Julie Webb-Pullman reports

Palestinian advocacy group says Israeli soldiers ‘intended’ to kill Jordanian judge

Source: Jordan Times

AMMAN – An independent Palestinian human rights organisation has published the outcome of a self-initiated investigation into the killing of Jordanian Judge Raed Zuaiter, who was shot dead by Israeli soldiers on the King Hussein Bridge on March 10.

Judge Raed Zuaiter left lying dead at the Allenby Bridge

Judge Raed Zuaiter left lying dead at the Allenby Bridge

According to the report of Al Haq Organisation for Defending Human Rights, Israeli soldiers “had the intention of killing Zuaiter”, 38, who served as a judge at the Amman Court of First Instance.

The report, posted on the website of the Ramallah-based entity, details that the bus carrying passengers heading to the occupied Palestinian territories arrived at the western part of the King Hussein Bridge that links Jordan and the West Bank at around 8:30am. Israeli soldiers asked passengers to leave the bus in order to inspect the bus, urging them to leave their luggage inside.

After inspecting the bus, passengers were allowed to enter the bus, the report said, adding that all passengers got onboard except for five people, including two children.

The passengers were Zuaiter and another passenger, who were smoking near the bus, in addition to a lady and her child as she was waiting for another child of hers to come out from the toilet, according to Al Haq.

Zuaiter, who was near the front of the bus, was pushed by the Israeli soldier who inspected the bus, criticising the judge for being late to get onboard.

“The judge then pushed the soldier and had an argument and then two other soldiers approached the scene immediately,” the report indicated.

The three soldiers pushed Zuaiter forcing him to fall on the ground, the organisation said in its findings, based on testimonies of passengers.

“After he stood up, he started screaming in protest of the soldiers’ behaviour while his hands were up,” said the investigation, adding that the judge walked towards the soldiers.

According to eyewitnesses, the report elaborated that the soldiers pointed their weapons towards the victim, who was just three to four metres away from them.

Passengers heard the sound of a bullet fired which was then followed by three more shots.

Immediately after that, the driver closed the vehicle’s doors. He was then ordered to ask passengers to leave the bus one by one and they were inspected again, the report said.

The body of the judge remained unchecked for a while, according to eyewitnesses, who added that more police and first aid medics arrived at the scene. Medics performed CPR and then covered the body.

Investigators interrogated the passengers about what happened and asked them about the contents of Zuaiter’s luggage and then decided to have it destroyed with explosives without checking its contents.

The report of Al Haq echoes the same testimony Mohammad Sharif Zaid, an eyewitness, gave to The Jordan Times the day after the incident.

Israeli military alleged that Zuaiter had tried to seize a soldier’s gun at the King Hussein Bridge — known to Israelis as the Allenby Bridge — and that troops had then shot him, according to international news agencies.

Al Haq said that the soldiers had the intention of killing Zuaiter as they could have dealt in a civilised manner with the protesting judge.

The judge was unarmed and did not pose a threat to the soldiers, the organisation –– founded by a group of legal experts in 1979 –– said.

The report said the judge lost his life mainly because of Israeli soldiers’ disrespect for human life.

The Israeli version of the incident –– that Zuaiter had tried to seize the weapon of the soldiers and to attack them with a steel bar –– is baseless and shows that the occupation authorities are trying to spare their soldiers legal consequences, Al Haq said in its findings.

The human rights advocacy body also concluded the Israeli claim that surveillance cameras “at such an important security point” were not operational that day due to technical fault is a lie.

The killing of Zuaiter, who was going to visit Nablus, where he was buried, has triggered public anger in Jordan with several protests near the Israeli embassy in Amman calling for expelling the envoy.

MPs have also called for expelling the Israeli ambassador and abolishing the peace treaty with Israel, signed in 1994, following the incident and criticised the government for what they described as an inadequate response over the killing of the judge.

On Tuesday the government survived a no-confidence vote over the incident.

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed their “deep regret” over the death of Zuaiter in separate telephone calls with His Majesty King Abdullah on Monday.

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