Israel's Supreme Court rejected an appeal on Sunday to reopen an investigation into the killing of four Palestinian children by Israeli air strikes while they played on a beach in the Gaza Strip. The attack took place during Israel's 2014 military offensive on the besieged territory.
The decision has been slammed by the children's family and lawyers, who have said that it is another indication that the occupation state is incapable and unwilling to prosecute Israeli soldiers for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In its ruling, the court upheld earlier decisions by Israeli military investigators and legal authorities which determined that the killing of the children from the Bakr family — all aged between 10 and 11 years — when they were playing football on the beach was a tragic mistake. "With all of the sorrow and heartache over the tragic and difficult outcome of the event in this petition, [we] did not find that the petitioners pointed to a flaw in the decision of the attorney general," the presiding judges all agreed. The ruling was signed by the court's president, Esther Hayut, and approved by two other justices.
The investigation by the Israeli military exonerated the soldier responsible, and claimed that the area where the children were playing "had long been known as a compound belonging to Hamas's Naval Police and Naval Force (including naval commandos), and which was utilised exclusively by militants."
This claim has long been disputed by the family and journalists who witnessed the killing. The hut around which the children were playing was in clear sight of nearby hotels where international journalists were staying. All of them reported that they saw no militants in that area at the time of the strike. They also confirmed that the area was easily accessible to both fishermen and local Palestinians who visit the beach to swim and relax, therefore making it a poor location to keep military supplies, as Israel claimed. Furthermore, the investigation found that the container which the Israeli report described actually contained no trace of military equipment.
In August 2018, it was revealed by the Intercept that a secret report by the Israeli military police said that the strikes on that fateful day were conducted without authorisation. According to the leaked report, the Israeli drone operators confessed that they contacted their superiors after they killed the first child, seeking authorisation for the second strike and clarification on what to do about the fleeing children who they allegedly mistook for militants. The report states, however, that "less than a minute later, the drone operators decided to launch a second missile, killing three more children, despite never getting an answer to their question."
The killing of the Bakr boys was further evidence, critics insist, that Israel was targeting civilians and civilian areas indiscriminately in the numerous air attacks that it conducted on the Gaza Strip in 2014. Of the 2,250 Palestinians who were killed during the Israeli bombardment, 500 were children. A further 11,000 people were wounded.
As far as the family is concerned, Israel has acted as both "the criminal and the judge," said Zakaria Bakr, the dead children's uncle. "We are not surprised by the decision because even the so-called Supreme Court will only act in favour of the soldiers and protect them," he was reported as saying. He vowed to continue the struggle to get the case heard by an international court.
The appeal to the Supreme Court was filed by three human rights organisations: the Israeli group Adalah and the Gaza-based Al-Mezan and Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. In a joint statement, the groups said that, "The decision is further evidence that Israel is unable and unwilling to investigate and prosecute soldiers and commanders for war crimes against Palestinian civilians."
The Bakr family members delivered testimony to a preliminary inquiry by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into alleged Israeli crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel has rejected the ICC case, saying that its legal system is capable of investigating the military. Moreover, the occupation state has accused the ICC of "anti-Semitism" in looking at crimes said to be committed by Israeli soldiers.