War Crimes Case for Fatal Gaza Attack Argued in U.S. Court

New York, N.Y. January 16, 2009 – Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard arguments in the human rights case, Matar v. Dichter. The lawsuit charges former Director of the Israel General Security Services Avi Dichter with planning and directing the bombing of a residential apartment building in Gaza City in the Occupied Palestinian Territory at midnight in July 2002, knowing it would result in a significant number of civilian deaths and injuries.

Maria LaHood, Senior Attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, “Avi Dichter’s decision to bomb our clients and their families as they lay sleeping at home was a war crime.  That Israeli officials defend such attacks does not entitle Dichter to immunity.  Intentional or indiscriminate attacks on civilians violate the law and cannot be tolerated by the international community.”

In May 2007, the case was dismissed when a lower court judge found that Dichter was acting in the course of his official duties, and granted him immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.  Today, attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) argued that Dichter is not entitled to immunity for his war crimes.  Plaintiffs’ claims were brought under the Alien Tort Statute, which permits non-citizens to sue in U.S. courts for international law violations, and the Torture Victim Protection Act, which imposes liability for extrajudicial killings carried out under the authority of a foreign nation.  

The attack in this case occurred just before midnight, when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) dropped a one-ton bomb on al-Daraj, a residential neighborhood in Gaza City in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to carry out a so-called “targeted” assassination. The attack killed seven adults and eight children, including plaintiff Ra’ed Matar’s wife and their three young children (ages 1 ½, 3 and 5 years) and plaintiff Mahmoud Al Huweiti’s wife and two of their young sons (ages 4 and 5 years).  It injured over 150 others, including plaintiff Marwan Zeino, whose spinal vertebrae were crushed.  

The al-Daraj attack was widely condemned by the international community, including the U.S. government, at the time. On July 23, 2002, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer stated that President Bush condemned this “deliberate attack against a building in which civilians were known to be located.”   

The case charges Avi Dichter, then Director of Israel’s General Security Service (GSS), with war crimes and other gross human rights violations for his participation in the decision to drop the bomb on the residential neighborhood, and charges that GSS provided the necessary intelligence and final approval to implement the attack.  

“The 194 High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions – virtually the entire international community – have a legal obligation to ensure respect for the Conventions in all circumstances,” the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said in a statement. “They have a further legal obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and to bring them to justice; before their own courts if necessary. The civilian population of the Gaza Strip is entitled to enjoy the rights enshrined in international human rights and humanitarian law.”

Added Ms. LaHood, “As attacks continue on Gaza, leaving more than a thousand civilians dead and even more injured, the significance of accountability for direct and indiscriminate attacks against civilians is especially critical.”

The Plaintiffs/Appellants are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and CCR Cooperating Counsel Judith Brown Chomsky.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.


Last modified 

January 16, 2009