x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Relatives of Nakba victims pondering legal recourse

The Lebanese legal system doesn't recognize the state of Israel, posing judicial problem problems for the families of those killed in Nakba day violence.

BEIRUT //The families of protesters killed and injured this month during a demonstration along Lebanon's border with Israel yesterday announced they intend to take legal action against those responsible.

Six Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli soldiers on May 15, during a mass demonstration to commemorate the Nakba, or what Palestinians call the "catastrophe".

The annual event marks when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes amid the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

At least 120 unarmed Palestinian and Lebanese protesters were injured in the incident.

In a statement, the Israel Defence Forces claimed soldiers fired warning shots after "rioters attempted to breach the border fence and to infiltrate into Israeli territory".

At a news conference in Beirut yesterday, relatives of some of those injured or killed and lawyers for the families showed video footage of the demonstration. Omar Nashabe, a criminal justice analyst who is advising the families, said plans for legal action are in the early stages, but said that families are determined to pursue their "right to access to justice".

"There is a possibility of suing those responsible for shooting at civilians," Mr Nashabe said.

"The families of the martyrs and wounded want to search for ways for justice and have chosen to go for legal accountability."

Because Lebanon's judicial system does not recognise the state of Israel, the lawyers are investigating the appropriate jurisdiction in which action could be taken.

"Look, the chances are perhaps slim, but this is a matter of principal to try to have access to justice," said Mr Nashabe. "No one can deny the families this right."

At the forefront of calls to pursue legal action is Munib al Masri, a veteran Palestinian political figure and billionaire businessman.

His 22-year-old grandson, also named Munib al Masri, remains in serious condition in a Beirut hospital after being shot during the demonstration.

According to his grandfather, the bullet hit his spine, and he has had his spleen and a kidney removed.

"Those responsible should be put on trial and punished for this barbaric act against people who were without arms and demonstrating," Mr al Masri said yesterday.

"It was very emotional for my grandson to see his soil. He said he couldn't stop himself [from going toward the border fence] - he was overwhelmed."

Ghassan Hamad, a 23-year-old university student from the Burj al Barajneh refugee camp, whose family is originally from a village in what is now northern Israel, was among those who attended the news conference.

Standing with the aid of crutches, he explained how he was shot twice in the leg by Israeli soldiers.

"There was just ten metres between me and the soldiers," he said.

"When I saw Israeli soldiers on my homeland I was so emotional. I cried about my country."

This year, more than 30,000 people descended on the Lebanese border village of Maroun al Ras for a Nakba event called the "Return to Palestine March".

The crowds were mobilised mostly through Facebook and other social media. Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement, also played a major role in facilitating the march.

Preparations are underway for another demonstration on the Lebanon-Israel border in the coming weeks, say Palestinian activists.