Adalah: We will Seek the Establishment of an Independent, Impartial Investigatory Committee with the Participation of International Experts in Response to AG Mazuz's Decision to Close the October 2000 Killings Cases

None of the police officers or commanders involved in the fatal shootings of Palestinian citizens of Israel in October 2000 will face criminal indictment, the Attorney General of Israel, Menachem Mazuz, announced yesterday, Sunday, 27 January 2008. His announcement officially closes the case against police over the deaths and injuries of Palestinian Arab citizens who demonstrated in towns and villages across Israel in October 2000 against the government's oppressive policies towards Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The police used snipers, live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets to disperse the unarmed demonstrators, which led to the thirteen deaths and to thousands of injuries.

Mazuz argued in his decision that there was a lack of sufficient evidence to issue criminal indictments against the police officers and commanders. He further found that the police who shot the victims faced direct threats to their lives. This situation, he claimed, necessitated the use of operational judgment and negates criminal responsibility. Thus, even if it could be proven that police officers fired the fatal bullets, it nevertheless could be argued that 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. Further, according to the Mazuz, the police officers were facing a real and immediate threat to their lives. These perceptions were sharply criticized by the Official Commission of Inquiry (Or Commission) into the October 2000 events, which issued in its final report in September 2003. In the report, the Or Commission recommended that the Israeli police stop relating to the Arab citizens as enemies. In addition, the Or Commission's clearly concluded that the use of snipers and the use of live ammunition by other police officers was illegal and that the demonstrators posed no immediate and real threat to the lives of police officers. In Adalah's view, trust cannot be placed in the Attorney General, who continues to relate to Arab citizens as enemies.

In response to the decision, Adalah stated its intention to seek international justice in these cases. “We will not approach the Supreme Court in these cases. We have now exhausted all legal proceedings in Israel. We will seek the involvement of the United Nations and other international fora”, stated Attorney Hassan Jabareen, the General Director of Adalah, at a press conference held yesterday, the 27 January 2008, following the Attorney General's decision. The press conference was held jointly by the High-Follow up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, the Committee of the Victims' Families and Adalah.

At the press conference, Mr. Shawqi Khatib, the Chairman of the High-Follow up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel stated, “This is a black day for justice and human rights and for the hopes of equality and respect between the peoples. Mazuz, with his deafness, has legitimized the killing and the result is that Arab blood flows freely.”

Hassan Asleh, the father of Asel Asleh who was killed by police in October 2000 and the head of the Committee of the Victims' Families, also spoke at the press conference. He read out the names of the thirteen Palestinian youths killed in October 2000 and those police officers and commanders responsible for each of their deaths. He promised that the family members would continue in their struggle for justice.

Mazuz's decision endorsed the report on police conduct during the events of October 2000 released by Ministry of Justice's Police Investigations Department (“Mahash”) in September 2005. In the report, Mahash announced its decision to close all the investigation files against police officers and commanders implicated in the October 2000 deaths on the pretext of lack of evidence.

Following the release of Mahash's report, and as a result of public pressure, the Attorney General decided to conduct a review of the decision, and to this end appointed a special investigatory committee within the State Attorney's Office to review the files. At the time and today, Adalah argues that the decision to review Mahash's report within the State Attorney's Office lacked all integrity because the office is headed by current State Attorney Eran Shendar. Shendar was the Director of Mahash during October 2000 and bears direct responsibility for the failure to open an immediate investigation into the police officers and commanders responsible for the deaths.

In October 2006, Adalah submitted a comprehensive report entitled “The Accused” to the Attorney General, in which it addressed the shortcomings and failures of the law enforcement authorities – first and foremost Mahash – in investigating the October 2000 killings. The report primarily exposes Mahash's negligent work and its failure to fulfill its duty to investigate the criminal offenses committed by police in October 2000. In addition, the report discloses how Mahash concealed significant facts from the public and issued a falsified report regarding the events. Mazuz's decision included specific responses to “The Accused” report.

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