Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit

Military Advocate General

Israel Defense Forces

Dear General Mandelblit,

We are writing to request that your office conduct an official investigation into the deaths of Akram al-Ghoul and Mahmoud Salah Ahmad al-Ghoul, civilian residents of the Gaza Strip who were killed by Israeli Air Force (IAF) ordnance on Saturday, January 3, 2009.  Akram al-Ghoul, 48, was a judge who worked in the courts of the Palestinian Authority until he resigned after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007.  He is the father of Fares Akram, Human Rights Watch's research consultant in Gaza. Mahmoud al-Ghoul, 17, was a student and a relative of the Akram al-Ghoul family.

According to family members, Akram al-Ghoul and Mahmoud al-Ghoul had been staying at the al-Ghoul farm to the northwest of Beit Lahiya and close to Gaza's border with Israel, in order to care for livestock. Fighting between Israel Defense Forces and Hamas had made it risky to travel back and forth between the farm and Akram al-Ghoul's home in Gaza City. At around 4:20 p.m. on January 3, a bomb or missile from an IAF F-16 fighter-bomber detonated on their farmhouse, killing Akram al-Ghoul and Mahmoud al-Ghoul. According to the al-Ghoul family, who had been in regular contact with Akram al-Ghoul by telephone, there was no fighting or hostile activity in the area. The GPS coordinates of the farmhouse in question are: 31°35'12.45"N; 34°29'31.93"E.

As you know, states have an obligation to investigate serious violations of IHL allegedly committed by their forces. A thorough, impartial and timely investigation is essential for holding members of an armed force accountable to enforce discipline, maintain responsible command, and ensure compliance with IHL. It is especially important to carry out such an investigation in situations like this where there is no apparent justification for the attack, in order to minimize preventable or unjustifiable civilian casualties in the future.

For this reason, we urge your office to promptly open a thorough and impartial investigation into the January 3 deaths of Akram al-Ghoul and Mahmoud al-Ghoul. We also urge you, if warranted by the results of the investigation, to prosecute any persons found to be responsible for serious violations of IHL. Finally, we request that you make the results of the investigation public.

We look forward to learning from your office how it plans to investigate this matter.

Sincerely,

Kenneth Roth

Executive Director

Human Rights Watch