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From the field

B'Tselem calls for Military Police investigation into the killing of civilians in targeted killing in Gaza

Update: On 5 July 2006 the Chief Military Prosecutor informed B’Tselem that an investigation of the incident would not be launched, explaining the decision as follows: The strike was carried out in combat circumstances and its targets were terrorism operatives whose actions were imperiling Israeli lives; the weapons used were lawful and legitimate; and an analysis of photographs of the operation demonstrate that, at the time, decision makers could not have anticipated the actual harm to civilians which occurred and which was discovered after the fact. In addition to demanding an MPIU investigation, B’Tselem wrote to the Attorney General, demanding the establishment of an independent investigative mechanism that would be charged with examining the assassination operation. On 14 November 2007, the Deputy Attorney General (Special Assignments) rejected this demand.

On 20 May around 6:00 P.M., the Israeli Air Force fired missiles at a car in which Muhammad Sh'aban Ibrahim a-Dahduh, 28, an activist in Islamic Jihad's military wing, was riding in a residential area in Gaza City , killing him. The missiles also hit a car in which seven members of the Aman family, who had no connection with the target of the attack, were traveling. The blast killed Na'ima Mahmud Hamdi Aman, 28, her son Muhand, 7, and the child's grandmother, Hanan Muhammad Hussein Aman, 47. The others in the car were injured, two of them - Mariya Aman, 5, and Nahed Aman, 35 - severely.

The circumstances of the incident raise the grave suspicion that the attack was disproportionate. Attacks of this kind are defined as a war crime. B'Tselem has requested the Judge Advocate General to not content himself with the operational debriefing, but order a Military Police investigation against the persons responsible for the action, including the chief of staff and the commander of the air force.

Legal analysis

Under the principle of proportionality, one of the pillars of international humanitarian law, an attack is forbidden, even when directed against a legitimate military target, if it is known that the attack will likely result in injury to civilians that is disproportionate to the military benefit anticipated from the attack. The burden of proof that the anticipated military benefit was so great as to justify injury to civilians rests on the shoulders of the side carrying out the attack. Breach of the principle of proportionality is defined in humanitarian law as a war crime, for which the perpetrators bear personal criminal responsibility.

Given that the targeted killing was carried out in the early afternoon in the heart of a crowded residential area, the planners must have known that many innocent civilians would be injured. Despite this, other than pointing out a-Dahduh's organizational affiliation, Israel has once again failed to provide any evidence indicating the necessity of the action or the lack of alternate means that would entail a lesser risk of harm to bystanders. These facts create a grave suspicion that yesterday's attack was disproportionate and thus a war crime.