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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Palestinian activists have filed civil lawsuits in the US against former Shin Bet head Avi Dichter and former IDF chief Moshe Ya'alon for alleged war crimes related to the targeted killing of top Hamas terrorist Salah Shehade three years ago.
Both men are in the US at present.
Avi Dichter, according to the plaintiffs, was served with the papers in New York last Wednesday while attending a public event. Maria LaHood, the attorney from the Center for Constitutional Rights that is representing the plaintiffs, told The Jerusalem Post that Dichter was given the papers personally, but dropped the documents as soon as he discovered what they contained.
Dichter himself recalls the event differently, telling the Post that he never received any lawsuit and has no idea what it contains.
The issue of personally serving the papers is important, because if Dichter was properly served, he now has 20 days to file his response with the court. A similar lawsuit has been filed against Ya'alon, but he was not personally served. Both suits will be dealt with in the Southern District Court in New York.
The lawsuit related to the targeted killing of Shehade in Gaza on July 23, 2002. The Israeli Air Force, according to the lawsuit, dropped a one-ton bomb weighing on the building in which Shehade was located. The bombing killed 14 bystanders, among them eight children.
The plaintiffs in the case are relatives of the victims, including Raed Matar who lost his wife and three children in the bombing and Mahmud Al Huweiti whose wife and two sons were killed. The lawsuits are supported by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Palestine Center for Human Rights, and do not mention the sum of money the plaintiffs are asking for as compensation. This will be determined only if the court rules in their favor.
"We want to make the Israeli officials held responsible for their actions," said attorney LaHood, who added that the victims of the bombing could not receive justice through the Israeli court system.
Avi Dichter dismissed the entire issue and said Saturday that it will have no affect on his future plans. Dichter, who is now a visiting fellow at the Saban Center in the Brookings Institution, will be returning to Israel by the end of December to assume a senior post in the Kadima Party led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"I don't know anything about this lawsuit and it won't make me change my plans," Dichter said in a phone interview. "It seems to me that everyone is more worried about it than I am."
He added that he has already received calls from the Israeli Foreign Ministry assuring him that the State of Israel will deal with the legal issues involving the case.
The lawsuit served to Dichter and the one filed against Ya'alon are based on the US Alien Tort Claims Act, that allows filing for civil compensation against individuals, organizations and states.
This act was used in several lawsuits filed by terror victims against the PLO and the Palestinian Authority.
Recently, a Rhode Island court ruled that the PA should pay 140 million dollars to the relatives of American citizens murdered by Palestinian terrorists. This act was also used in human rights cases involving South American regimes.
Since this is a civil suit, the court cannot compel Dichter or Ya'alon to appear and cannot prevent them from leaving the US or entering again in the future. Yet if the court does decide to take the case, it can go on with the proceedings even without the other side being represented in court.
In case the Israeli officials are found responsible - and the chances of that are unclear according to legal experts - the court can rule on the amount of compensation and can allow the plaintiffs to hold the state of Israel responsible for paying the sum.