Saturday, March 14, 2009

Letters of the Law - Amira Hass

Haaretz, March 12, 2009 - During the past 10 days, the Defense Ministry's claims and insurance division received a registered letter including an official document describing the damages suffered during Operation Cast Lead by Sabbah Abu Halima. Also in the envelope were 12 similar notices, detailing the damage sustained by members of her family (seven of whom were killed and six wounded). According to the short letter accompanying the forms, they were sent as per "the Civil Damages Regulations (State Responsibility) 2003." "Please fax us confirmation of receipt," added (in Hebrew) the signatory: Iyad al-Alami, attorney, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza. The center has to date sent about 500 such registered letters with forms enclosed to the claims and insurance unit in the last month, detailing the damage done during the Israel Defense Forces offensive from December 27, 2008 until January 10, 2009. Another 300 letters are expected to be sent in the coming weeks, referring to the period of January 11-18.

The letters are just the first step in a process being undertaken by the PCHR and various Palestinian, Israeli and foreign organizations, lawyers and civil rights advocates. Their aim: to put an end to what they see as the impunity Israel enjoys after it attacks the Palestinians.

The law demands that a detailed notification of damages be sent to the Defense Ministry within 60 days of the reported event. Accordingly, since January 18, nearly all the staff of the PCHR have been involved in the process of preparing the notifications. Twenty-five field workers collected testimonies and took photographs in all the areas that were affected. People who wanted to have reports submitted went to the center's offices, where each of the staff's 10 young lawyers heard 10-20 complainants a day, took detailed affidavits and received power-of-attorney. The affidavits were then entered into a computer and a full report of the event was compiled (involving cross-checking of testimonies, field visits, drawing of maps, etc.). Later, an abstract was prepared and the "notification forms" were filled out with the aid of senior lawyers....

If anyone decides to write about Operation Cast Lead in the future, he or she will find at the PCHR hundreds of files of material that has not been used in IDF investigations . The story of the Abu Halima family appears in dozens of foreign media reports. What Sabbah Abu Halima told those journalists and Haaretz appears in the center's documents, purged of any journalistic embellishments....

Amira Hass is a journalist for Haaretz.

No comments: