Petitioners agree to gov't inquiry into Shehadeh assassination

Hamas terrorist killed when IAF dropped 1-ton bomb on his residence; 14 civilians also killed.

pals near air strike 298 (photo credit: AP)
pals near air strike 298
(photo credit: AP)
The Yesh Gvul organization and its head, Yoav Hass, and five poets and writers told the High Court of Justice on Monday they would agree to a government-appointed committee of examination into the targeted assassination of Hamas terrorist Saleh Shehadeh if the committee were a serious one with genuine powers. The petitioners, who included Natan Zach, Sami Michael, Ronit Matalon, Amos Keinan and Yitzhak Laor, filed their petition on September 30, 2003. They originally called for a criminal investigation by the military police into an incident on July 22, 2002, when an IAF plane dropped a one-ton bomb on the apartment building where Shehadeh was sleeping. Fourteen civilians were killed and 150 wounded in the bombing. Seven buildings were also destroyed in the densely built-up area of Gaza City where the bomb fell. The High Court suspended deliberations on the petition until it ruled on another petition filed a year earlier by the Public Committee against Torture in Israel, challenging the legality of targeted assassinations in general. That ruling was handed down on December 13, 2006. The court ruled unanimously that it could not make a sweeping decision that all targeted assassinations were either legal or illegal. Each incident had to be considered individually, the court said. In that context, the court recommended that in problematic cases, the government appoint a committee to determine whether the targeted assassination was legal or illegal based on the circumstances. On June 17, the court suggested that the state conduct such an examination into the Shehadeh case. The state agreed to do so, and then asked the court to reject the petition, since it had agreed to have the committee look into the assassination. However, in their response, the petitioners indicated that they were skeptical about what kind of committee would be established and what powers it would have. They said they preferred a criminal investigation but would make do with an independent, external examination committee with an appropriate mandate. The petitioners stipulated that the committee be appointed in a "reasonable" manner and have the tools to examine whether there were failures and whether there was reason to suspect criminal actions either in the decision to assassinate Shehadeh, or the preparation and execution of the assassination. In the meantime, the petitioners asked the court to order the state to present another brief that would include answers to the following: who would appoint the committee, who would be its members, what the committee's mandate would be, what powers it would have, on what issues would it be allowed to make recommendations, to whom would it present its recommendations and who would be in charge of implementing them. Meanwhile, Hass and Zach and two supporters, former MK Yossi Sarid and former air force pilot Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yiftah Spector, held a press conference to explain their positions. "We are demanding that the investigators get to the bottom of the affair and that if it turns out there were those who perpetrated war crimes, they must be put on trial," said Hass. Attorney Michael Sfard, who together with Avigdor Feldman is representing the petitioners, said, "We will support the committee as long as it is serious and will take the matter seriously. We will act out of a sense of moral urgency that makes its members understand that the matter must be investigated." Spector said he believed that defending Israel was of topmost importance,but that the Shehadeh assassination had to be investigated. "The killing of 14 civilians was either a mistake or... it was a war crime," he said. "We cannot leave this skeleton in the closet because it will stink. There will be more and more skeletons and soon we won't be able to live in the house because of the smell."