Decorated IDF Officer Accused of Killing Palestinian in 'Vendetta'

High Court petition: Palestinian killed in November 2001 'resisting arrest' was assassinated.

Information contained in a petition that will be filed with the High Court of Justice in the next few days casts serious aspersions on Y.B., now commander of the Jerusalem Border Police's undercover unit and one of Israel's most illustrious warriors. The petition claims he shot to death an unarmed Palestinian, from close range, in the course of a November 2001 operation to arrest the man.

At the time Y.B. served as a company commander in the undercover unit of the Judea and Samaria Border Police. Three years ago he was awarded the Medal of Valor for dozens of operations in which he took part and assassinations he carried out.

The petitioners, lawyers Shlomo Lecker, Shimon Dolan and Michael Sfard and the Public Committee Against Torture want the High Court to order the Israel Defense Forces to open a military police investigation into the death of the Palestinian, Issa Dabasa. The operation's stated objective was arresting Dabasa, who was suspected of murdering Dov Driben, a settler from Havat Maon who had tried to take over his land and was shot to death three years earlier.

According to the petition, "a person who was in the incident's vicinity [said] that Issa's body was taken from the scene of the incident [the yard of Issa's home] by the undercover troops and was presented as a trophy to the family of the late Driben."

The petitioners claim that Dabasa's killing, as well as the arrest of two of his brothers (who stood trial for Driben's murder and were acquitted) was "a vendetta that was sanctioned by political and military officials" because the Havat Maon settlers are well-connected.

On November 7, 2001, undercover troops arrived at Dabasa's home, in Khirbet Carmel in the southern Hebron Hills area, to arrest him, but he was shot and died during the operation. A statement from the IDF Spokesman's Office said afterward: "Border Police troops sought to arrest Dov Driben's murderer. In the course of the arrest the armed terrorist whipped out his weapon with the aim of hurting the troops. A firefight developed, during which the terrorist was killed."

A few years ago, Y.B. gave an interview to Yedioth Ahronoth's weekend supplement in which he described the incident in a drastically different manner, with no mention of a firefight, only the presence of a gun.

"When I saw he was pulling out a gun, I shot him. He fell into the hole he had dug. He dug his own grave," he told the paper.

The petitioners also found in the interview credence for their claim that the body was shown as a trophy to Driben's family: "It was important to me to bring his body. So they'd see that I brought him. I put him on the table for them," Y.B. is quoted as saying.

Attorney Lecker and others took down statements from all the eyewitnesses present when Dabasa was killed. Their testimony completely refutes the IDF's and Y.B.'s version of events. They maintain that the undercover troops reached the village while Dabasa and others were watching a well being dug, and stood beside them. All of the affidavits indicate there were no armed Palestinians in the immediate scene or in the vicinity, and that Dabasa did not resist arrest.

Dabasa's son, Mohammed, gave the following description: "The first one, the short one, he put one hand on Issa's shoulder and he had a small gun...brought it close to Issa's chest. I saw a small spark come from the gun...Issa placed his right hand on his chest and said 'Ah.' I looked in the direction of the guy who shot him - he returned to Issa again...and again he [shot] six or eight bullets." Mohammed, who was wounded by a bullet fired at his leg, claims that the undercover troops never asked his father anything before shooting him. He is prepared to take a lie detector test.

Lecker, in correspondence with officials from the Military Advocate General, asked whether the IDF or police have the gun they claim Dabasa was carrying. The reply from the deputy MAG, Colonel Danny Efroni, more than hints that no such gun existed - and in any case contradicts the IDF Spokesman's statement and Y.B.'s account in Yedioth Ahronoth.

Efroni wrote: "Troops from Judea and Samaria Border Police arrived on November 7, 2001 at the village of Khirbet Carmel in order to arrest the individual in question...the troops had information that the man in question was armed. When the troops arrived at the scene of incident, the commander whipped out his gun and ordered the man in question to halt.

The man in question moved his hand in a manner that aroused the suspicion he intended to take out a gun and in response the troops fired at him. Immediately afterward there was an attempted attack on the troops by other people at the scene, and therefore the troops fired at the assailants' legs." Dov Driben's father, Eddie, declined to comment on whether he was shown Dabasa's body, and the claims made in the petition.

However, he confirmed that he had "excellent relations" with the commander of the Hebron Brigade at the time, Colonel Dror Weinberg (who was killed later), the man he says was in charge of the alleged assassination operation. "I'm neither confirming nor denying anything," he told Haaretz. "I think the soldiers did their job, and I am very glad they succeeded. When someone kills my boy, I want him dead, not under arrest. I want anyone who kills a Jew to die." Driben's widow, Adi, said she was not involved in events that occurred after her husband's murder. Asked whether Eddie Driben had ties to then prime minister Ariel Sharon, she replied, "He always said so."