Charge Soldiers In Gaza Civilian Deaths? : Parallels Israel is investigating potential criminal actions by its troops last summer during the war against Hamas in Gaza, including three attacks that killed nearly 50 civilians taking refuge in schools.
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Will Israel Charge Soldiers In Gaza Civilian Deaths?

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Will Israel Charge Soldiers In Gaza Civilian Deaths?

Will Israel Charge Soldiers In Gaza Civilian Deaths?

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Israel's military is asking some tough questions about its own practices. The IDF, as it's known, is investigating more than 100 incidents of possible wrongdoing by its soldiers in the war last summer against Hamas. One attack being scrutinized happened on a school in Gaza. NPR's Emily Harris spoke with survivors about what they expect from these investigations.

EMLY HARRIS, BYLINE: Three weeks into last summer's war, 3,000 people were crowded into a U.N.-run elementary school in Jabalia, a Northern Gaza town. They moved there for temporary shelter after the Israeli military warned them to leave their homes. An hour before dawn on the 30 of July, explosions inside the school woke Mahmoud Jaser, camped out in the courtyard.

MAHMOUD JASER: (Through interpreter) We were sleeping when the attack started. As we woke up, it got worse.

HARRIS: He and three of his sons were among the 100 people injured. Almost 20 people were killed.

JASER: (Through interpreter) I saw people without legs or heads, then I lost consciousness. I woke up in the hospital.

HARRIS: On that July day, Israel said militants had fired mortars from near the school. But in March, military prosecutors announced there is, quote, "reasonable suspicion" that Israeli strikes at the time were not carried out in accordance with military rules. Israeli prosecutors opened a criminal investigation. Back at home now, Jaser walks with pain and takes little blue pills to help his jangled nerves.

HARRIS: He and several neighbors had not heard of Israel's internal investigation until I told them. In Jaser's living room, they debated what could be the best result? Jaser says he'd like financial help for survivors who are now too injured to make a living. But Tala Abu Ghnaim, who also survived the Jabalia school attack, says money can't buy what he really wants.

TALA ABU GHNAIM: (Through interpreter) Compensation? We don't want compensation. People died. People lost legs. What? - they can kill us, then compensate us? We want safety. We want security.

HARRIS: There's no precedent for financial compensation for Gazans from Israel, and there's no guarantee of safety when there is a conflict, says deputy military attorney general Colonel Eli Baron. He lists other possible investigation outcomes.

COLONEL ELI BARON: There could be a criminal indictment. There could be disciplinary measures and recommendations to improve the process in the future. The IDF is obviously constantly striving to improve its operation.

HARRIS: Indictments are far from certain. Colonel Baron says criminal investigations don't necessarily find crimes.

BARON: Soldiers learn how to conduct the operation within the parameter of international law, and even in the cases they violate the orders they get. In many cases, it will not be a violation that equals a war crime.

HARRIS: The school is U.N. property, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed a commission to weigh in. It's recently released investigation concludes that Israeli soldiers hit the school with four high-explosive artillery shells. Last time there was a war like this in 2008, a similar U.N. inquiry openly called for compensation for damaged property. Israel paid the U.N. more than 10 million dollars. This time, though, the public summary of the United Nations inquiry doesn't even mention money. That doesn't mean it won't come up says Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the U.N. secretary general.

FARHAN HAQ: If there is a need to pursue the issue of compensation, we'll pursue it.

HARRIS: But he says there are higher priorities.

HAQ: Ultimately, what's needed is for the fighting to stop entirely and for there to be a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

HARRIS: For now, the U.N. is using international donations to rebuild much of the Jabalia school while survivors try to rebuild their lives. The widow of a school guard killed in the Jabalia attack lives nearby with her 11 children. Fatiyeh Abu Gamar says her youngest boy, age 9, wants revenge.

FATIYEH ABU GAMAR: (Through interpreter) He said the other day, when he grows up, he will go there and kill them because they killed my father. I told him no, then another family would suffer like we do.

HARRIS: Besides, she told him, we don't know who exactly is responsible. Israeli prosecutors say they don't know either and may never. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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