Israel expels relatives of assassinated Al-Aqsa Brigades member

On September 3, Israel’s supreme court ruled in favour of forcibly expelling relatives suspected of helping a Palestinian alleged to have planned a bombing. The court decision ignored protests from human rights groups pointing out that the action contravened international law.

The ruling marks the first time since the Intifada began two years ago that Israel has attempted to deport relatives of those allegedly linked to bombings and other acts. Israel has punished Palestinians by demolishing family homes, but deportation has not been used since a mass expulsion to Lebanon in 1992.

The Israeli military claim that the two Palestinians, Intisar and Kifah Ajouri, helped hide their brother, Ali Ajouri, a member of the al-Aqsa Brigades, who was suspected of masterminding a bombing in Tel Aviv on July 17 that killed five people.

The Israeli army demolished the family house on the West Bank in July. Ali Ajouri was assassinated during a military operation on August 6. Now the family members have been expelled from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.

The court ruled that the West Bank and Gaza form one territorial unit and that the expulsions therefore did not violate international law. But since the army has cut off all access to and from Gaza, the impact on the two will be the same as being sent abroad.

Dalia Kersstein from the human rights groups HaMoked, which is working with the family, feared their expulsion would be the first of many: “We fear it will be the first car on a train riding to Gaza.” The Israeli defence ministry quickly confirmed her fears, saying the army had more candidates for expulsion.

The Palestinian Authority said it might file a complaint with the new International Criminal Court. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat; “This is a sad and black day for human rights.”

The chief justice, Aharon Barak, said the military could only expel a relative of a militant if that person presented a real security threat.

The two Palestinians have been in detention since June 4 and July 18 respectively, but have never been charged and no proceedings have been initiated to bring them to trial. The Israeli government claims that it cannot try them because this would expose the source of the evidence against them.

Amnesty International (AI) stated that the ruling “effectively allows for a grave violation of one of the most basic principles of international human rights law—notably the right of any accused to a fair trial and to challenge any evidence used against them.”

The AI statement went on to declare that the landmark decision against the Ajouris also constitutes a breach of international humanitarian law. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, Palestinians living in those territories that have been under Israeli military occupation since 1967 are protected persons. Therefore, “The unlawful forcible transfer of protected persons constitutes a war crime under both the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Under the Rome Statute such violations may also constitute crimes against humanity.”

The High Court of Justice ruled that forcible transfer to the Gaza Strip can only be used for people who have been personally involved in serious crimes and cannot be used as a deterrent, but it is an open secret that forcible transfers are being used as a form of collective punishment. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states, “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed.”

Twenty-four hours after the Israeli High Court of Justice decision to accept the transfer of Kifah and Intissar Ajouri, the two were dumped in the Gaza Strip near Netzarim settlement. The two were expected to arrive in the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing, but the Israeli military transported them using settler roads and left them on agricultural land surrounding the Netzarim settlement, south of Gaza City.

In the week leading up to the Israeli supreme court decision, there was a stepping up of human rights violations against Palestinian civilians by the Israeli occupying forces.

Just days before the court decision, 14 Palestinians—all but one of them civilians—were killed by the Israeli military. On August 31, Israeli occupying forces assassinated a member of the Palestinian Military Intelligence Service, in an operation during which four children were killed and six others were wounded.

Two Israeli Apache helicopters fired three missiles at a civilian car, killing one man accused by Israel of heading the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in Tubas, and two youths who were in the car. Two passing children were also killed. The second missile, apparently overshooting the target, struck a house, demolishing it and killing a boy, aged nine, and a girl, thought to be aged six.

Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian Minister of Planning, condemned the Toubas attack as a “filthy, appalling crime” that he said was “a repetition of previous assassination crimes conducted by Israel aimed at escalating the military situation to avoid sitting at the negotiating table.”

In an apparent extra-judicial execution, on September 1, Israeli forces shot dead four Palestinian labourers in Bani Na’m village in Hebron. The four were arrested at a marble company where they were working, taken to an adjacent area and shot dead.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces shelled and carried out incursions into Palestinian areas. On August 29, the Israeli Defence Force moved into a residential area in Rafah. They opened fire, killing a child and wounding eight civilians, and demolished 21 Palestinian stores.

On September 3, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) moved into al-Salam neighbourhood in Rafah and began demolishing a family home as its residents were sleeping, without any prior warning. Neighbours were prevented from offering help to the wounded. Throughout the week, the IDF shelled Palestinian residential areas in Khan Yunis, wounding at least eight Palestinian civilians.