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Kamm affair: Suspected wrongdoings exposed by Uri Blau demand investigation

The media recently exposed the arrest of Israeli journalist Anat Kamm, who is accused, among other charges, of having passed classified documents to Ha'aretz reporter Uri Blau while she was serving as a clerk in the office of OC Central Command. Kamm has been under house arrest since December 2009.

Some of the documents Kamm transferred to Blau formed the basis for an article published in Ha'aretz inNovember 2008, in which Blau revealed that the army has continued to assassinate Palestinians in the West Bank on Israel's wanted list, in disregard of the High Court of Justice's judgment regarding such actions.

During the second intifada, Israel officially adopted a policy of assassinating Palestinians it suspected of being activists in Palestinian armed organizations fighting against it. International players and human rights organizations strongly criticized this policy, and in 2002, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel petitioned the High Court to order the army to cease the practice.

More than four years later, in December 2006, the High Court gave its decision. The justices held that the policy was lawful, but imposed restrictions on its implementation. The court held, inter alia, that in the West Bank, where Israeli military forces have complete control, it is preferable to arrest a person rather than kill him. The last declared assassination carried out by the army in the West Bank occurred in August 2006.

B'Tselem's investigations over the years indicate that, alongside the declared assassinations, the army has also carried out a policy of intentional killing under the guise of “arrest operations” (see B'Tselem's report, "Take No Prisoners"), and continued to do so even after the High Court's ruling.

Blau's article strengthened the suspicions arising from B'Tselem's investigations. The documents published in the article ostensibly showed that senior officers approved, in writing and in advance, the killing of Palestinians they defined as wanted, as well as the killing of uninvolved civilians liable to be in the company or vicinity of such persons. After the operation was carried out, the IDF Spokesperson published an announcement stating that the soldiers had opened fire because their lives were under threat.

Despite the serious details exposed in Blau's article, none of the persons involved has been questioned, and the senior officers involved in giving the unlawful orders have remained in their positions. Moreover, the IDF Spokesperson's announcement stated that the attorney general at the time, Menachem Mazuz, “found no basis for the claim that IDF forces acted in breach of law or contrary to the High Court's ruling” in the cases mentioned in the article.

This determination is astonishing given that Blau's article raised, at the very least, the firm suspicion that unlawful orders to kill had been given even in non-life-threatening situations, and when it was possible to arrest the suspects. The authorities ignored the severity of the actions exposed in the article and chose to focus their attention solely on Kamm's actions.

B'Tselem's investigations of actions carried out by the army in the West Bank since the article was published show that the army has apparently continued to implement an assassination policy under the guise of arrest operations. The following are some examples:

Nablus, 26 December 2009: In the early hours of the morning, soldiers killed Ghassan Abu Sharkh, Nader a-Sarkaji, and ‘Anan Subuh while each was in his house in the Old City of Nablus. The IDF Spokesperson claimed that the three refused to surrender, and that the soldiers opened fire after they felt their lives were in danger. B'Tselem's investigation raised the suspicion that the soldiers had made no attempt to arrest Abu Sharkh and a-Sarkaji before shooting and killing them. B'Tselem wrote to the judge advocate for operational matters requesting that a Military Police investigation into the circumstances of the incident be ordered. No response to the request has yet been received. (More information on the case)

Jenin, 15 December 2008: Around 11:00 P.M., a force of soldiers and undercover personnel killed Jihad Nawahdah in al-Yamun, Jenin District. The IDF Spokesperson contended that Nawahdah tried to flee, and the forces, who were engaged in an operation to arrest wanted persons, fired at the lower part of his body, hitting him. They took him to hospital, but he died on the way there. According to a testimony given to B'Tselem, however, as Nawahdah was walking in the street, a few minutes after having left a café, he was struck in the back by shots fired from a vehicle that suddenly stopped next to him, although he was unarmed and did not pose any threat. B'Tselem wrote to the judge advocate for operational matters requesting that a Military Police investigation into the circumstances of the incident be ordered. To date, the organization has received only a preliminary response indicating that the matter had been forwarded to the relevant military officials for examination.

Bethlehem, 12 March 2008: Around 6:00 P.M., a joint army, Border Police, and Israel Security Agency force killed Muhammad Shhadeh, Ahmad Balbul, ‘Imad al-Kamel, and ‘Issa Marzuq Zawahreh while they were riding together in a car in the center of Bethlehem. According to the IDF Spokesperson's announcement, the forces were engaged in an action to arrest wanted persons, and the four men were killed after the security forces found that they were armed. However, testimonies given to B'Tselem indicate that no attempt was made to arrest them or fire at them in order to immobilize them, and that the forces directed massive gunfire at the vehicle. Also, the testimonies indicate that when the driver, ‘Imad al-Kamel, got out of the vehicle unarmed, the soldiers fired a single shot at his legs. After he fell to the ground, the forces shot him with automatic gunfire. The testimonies also raise serious suspicion that the forces shot him to verify that he was dead. B'Tselem wrote to the judge advocate general and the attorney general demanding that they order a Military Police investigation into the matter. On 22 September 2009, the Office of the Judge Advocate for Operational Matters informed B'Tselem that the judge advocate general had ordered that the matter be forwarded for processing to the deputy state attorney for criminal matters. B'Tselem has not received any further information from the authorities relating to the matter. (More information on the case)