In the first hearing, three justices denied a request for a temporary injunction against the army’s policy of "liquidating" Palestinian resistance fighters until an overall case against targeted killings has been judged.

The judges gave the government 60 days to present a written response to the petition, which was filed in January 2002 by the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the  Environment (LAW) and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI).

During the three-hour hearing, petitioning attorney Avigdor Feldman argued that although the law allowed for the use of "special means" against "ticking time-bombs" – an Israeli term for describing potential human bombers – it was unacceptable to build a policy on such a basis.

"The assassination of a ticking bomb is the most unusual situation – you can't build a policy around that."

"Every assassination is irreversible and does not help the situation," he said.

Feldman said that since the start of the 33-month Palestinian Intifada, in September 2000 the army had killed 169 Palestinian "targets" and 90 innocent bystanders in targeted assassinations.

"Every assassination is irreversible and does not help the situation"

Avigdor Feldman,
attorney

In that time, such assassinations had become an "institutionalised policy" taking place on almost a daily basis, and allowing the state to "justify who, when, where and how it wanted to liquidate" Palestinian targets, he said.

But state attorney Shai Nitsan, representing the army, argued that the petitioners were basing their arguments on laws dealing with conventional warfare which had not changed to reflect the new reality which included "terror organisations" and human bombers.

"The petitioners live in the past when international law was not built for today's reality (when) there wasn't al-Qaida, or suicide bombings," he said.

Use of "human shields"

Another court decision will also allow Israeli soldiers to continue using Palestinian “human shields” to protect themselves.

In a second hearing, the justices rejected a petition calling for a broadening of an earlier injunction which would prohibit the army from using Palestinian civilians as human shields or hostages.

The initial injunction was issued by the Supreme Court in August 2002, but was challenged by the government and broadened in January 2003 to include a new "prior warning" order, which allowed the army to use Palestinians as "assistance" if they agreed to it during the course of an arrest operation.

Tuesday's petition unsuccessfully sought to overturn the "prior warning" clause on grounds that the use of the clause did not relieve the army of its responsibility to protect rather than exploit civilians during military operations.

At least 250 Palestinian have
been killed in Israeli "targetted
assassinations"

The petition was filed in May 2002 by Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, on behalf of seven Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which sought an order to stop the army from using civilians as human shields or hostages. 

Adalah's attorney Marwan Dalal argued that under international law, it was forbidden to put any civilian into a dangerous military situation, even if it was a friend or relative of the person wanted for arrest.

But state attorney Nitsan argued that the use of civilians was justified to prevent loss of life, and that under international law, the use of the "prior warning order" permitted a civilian to enter a dangerous situation if he agreed to it.

"There are people who, for all sorts of reasons, would certainly accept," Nitsan said, citing Israel's policy of destroying the homes of wanted militants or those who have carried out attacks.

"When somone knows you are going to destroy his house with a bulldozer they say: we'll go in and get them out, don't destroy our house," he said.