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The Daily Star: Israeli court frees Jewish settler filmed shooting Palestinians


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OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: An Occupied Jerusalem court Wednesday freed a Jewish settler who shot at Palestinians from point-blank range in the Occupied West Bank city of Hebron.

Zeev Braudeh from the settlement of Kiryat Arba on the city’s outskirts turned himself in to police on Saturday after video footage released by a human-rights group showed him firing at a group of Palestinians.

Two Palestinians were wounded by the gunfire and Braudeh was lightly injured after a Palestinian crowd threw stones at him after the colonist shot at them.

The judge ordered the immediate release of Braudeh and criticized Israeli police for failing to arrest any of the Palestinians defending themselves from the gunfire.

“Police are treating Palestinian behavior in this incident extremely light-handedly,” the ruling said. “We can not take part in this blatant discrimination.”

However the state prosecution also filed an indictment against Braudeh on charges of aggravated assault in connection with the shooting incident.

Last Thursday, a mob of Jewish militants went on the rampage in Hebron and across the Israeli-occupied West Bank in retaliation for the eviction by police in line with a High Court order of some 250 settlers from an occupied Hebron house.

During the Israeli riots following the eviction, the colonists – who had for weeks after the ruling thrown stones at and harassed local Palestinians, often in front of Israeli soldiers and police – set fire to Palestinian homes and fields, fired weapons at them, damaged cars and other property as well as desecrating Mosques and Muslim graves.

Braudeh was one of the few arrested by Israeli authorities.

Human-rights organizations have long decried the discriminatory double standards employed by Israel while dealing with Jews on the one hand and Muslims and Christians on the other. Israeli violence is dealt with kids’ gloves by the authorities, who physically restrain perpetrators or, in some cases, use tear gas or batons. Meanwhile, Palestinian protesters – even those demonstrating peacefully – face live ammunition, rubber-coated bullets, stun grenades and armored bulldozers, among other methods.

Also Thursday, Israel adamantly rejected accusations by the UN monitor of human rights in the Palestinian territories that the Jewish state is committing a “crime against humanity.”

UN expert on human rights Richard Falk had discredited himself by the accusations, which were related to Israel’s nearly 18-month blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said.

“The credibility of this expert has suffered a major blow with this announcement, which consists more of anti-Israel propaganda than truth,” spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP.

Israel began a crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip, where roughly half of its 1.5 million residents depend on international aid for survival, after Hamas won legislative elections deemed fair and democratic by international observers in 2006. Following the Islamists ousting of Fatah from the territory in what many have described as a pre-empting by Hamas of an impending US-backed Fatah offensive aimed at clearing Gaza of their rivals, Israel further tightened the noose.

Various UN and EU officials, along with scores of humanitarian and human-rights workers, have described the siege as “collective punishment of a civilian population,” an act illegal under international law that the Fourth Geneva Convention defines as a war crime.

According to the terms of an Egyptian mediated cease-fire in June, Israel was to lift the blockade if Hamas reigned in militants retaliating for Israeli attacks. However, while Hamas virtually halted rocket fire emanating from Gaza, the Jewish state did not honor its commitment.

However, the truce was honored by Hamas until Israel invaded the territory on November 4 with troops and tanks in an offensive that killed seven Palestinians. The shattering of the agreement by Israel prompted Gazan fighters to resume attacks on the Jewish state.

Israel has used the return of violence to completely seal off the enclave, including from international humanitarian aid, except for a handful of exceptions. UN officials have dismissed as a pretext the Israeli reasoning that rocket fire forces the crossings to be closed, noting that in past times of far worse violence, humanitarian aid was always allowed in.

Falk had earlier called on the UN to make an “urgent effort” to “protect a civilian population being collectively punished by policies that amount to a crime against humanity.”

He also suggested the International Criminal Court investigate the situation and consider prosecuting Israeli civilian and military leaders.

“Such a flurry of denunciations by normally cautious United Nations officials has not occurred on a global level since the heyday of South African apartheid,” Falk said.

“And still Israel maintains its Gaza siege in its full fury, allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease.”

Israel on Tuesday allowed some 70 trucks filled with humanitarian aid and fuel supplies to enter the territory of 1.5 million people, an action immediately dismissed by United Nations officials as woefully inadequate.

Meanwhile, Israel allowed on Wednesday the transfer of $25 million into Gaza to pay wages of civil servants amid warnings that the imposed liquidity crisis resulting from the blockade could bring down the besieged territory’s banks.

But the sum fell short of the $63 million that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said were necessary to pay Palestinian Authority employees.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak authorized the transfer of 100 million shekels ($25 million) from banks in the Occupied West Bank to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, his office said.

The transfer was to come following a “personal request” by Fayyad and Stanley Fischer, the head of Israel’s central bank, “in view of the severe cash crisis in Gaza.”

A Palestinian treasury official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the transfer has not yet been made but that it should take place on Thursday.

Palestinian Economy Minister Kamal Hassuneh said that the $25 million was insufficient to pay the salaries of government employees.

“We need $70 to $75 million for salaries. And we need to transfer this amount every month, not just one time,” he told AFP.

The Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmoud Abbas continues to pay the salaries of some 70,000 civil servants in the impoverished Gaza Strip. – AFP, with The Daily Star