ISRAEL: Police drop investigation into murder of 13 Arab citizens


Kim Bullimore

The Israeli justice ministry announced on September 18 that it would close a police investigation into the murder of 13 Palestinians with Israeli citizenship at the beginning of the second intifada.

The 13 were killed in northern Israel as they took part in demonstrations against Israel's murder of seven Muslim worshippers on September 29, 2000. The seven worshippers had been killed as they left Friday prayers at the Al Aqsa mosque in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem and joined demonstrations protesting the provocative visit the previous day of then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to Haram al Sharif (the Temple Mount).

Sharon, flanked by 1000 military and police, and with the approval of the Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, had made the visit to Islam's third most holiest site in order to assert Israeli control over it and Occupied East Jerusalem in the wake of the 2000 Camp David meeting between Barak and Yasser Arafat.

In response to Sharon's visit and the murder of the seven demonstrators, protests and strikes erupted in Arab areas through out Israel on October 1, 2000, in solidarity with the protests taking place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). In the first week of the demonstrations, nearly 1000 peaceful protesters were arrested in Umm el Fahm, Nazareth and Kafr Manda.

By November 1, 2000, at least 170 Palestinians and Palestinian Israelis, including some 30 children, had been killed.

The Israeli police investigations department and the justice ministry's claim there is insufficient information to find out who was responsible for the September 29, 2000, murders. This claim, however, is in contradiction with the findings of the government-appointed commission of inquiry into the 13 Palestinians' deaths.

The commission, established in November 2000, was headed by Israeli Supreme Court judge Theodor Or. It took testimony from 377 witnesses, and presented its findings in September 2003.

The Or commission found that "Arab citizens of the [Israeli] state live in a reality in which they are discriminated against as Arabs", and that the Israeli military and police had illegally opened fire on the Palestinian demonstrators in October 2000, directing snipers to use live ammunition.

The commission singled out several officers in different regions who had authorised the use of snipers, live ammunition and rubber bullets against demonstrators despite there being no real security threat.

Or later went on to publicly criticise the Mahash (the Israeli police investigations department) for not gathering evidence at the time of the killings from the scene of the deaths or for initiating any investigations into what had occurred.

In announcing the closure of the internal police investigation into the murders, Mahash's head, Herzl Shebiro, told reporters on September 18 that trying to find the police officers who had killed the 13 murdered Palestinians, was like "trying to find a needle in a haystack".

In response to the termination of the investigation, the families of those killed and Palestinian Israeli leaders have set up a protest tent outside the justice ministry's offices.

From Green Left Weekly, September 28, 2005.

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