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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
More than 200 people - including artists, academics, politicians, political activists, retired air force pilots and soldiers from elite units - are due to petition the High Court of Justice on Tuesday against the court itself, or, more precisely, against Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, retired Supreme Court president Aharon Barak and retired Supreme Court deputy president Mishael Cheshin.
The petitioners, led by Yoav Hass, head of the left-wing Yesh Gvul organization, are demanding that the court order the three justices to immediately hand down their rulings on two petitions submitted in 2002 and 2003 against the IDF's policy of targeted killings.
"It is the High Court's obligation to hand down rulings within a reasonable amount of time, even if it is extremely difficult to do so, as it is in this case," the petitioners have written. "After so much time has passed from the date in which the [first] petition was filed, the petitioners have a very bad feeling that the court is deliberately being evasive. The evasiveness has had catastrophic results, and we cannot accept it because innocent civilians are losing their lives as a result."
The first of the two petitions was submitted in January 2002 by the Public Committee against Torture in Israel. It charged that targeted assassinations violated international law.
The second was submitted by Hass and several intellectuals on September 30, 2003. The petitioners demanded that the government launch a criminal investigation against Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, who served as commander of the IAF on July 22, 2002, when a plane dropped a 1,000-kilogram bomb on an apartment building in Gaza where Hamas military leader Salah Shehadeh was living. The bomb killed Shehadeh, his assistant, his wife, his 14-year-old daughter and 11 other civilians, most of them children.
At one point in the proceedings, the court ruled that it would only hand down its ruling on the second petition after it ruled on the first. According to the petitioners, the court held its last hearing on the petitions in February 2006. They were heard by Barak, Cheshin and Beinisch.
The petitioners charged that because the court failed to rule on the petitions, the government and the IDF continued to regard targeted assassinations as legal and therefore continued to implement the policy. Between mid-July and mid-September, 136 Palestinians were killed in targeted assassinations, the petitioners charged. The fatalities included 59 innocent bystanders, among them 28 minors and five women.
The deaths of innocent people have also triggered Palestinian reprisal attacks that have killed many Israelis, the petitioners continued.
"The court is responsible for many dead and wounded on both sides," Hass said in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post.
He charged that the justices were afraid to rule one way or the other. If they ruled against the petitions, their colleagues in other countries would look down on them. However, if they ruled in favor of the petitions, they would make many enemies at home. Nevertheless, he said, it was their duty to do so.
"They can't stretch it out like chewing gum," Hass said. "This is what they are paid to do."
He added that last week's tragic artillery shelling in Beit Hanun, which killed 19 Palestinians and wounded dozens, might not have happened if Halutz had been investigated for his role in the bombing of Shehadeh.
Several foreign artists have joined the petition, including British actress Susannah York and British playwright Harold Pinter. Seven Israeli nonprofit organizations have also added their names, including Machsom Watch, Gush Shalom, The Women's Coalition for Peace and The Israeli Committee against House Demolitions. The petitioners are not represented by a lawyer.