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Israeli Soldier Given Derisory Sentence for the Unlawful Killing of a Palestinian Fisherman

Al Mezan: Appalling Leniency Attests to Entrenched Impunity

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22 June 2020 |Reference 37/2020

On 15 June 2020, an Israeli military court sentenced an Israeli soldier, who shot and killed 23-year-old Palestinian fisherman, Nawaf al-Attar, off the coast of Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip, to a derisory 45-day prison sentence to be served through military-related labor. A suspended sentence ranging from two months to two years, and a demotion in rank were added by the court, which convicted the soldier on the charges of “disobeying an order leading to a threat to life or health”, per article 72 of Israeli Martial Law (1955) and “negligence and reckless endangerment”, per article 341 of Israeli Penal Law (1977).  The proceedings represent a shallow attempt at portraying a system that functions in accordance with international justice principles.


Al Mezan had submitted a criminal complaint to the Israeli Military Advocate General on 27 November 2018, requesting a criminal investigation into the killing of Nawaf al-Attar on the 14th of that month; the Military Police only initiated a criminal investigation nearly six months later on 7 April 2019. On 13 May 2020, with Al Mezan’s legal and technical support to the family, investigators interviewed Nawaf’s brother at Erez crossing.


The evidence collected by Al Mezan indicates that the fatal shooting of Nawaf was an act of willful killing, requiring charges and a sentence commensurate with the gravity of the crime. However, the Israeli military court handed down a sentence on one disciplinary charge and a relatively low criminal charge of negligence and reckless endangerment. In addition, the court issued the victim’s legal representative and family a highly redacted document that concealed the start date of the sentence.


This is the second case in two years in which Al Mezan cases received woefully inadequate sentences—the 2019 case being for the killing of 14-year-old Othman Hillis, an unarmed protester participating in the ‘Great March of Return’, whose killing also garnered a short sentence to be served through military-related labor for misconduct.[1] These cases are further evidence of the rampant impunity in Israel and lack of effective means of redress for Palestinian victims and their families.


The proceedings are testament to the manner in which the Israeli justice system, including its military courts, shields State actors from genuine accountability while simultaneously attempting to portray itself as a system that functions in accordance with international law. Al Mezan views these proceedings as a flagrant attempt to deter international justice mechanisms from assuming jurisdiction. We therefore recall that the Rome Statute empowers the International Criminal Court to hold secondary trials if domestic proceedings “were for the purpose of shielding the person concerned from criminal responsibility”, or “were not conducted independently or impartially in accordance with the norms of due process recognized by international law” (article 20). Al Mezan’s long engagement with the Israeli system definitively evidences the need for Third states and international justice mechanisms to genuinely pursue legal accountability for alleged commission of serious international crimes on Palestinian territory.    


The protection of civilians and the rule of law are gravely undermined through the perpetuation of a state of impunity. Al Mezan calls for justice for these and all other victims of Israeli violations of international law and calls on the international community to exercise its jurisdiction to deter the commission of future crimes. 


[1] Al Mezan, Israeli Soldier Sentenced for Failure to Follow Orders Instead of Killing of Child Al Mezan: Leniency Attests to Entrenched Impunity, 31 October 2019. Available at: