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From the field

Reopen investigation into the killing of Majedah and Rayah Abu Hajaj in operation Cast Lead

Update: The soldier initially charged with killing Majedah and Rayah Abu Hajaj, a charge later converted to "manslaughter of an unidentified individual", was convicted in a plea bargain of two lesser offenses: unlawful use of a weapon and inappropriate conduct. He was sentenced to 45 days in prison, a six-month suspended sentence valid for two years, and demotion to the rank of private.

Rayah Abu Hajaj. Family photoFollowing the signing of a plea bargain with a soldier charged with manslaughter during operation Cast Lead, Israeli human rights group B'Tselem demands that the Military Police Investigation Unit (MPIU) reopen the file into the killing of Majedah and Rayah Abu Hajaj. B'Tselem says that if the military prosecution accepted the claim brought by the soldier's lawyers, that there is no connection between the shooting he admitted to and the killing of the Palestinian mother and daughter, this means that the investigation into this incident was never completed. The MPIU must therefore solve the case and pursuant to the finding, hold accountable those responsible.

It must be stressed that in contrast to media reports, the charges against the soldiers did not relate to the killing of the two women, but rather to the killing of an unidentified individual. The IDF spokesperson's office, which reported the indictment in July 2010, explained this discrepancy based on contradictions found between the versions of soldiers and those of the Palestinian witnesses. The statement explained that as it was not possible to connect the two versions of events to the degree necessary for a criminal prosecution, it was decided that the soldier will be indicted for the manslaughter of a unknown individual, not the two women. Specifically, the Palestinian eye witness testimonies place the killing on the 4.1.2009, while the soldier testimonies referred to an event on the 5.1.2001.

B'Tselem warned the Military Advocate General (MAG) office about the problematic nature of this decision in the past. Following the IDF spokesperson's announcement, in July 2010, the organization wrote to the previous MAG, Maj. Gen. Avichay Mandelblit, asking for clarifications. In its letter, B'Tselem stressed that the contradictions between the testimonies must be investigated, that the discrepancies are checked with the Palestinian and Israeli witnesses. This must be done in order to ascertain whether the testimonies refer to one event, with circumstances clear enough for a prosecution. However, if there is doubt that the witnesses are referring to the same event and there is a possibility that there were two separate incidents, the killing of Majedah and Rayah Abu Hajaj must be investigated separately from the 5.1.2009 incident. The Palestinian witnesses informed B'Tselem that they were not contacted or summonsed to an additional questioning.

The MPIU investigation into the killing of Majedah and Rayah Abu Hajaj, shot while walking with a group of Palestinians holding white flags after their home was bombed, was opened following a complaint filed by B'Tselem. As of October 2009, B'Tselem was in contact with the investigators, to assist the conduct of the investigation, helped coordinate the arrival of witnesses to testify at the Erez Crossing and provided materials such as medical documents, GPS measurements and death certificates.