Israeli Court Upholds Targeted Assassinations of Palestinian Militants

The Israeli Supreme Court decided Thursday not to issue a blanket ban against the targeted killing of Palestinian militants, ruling that some of the killings were legal under international law.

The ruling gave legal legitimacy to a practice Israeli forces have routinely used against militants during the past six years of violence. The Israeli human rights organization B'tselem estimates that 339 Palestinians have been killed in the targeted operations over the past six years. Of those, 210 were the targets and the rest were bystanders.

The three-judge panel unanimously ruled that "it cannot be determined in advance that every targeted killing is prohibited according to customary international law," while also noting that the tactic was not necessarily legal in every case.

Two human rights groups, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment petitioned the court to ban the policy in 2002, but the court repeatedly delayed issuing a decision on the case.

The Israeli military began carrying out targeted killings of Palestinian militants after the breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the subsequent outbreak of violence in the fall of 2000, saying the tactic was the most effective way to stop Palestinian bombers targeting Israeli population centers.

The operations are typically carried out from the air, with helicopter gunships or unmanned drones firing missiles at cars in Palestinian cities, acting on intelligence information from agents and informers on the ground. The tactic has since been adopted by the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq.