An Israeli journalist remains under house arrest and another lives abroad, after they broke news on Israeli undercover units carrying out assassinations or “targeted killings” of non-combatant Palestinian political opponents.
These documents outlined how Israeli assassination squads would plan the killing of Palestinian political leaders and fighters months beforehand and then pass their deaths off as “mishaps” during “failed” attempts to arrest them.
Uri Blau, a reporter from the daily ‘Haaretz’, then wrote a piece on the copied documents and is refusing to return to Israel from Britain fearing that Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, will arrest him if he does.
Due to a military gag order the news has remained suppressed even as Israeli journalists fight the suppression order in court.
The news was broken several days ago by Donald McIntyre from Britain’s ‘Independent’.
The controversy has highlighted Israel’s extra-judicial killings which violate international law and have caused death and injury to thousands of Palestinian civilian bystanders despite the country having no death penalty.
Israel’s judiciary has approved “targeted killings” but only of militants who were allegedly involved in carrying out or planning armed attacks against Israeli soldiers or civilians both within the Palestinian occupied territories and in Israel proper.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza says that during the period September 2000 to March 2008, 500 Palestinians suspected of being involved in military resistance to the Israeli occupation were executed.
However, the “collateral damage” during the assassinations included another 228 civilian bystanders – 77 of them children. Eleven Palestinians have been assassinated in the last two years.
“Israel is using disproportionate force. Civilians are paying the price. In the overwhelming majority of cases the targeted individuals could have been arrested and brought to trial without being killed. Many of them have been killed in cold blood,” Jaber Wishah from PCHR told IPS.
“International law’s right to life says that state authorities are obliged to follow due process when they are in a position to arrest individuals,” says Michael Kerney from the Ramallah-based rights organisation Al Haq which researched and documented many of the killings.
“Everybody is entitled to a fair trial and no state can dismiss this,” Kerney told IPS.
Some of those targeted have included individuals who were “pardoned” by the Israelis after having agreed to give up armed resistance to the occupation.
Last December three pardoned members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a military offshoot of the Palestinian Authority (PA)-affiliated Fatah movement, were shot dead in Nablus in the northern West Bank following the death of an Israeli settler.
According to their families and the subsequent investigations of human rights organisations they had already surrendered and were unarmed despite Israeli claims that they had refused to surrender.
“By failing to produce any evidence linking the targeted individuals to attacks allegedly committed by members of the Palestinian resistance, as well as failing to utilise peaceful means in order to arrest and detain suspects, the soldiers assumed the role of both judge and executioner,” reported Al Haq.
Furthermore, unarmed Palestinians, who have not been involved either politically or militarily in resisting the occupation, also continue to die in what some have called deliberate premeditated murder.
Several weeks ago four Palestinian teenagers were shot dead amidst dubious circumstances in two separate incidents in the villages of Awarta and Iraq Burin near Nablus.
According to medical reports they were shot at close range with live ammunition after clashes between Palestinian youngsters and Israeli soldiers had broken out.
However, the individuals concerned had not been involved in the clashes according to several investigations carried out by Al Haq, PCHR and Israeli rights group B’tselem.
One was shot in the back and another had a bullet lodged in the back of his skull despite Israeli soldiers saying they had only used non-lethal ammunition.
The Israeli military police declared they would investigate the incidents following contradictory testimony given by the soldiers involved.
However, when IPS visited one of the sites a week later with family members, approximately 20 spent cartridge cases, bloodied gloves, a saline solution kit and other bits of evidence lay on the ground undisturbed.
None of this is new. Israel has a history of assassinating political opponents predating its official establishment.
In 1944, the Israeli terrorist group, the Stern gang, assassinated Britain’s Lord Moyne, the military governor of Egypt, accusing him of interfering with Jewish migration to Palestine.
In 1948, Count Folke Bernadotte – a Swedish diplomat who had secured the release of 15,000 inmates from Nazi concentration camps while he was vice-president of the Swedish Red Cross – was also murdered by the Stern gang.
Stern gang members believed Bernadotte, as the U.N.’s Palestine mediator, to be too sympathetic to the Arabs. Yitzhak Shamir, later to become an Israeli prime minister, was one of the Stern gang’s leaders.
“Since the outbreak of the second Intifada, Israel has increasingly avoided accountability for the serious violations of the human rights of residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for which it is responsible,” says B’tselem.
“This avoidance is seen, in part, in its policy not to open criminal investigations in cases of killing or wounding of Palestinians who were not taking part in the hostilities, except in exceptional cases, and in its enactment of legislation denying, almost completely, the right of Palestinians who were harmed as a result of illegal acts by Israeli security forces to sue for compensation for the damages they suffered.”