Video footage of a young Palestinian boy, Mohammed al-Durra, being shot by Israeli police made international news headlines.
Justice eluded them in the Israeli legal system, say a group of Palestinians who recently visited South Africa, and now they’re seeking outside assistance to take their case against Israeli security forces to an international court.
The group of Palestinians, who live in Israel, held talks with South African human rights groups and law experts in April this year. They also held public meetings in the Western Cape and Gauteng provinces to talk about what happened to 13 Palestinians during the first eight days of October 2000. Back then, the second Palestinian intifada – or uprising – against Israeli forces had ignited.
Video footage of a young Palestinian boy, Mohammed al-Durra, being shot by Israeli police made international news headlines. Body counts from the Israeli-occupied Gaza and West Bank areas skyrocketed. It was no different inside Israel.
Arab-Israelis, those Palestinians who reside inside the Israeli borders established in 1948, protested against deaths like that of al-Durra. Israeli police officers responded with ammunition that wounded hundreds and left dead 13 Arab-Israelis whose families are still seeking closure. They formed the ‘Committee of the October 2000 Victim’s Families’.
This committee’s spokesperson, Hasan Asleh, was among the delegation that visited South Africa. His son Asel, 17, was “shot in the back of the neck at close range and killed by police”. To strengthen its legal footing, the committee joined forces with the 1996-established Adalah, “the legal centre for Arab minority rights in Israel”. This centre calls itself by the Arabic word for ‘justice’.
A month after the police shootings, ‘The Official Commission of Inquiry into the Clashes between Security Forces and Israeli Citizens in October 2000’ was established in Israel. It was headed by Israel’s Supreme Court Justice Theodor Or and the two other members were Judge Hashim Khatib and Professor Shimon Shamir.
Statements from 500 witnesses were gathered, along with 4,275 exhibits, and presented to the commission. Reports totaled “tens of thousands of pages” and the commission also “conducted, during the course of three days, visits to the sites of the incidents… These visits helped in understanding the versions of many witnesses who testified before the commission”.
This commission’s findings were published on September 1 2003, stating that “there was no justification whatsoever for the gunfire that caused the death of 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel”. Israel’s Ministry of Justice was instructed to lead its Police Investigation Unit to “determine criminal responsibility”.
Another of this report’s pivotal recommendations was that it was “important to take action in order to uproot the manifestations of negative prejudices that were revealed toward the Arab sector, even among senior and well-respected police officers. The police must instill an understanding among its police officers that the Arab general public is not their enemy and should not be treated as an enemy”.
By September 2005, Israeli police released its report that stated that there was “no reason to issue an indictment in even one of the 13 cases of killing by police officers”. Public response likened this outcome to legitimising violence against Israel’s Arab citizens.Adalah countered this with a follow-up report, combing through the investigation unit’s methodology and finding that it “concealed essential facts from the public and issued a falsified report”. Adalah found that the police unit closed investigation files of the deceased, despite having been tasked to uncover cause or reason for the shootings. But this didn’t help their cause.
On January 27 this year, Israel’s attorney-general, Menachem Mazuz, announced that no police officers or commanders involved in the shootings on Palestinian citizens in Israel in this incident would be held responsible for any deaths. His argument was that ultimately the shootings were justified.
“Mazuz’s perception, as revealed in his decision, is that Arab citizens of Israel are enemies of the state, and as a result the police possess wide discretion to open fire on them… we will not approach the Supreme Court (of Israel) in these cases. We have now exhausted all legal proceedings in Israel. We will seek the involvement of the United Nations and other international forums,” says Adalah.
Asleh says the group will “not save any effort until those criminals are put in jail”.“We have planned many activities. We want to demonstrate inside Israel and open dialogue between us and Jewish groups to put the truth on the table. We will continue marching; to protect our families, our nation and our homeland. For that I need your help,” he told a Cape Town audience of human rights activists at the District Six museum.
Jamila A’kkawi, the sister of Omar A’kkawi, 42, “hit by live fire from the police in the chest”, says she is “convinced there is no justice in Israel”.
“For that we are searching justice with an international court. South Africa has a rich experience and we will learn from this struggle, how to continue with our situation, until we get to the international court. I don’t want to punish the criminals as revenge, but I want justice inside Israel for my nation and the new generation,” says A’kkawi.
The delegation aims to return to South Africa in June and, with the support of the South African-based Human Sciences Research Council, establish links with government officials, prominent lawyers, academics, activist groups and Truth and Reconciliation Commission experts. The latter was involved in ensuring public hearings to uncover apartheid crimes and seek reconciliation between former enemies during the South African liberation struggle.
Information about this case and Adalah is accessible via www.adalah.org.
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