No justice for slain laborer

SHUAFAT, occupied East Jerusalem (IPS) - A peaceful morning is interrupted by the sounds of an Israeli helicopter circling overhead — often a sign of trouble on the ground. Later Sunday the news broke — a Palestinian man was shot dead in the village of Issawiya by Israeli paramilitary border police as he tried to enter Israel in search of work.

Father of five, 38-year-old Ezzidine al-Kawazba from Hebron became the latest Palestinian casualty to die at the hands of the Israeli security forces in disputed circumstances. The policeman who shot al-Kawazba alleged that his weapon went off “accidentally” and that he “didn’t mean to kill the laborer.”

Ahmed Tibi, a Palestinian minister of the Israeli Knesset, condemned the shooting. “Once again Israel’s police officers and border police shoot and kill an Arab in cold blood. This time it was a father to many children who was trying to enter Jerusalem to find work for his livelihood.”

“Again the automatic false claim was made that a Palestinian tried to take a Border Policeman’s weapon. Will the police force, once again, rally behind this murdering officer? Will he, too, gain the status of a hero that killed another Arab?”

Earlier, IPS attended the funeral of Sameh Sarhan from East Jerusalem after he was shot dead by an Israeli security guard, who claimed self-defense, outside the illegal Israeli settlement of King David in occupied East Jerusalem. Video evidence taken at the scene contradicted the security guard’s version of events. Sarhan’s killing sparked a week of protests.

The latest killing in Issawiya came as two Israeli soldiers were convicted by an Israeli military court of using Palestinians as human shields during Israel’s December 2008-January 2009 assault on Gaza dubbed “Operation Cast Lead,” which left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead, most of them civilians.

The soldiers were convicted of offenses including inappropriate behavior and overstepping authority for ordering an 11-year-old Palestinian boy to search bags suspected to have been booby-trapped.

The Israeli police have said they are investigating the two latest shootings. However, a lack of confidence in the integrity of police investigations when security force members are involved in the killing of unarmed Palestinians has been backed by several Israeli rights groups.

The Israel Democracy Institute is due to release a report accusing the Israeli police of “bias in analyzing evidence” in relation to three Israeli-Arabs shot dead by police during the October 2000 riots (the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising) in northern Israel. Thirteen Palestinians were shot dead and hundreds were injured.

The study investigates the circumstances which prompted then Israeli attorney general Menachem Mazuz to follow the state prosecutor’s recommendation to close the inquiries into the deaths of three men on the basis of lack of evidence.

Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer and former Haifa district attorney Lina Saba, who conducted the study, examined files containing dozens of pieces of accumulated evidence.

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that according to the investigators, “the study shows that closing these three cases was unjustified and the Department for Investigating Policemen, and the prosecution, did not complete the investigation. The examination also showed the prosecution took a biased approach in analyzing the evidence.”

Several months ago Israeli policeman Shahar Mizrahi, who shot dead an unarmed Palestinian motorist who he claimed was a car thief, was sentenced to an original 15 months imprisonment. This was later doubled to 30 months on appeal when an Israeli court found the killing unnecessary as the officer’s life was not in danger as he had claimed.

Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Israel’s internal security minister, and Dudi Cohen, the police commissioner said they would immediately seek a presidential pardon for Mizrahi. “I won’t merely support a pardon bid, I’ll lead it,” added Aharonovitch.

Israeli police gave Mizrahi more than $42,500 for legal expenses in the initial criminal case, and a further $50,000 for his appeal to the high court.

Israeli rights group Yesh Din reported earlier in the year that only “six percent of investigations yielded indictments against Israeli soldiers who harmed Palestinians.”

Another Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem released a report last month “Void of Responsibility: Israel Military Policy not to investigate Killings of Palestinians by Soldiers.”

In the report B’Tselem stated that “at the beginning of the second intifada, the Judge Advocate General’s Office announced that it was defining the situation in the Occupied [Palestinian] Territories as an ‘armed conflict,’ and that investigations would be opened only in exceptional cases, in which there was a suspicion that a criminal offense had been committed.”

“This policy, which led to a significant drop in Military Police investigations of homicide cases, ignored the varying character of the army’s actions in the Occupied [Palestinian] Territories, and treated every act carried out by soldiers as a combat action, even in cases when these acts bear the clear hallmarks of a policing action.” Meanwhile, another Palestinian mosque near Bethlehem was torched and vandalized on Sunday night by Israeli settlers. A number of copies of the Quran were reported destroyed. Clashes then broke out between Palestinians and the settlers. Israeli soldiers subsequently arrived and forced the settlers to retreat, but none were arrested.

Several West Bank mosques have been subjected to settler vandalism and arson attacks since last year. Others have had anti-Arab and anti-Muslim graffiti scrawled on their walls. The Israeli authorities have not charged anyone.

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