OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (REUTERS) â€” Palestinians who lost relatives in a 2002 Israeli air strike in Gaza have filed a US civil lawsuit against the former head of Israel’s internal Shin Bet security service, accusing him of committing war crimes.
Lawyers for the Palestinian complainants said the suit, filed in New York on Thursday, accuses Avi Dichter of “war crimes for his participation” in the decision to drop a one-tonne bomb in a residential area of the Gaza Strip in 2002. An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman called the accusations a “cheap shot” against Israel that did not belong in a foreign court, and dismissed the allegations of war crimes.
The class-action lawsuit highlighted an escalation in Palestinian efforts to invoke international law against Israel’s handling of a five-year-old Palestinian uprising. Palestinians view foreign courts as more sympathetic than Israel’s legal system.
The case against Dichter concerns Israel’s strike on the home of senior Hamas memeber Salah Shehada, which killed him and 14 others, including nine children. Hamas is sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction.
The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and the US Centre for Constitutional Rights, who jointly brought the suit, said on Sunday that Dichter was currently living in the United States as a research fellow after leaving the Shin Bet.
“Justice must finally be delivered to the Palestinian families in this lawsuit who have suffered tremendously because of Avi Dichter’s decision to bomb the Al Daraj neighbourhood,” PCHR director Raji Sourani said in a statement.
“These families are representative of scores of other Palestinians who have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of Dichter’s actions.” The Palestinians are bringing the case under a US statute which allows foreign nationals to sue in US courts for damages caused by actions that violate international law. Israel says its forces use restraint in the face of Palestinian fighters who sometimes target Israeli civilians in suicide attacks. Human rights groups have complained that Israeli crackdowns have been excessive.
The case against Dichter was the second time in three months that a prominent former Israeli security figure has faced a legal challenge abroad for actions in the Gaza Strip, which Israel quit in September after 38 years of occupation. “We see this as a manipulation of the legal system by groups with extremist agendas,” foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. “In Israel there is rule of law. In Israel, everything the Israeli army does has gone through the court system. To accuse the Israeli army of war crimes is, frankly, a cheap shot.” “The Israeli army works in the framework of democratic institutions where members of the armed forces found to have done things that are against policy or broken laws have gone to jail,” he added.