Israel's High Court on Thursday dismissed a petition filed on behalf of 1,046 victims of Israel's Operation Cast Lead offensive on the Gaza Strip, a human rights group said.
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights filed a petition in December to challenge the two-year statute of limitation imposed on compensation claims. The organization said the two-year limit should not accrue until Israel's illegal closure of the Gaza Strip was lifted and residents of Gaza could access courts.
Due to Israel's siege, Gaza residents could not submit cases within two years.
According to Israeli law, PCHR should have had a right to reply to the State, however, the court dismissed the petition before hearing PCHR's reply, which is set to be heard on Tuesday.
The High Court's dismissal of the petition was a serious setback for victims' legitimate quest for accountability, the organization said.
PCHR outlined several ways in which the Israeli judiciary was complicit in the perpetuation of "a climate of pervasive impunity," which shielded soldiers who violated international law from justice.
Financial obstacles to justice
Israeli courts often require claimants to pay court insurance fees before a case can begin. In practice, this fee is always applied to Palestinians and is often set at thousands of dollars, PCHR said.
"In a recent case brought by PCHR, the claimants were required to pay an insurance fee of NIS 20,000 (US $5,600) for each of the five wrongful deaths claimed," PCHR said in a statement, noting that the fees were "an insurmountable obstacle to justice."
"Simply put, claimants from Gaza – crippled by the economic devastation wrought by the occupation and the illegal closure – cannot afford this fee and their cases are being dismissed and closed," the statement said.
Israel army denies victims access to court
Under Israeli law, the victim or witness must be present in court, but since June 2007, Israeli military authorities have not allowed a single individual to leave Gaza to appear in court despite having letters from the court requesting their presence, PCHR said.
"As a result, their cases are dismissed and closed," the organization said.
Meanwhile, PCHR's lawyers cannot enter Israel, so Israeli lawyers must be hired. However, clients cannot enter Israel to meet their lawyers, while Israeli lawyers cannot enter Gaza to meet their clients or visit the crime scene.
An accountability-free zone
The statute of limitations, imposed monetary barriers and the illegal blockade of Gaza combine to establish an 'accountability-free zone" in the Gaza Strip "wherein Israeli forces are free to violate international law without consequence," PCHR said.
The organization noted that the UN fact-finding mission on the December 2008 offensive on Gaza concluded that the series of acts which limited Palestinians' access to justice "could amount to persecution, a crime against humanity."
PCHR's petition was filed on behalf of some of the most infamous cases of the 22-day offensive, including the Samouni family which lost 29 members in one airstrike. Prior to the strike, soldiers had ordered the family to stay in the home.
More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the offensive, most of whom were civilians.