gaza air strike 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
An Israeli Arab and two Palestinian human rights organizations ran into a stone wall on Wednesday when they tried to persuade the High Court of Justice to back their demand for a criminal investigation into two IDF military campaigns in the Gaza Strip in 2004.
Although no decision was handed down at the end of the hearing, the justices made it clear that they would reject the petition, in what could be a preview of the court's attitude towards any future petition calling for an independent or criminal investigation into last winter's Operation Cast Lead.
The petition referred to Operation Keshet Be'anan (Rainbow) which took place in the Rafiah area in southern Gaza between May 18 and May 25, 2004 and Operation Days of Repentance which took place in northern Gaza between September 30 and October 15, 2004.
According to the petitioners, in Operation Rainbow, 167 buildings were destroyed, leaving 2,066 people homeless. Many civilians were killed, including 17 children. In Operation Repentance, 91 homes were destroyed and 101 others badly damaged, leaving 833 people homeless.
Among the dead were 27 children.
Following the operations, many local and international organizations including the daily Haaretz, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine, John Dugard, the Special Rapperteur to the UN Commission on Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and others published reports on the fighting and accused Israel of committing war crimes.
Adalah Attorney Hassan Jabarin, who represented the petitioners, told the court that it was the government's duty, according to both domestic and international law, to order a criminal investigation of the two incidents.
"In light of all the information that has been gathered, when everyone comes and says there are reasons to believe war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed during Operation Rainbow and Operation Repentance, is there no justification to order even one criminal investigation?" he asked the court.
But the judges made it clear they thought the answer was, "no." Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch charged that the allegations included in the petition were too general.
"When someone files a concrete complaint about a specific incident to the police and the prosecution, not only can they investigate but they must investigate," she said. "But you are talking about some vague investigation. You are asking for a general investigation on how a war was conducted for a period of a month."
Justice Hanan Meltzer indicated that the petition was politically motivated. He demanded to know details about one of the petitioners, the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights. "Did they have anything to say about the incarceration of Gilad Schalit?" he asked.
Meltzer also rejected the petitioners' argument that international law called for criminal investigations when there was a suspicion that war crimes had been committed. He pointed out that international law called for an examination of the matter, not a criminal investigation.
"You've skipped a few stages," he said.
The decision on the petition will be handed down at a later date.