London's burning for Dichter
Given the state of affairs in Israel, those who were horrified by these Shin Bet operations could only hope legal authorities abroad would take action to fix what our authorities have chosen to ignore.
Avi Dichter will not be going to London. The Israeli dream of taking in year-end sales, the new production of Othello or the sights of Oxford Street vanished before the public security minister's very eyes. The Foreign Ministry advised Dichter not to participate in a conference there, because he could be arrested for involvement in the assassination of Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh, when he was Shin Bet security service head. The one-ton bomb used to target Shehadeh in 2002 left 15 people dead.
The day after the horrible assassination, in late July 2002, I visited the homes that were destroyed in the Al-Darj neighborhood in the Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces tried at the time to claim they were "huts," to explain why it was unaware that people lived there. But they were apartment buildings housing dozens of families. The person who dropped a one-ton bomb on them in the dark of night knew it would kill many innocent people.
Among the ruins, I met Mohammed Matar, a Palestinian laborer who had worked in Israel for 30 years, lying in the rubble of his home, his arm and eye bandaged. In the "targeted killing" planned by Dichter's Shin Bet, Matar lost his daughter, his daughter-in-law and four toddler grandchildren. The pictures of the horror from the Gazan neighborhood have haunted me ever since. Someone, I thought, must pay for this. Could it be that no one is to blame or responsible for such an act?
Shehadeh's assassination became a seminal event for Israel's critics the world over. It was not different from many other liquidation operations the Shin Bet had planned for the IDF. In July 2006, for example, Israel assassinated nearly all of the Abu Salmiyeh family - Dr. Nabil Abu Salmiyeh, a lecturer in mathematics, his wife and seven of their children - because wanted man Mohammed Def was visiting their home at the time. In the past seven years, 368 Palestinians were killed in liquidation operations of which Dichter was the founding father.
However, the dimensions of the bomb dropped on Shehadeh and the scope of killing it sowed turned it into an icon of the struggle against Israel's brutal methods of warfare. A damages lawsuit was submitted in a New York district court against Dichter on behalf of the families of those who were killed. Major General (Res.) Doron Almog was forced to remain on a plane when he arrived in Britain in September 2005 and Brigadier General Aviv Kokhavi, a former commander of the Gaza Division, canceled his plan to study in England.
These people and others were marked as war crimes suspects. Unfortunately, this occurred only overseas. Here, they remain ministers and aristocrats, their career and public status untainted, their foreheads unbranded by the mark of Cain. For years, the High Court of Justice deferred discussing petitions against the liquidations, until it finally gave its stamp of approval in December 2006. Another year passed before the state prosecution informed the High Court that it did not oppose forming an investigative committee to study the Shehadeh assassination, five years after the fact - a scandalous delay. In this state of affairs, those who were horrified by these operations could only hope legal authorities abroad would take action to fix what our authorities have chosen to ignore.
Yes, some in Israel believe that dropping a one-ton bomb on a residential neighborhood merits a criminal investigation. They are Israeli patriots no less than those who believe everything is permissible for us in the war against terror. They are not the ones who besmirch Israel's name - Israel's actions are responsible for this; these people seek to put an end to Israel's actions. They would prefer judicial proceedings be held in Israel, but our legal system is blocked before them. Therefore, their eyes are directed abroad.
The Foreign Ministry already has begun to act against the complaints overseas in various channels. It is a shame that this is Israel's only response. It would have been better to clarify here, among ourselves, the responsibility of these people for such grave actions as the bombing of Shehadeh's neighborhood. Meanwhile those who believe that the liquidations have brought us to the verge of a moral abyss must look toward London. Thanks to legal authorities there, people like Dichter are finally feeling "a slight bump on the wing."