Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands

Israeli Panel: ’2002 hit of Hamas leader was justified, despite civilian casualties’

27 February 2011

While criticizing decision makers for underestimating the risk of civilian injuries, probe panel says Israel’s Gaza assassination of Salah Shehadeh was a necessary part of its war on ‘murderous terrorism.’

IOA Editor: This is a somewhat diluted version of the Hebrew original. The Haaretz original story points out that the committee found that while the IDF action was “preventative and legitimate,” the result of the bomb used by the IDF was found in retrospect as “disproportional,” see below:

לפיכך, קבעה הוועדה, היתה הפגיעה בשחאדה “מונעת ולגיטימית”. עם זאת, תוצאת הפצצה, שבה עשה חיל האוויר שימוש בפצצה במשקל טון שהוטלה על הבית שבו שהה שחאדה, “התבררה בדיעבד כבלתי מידתית”.

Needless to say, the “Investigation Committee,” appointed by former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert – himself responsible for Israel’s Gaza crimes – did not deal with the legitimacy of the use of any force as a means to prevent the Hamas violence. International law spells out in some detail when force can justifiably be used – generally only as a measure of last resort, after all other efforts have failed: clearly not the case here, and clearly not a concern of this committee.

For the official line, see the Prime Minister’s Office statement:

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz – 27 Feb 2011

While criticizing decision makers for underestimating the risk of civilian injuries, probe panel says Israel’s Gaza assassination of Salah Shehadeh was a necessary part of its war on ‘murderous terrorism.’

Israeli military and political officials should not be forced to assume personal responsibility for the 2002 Gaza assassination of a Hamas strongman which resulted in the death of 13 innocent Palestinians, a panel probing the incident said in its report on Sunday.

On July 22, 2002 an Israeli plane dropped a 1-ton bomb on a house in Gaza City in which Hamas military wing commander Salah Shehadeh was staying. In addition to Shehadeh and his aide, 13 civilians, including eight children were killed in the incident.

A committee was appointed by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 to investigate the incident, following a High Court appeal by left-wing activist and member of Yesh Gvul, Yoav Hass.

In their appeal, Hass and other Yesh Gvul members insisted that criminal investigations be initiated against then Israel Air Force chief Dan Halutz, then Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon, then Defense Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer and former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In the report culminating the panel’s probe submitted to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, committee members justified the strike, saying that the “preventive strike against Shehadeh was a direct result of the intensification of terrorist group activity since 2000, which had reached war-like proportions.”

The panel added that the Hamas strongman had been the motivational, ideological, and operational force of Hamas and was aware of being wanted by Israel.

Referring to the massive collateral fatalities brought upon by the bombing, the report said that the “side effects had been unintentional, involuntary, and unpredictable,” adding that the civilian deaths were not the result of a “disregard for human life.”

According to the panel’s conclusions, all those involved in the operation were aware of the possibility that civilians could be hurt, ensuring that civilian injuries and casualties would be kept at a minimum.

“Despite all these, a discrepancy had formed between the expected results and those on the ground,” the report surmised, adding that the main reason for that gap was “insufficient, unfocused, and uneven intelligence on whether or not the houses adjacent Shehadeh’s were populated, the location of most of the subsequent casualties.”

The report was critical of defense establishment officials, criticizing their estimates and judgment, as well as pointing out miscommunications in regards to the pass of intelligence between the security forces involved.

“Weight was given to the strike on Shehadeh, while not enough weight was given to the possibility of civilian casualties,” the report said.

However, despite the flaws mentioned by the report, the committee established that there were no grounds to pursue a criminal investigation of officials involved in the incident, whether in the military or in the government.

“The committee does not recommend taking personal action against those involved in the operation,” the report said.

As for the reasons behind that decision, the report cited “the many years that had passed since the operation,” as well as “the fact that decision makers, including Shin Bet head Avi Dichter and IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon culminated their duties.”

Dichter currently serves as a Kadima MK, while Ya’alon is a Likud minister and deputy premier.

According to the report, Israel had weighed “more moderate steps geared at terminating Shehadeh’s activities,” such as a ground-troops operation, but those measures were not implemented since they put the operation’s success at risk as a result of the possible injury of both IDF soldiers and uninvolved civilians.

“Therefore, the bombing was chosen as a course of action that would result in a what was expected to be proportionate civilian injury,” the report said.

The report concluded by saying that “despite the results of this incident, the preventive hit was and remains a legitimate tool in the war on murderous terror, if and only the operation takes place in accordance to the principles and regulations determined in both international and Israeli regarding those operations’ ethical and moral foundations.”

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