Arab families want Israeli compensation
Fighter jets shot down airliner 30 years ago
Bangkok Post Sept 2, 203
Arab families who lost relatives when Israeli war planes shot down a
commercial aircraft that had wandered over Israeli-held territory say
they want to take Israel to court _ three decades after the attack.
The families say they have been inspired by an emerging global
determination not to let attacks on civilians, even those long in the
past, go unpunished. But lawyers say the 28 Egyptian families and two
from Libya who want to sue, face significant hurdles.
Mohamed Sherif, whose mother Salwa Hegazy was among the victims, says
even raising money for what is likely to be a protracted and complex
legal battle is beyond the families.
``We are looking for an international human rights organisation that
would agree to file the suit on our behalf and take part of the
compensation that we would get,'' said Mr Sherif, whose mother was a
well-known Egyptian television news anchor. ``It is about time to
talk. ... My mother did not die in her bed but she was assassinated,
burned and deformed in a plane.''
Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114 was heading from Tripoli to Cairo on
Feb 21, 1973, when bad weather forced the pilot off course over
Egypt's Sinai peninsula. The Sinai was then occupied by Israel _
having been captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war _ and two Israeli
jet fighters intercepted the plane.
When the Libyan pilot refused orders to land, the Israelis opened
fire and the plane crashed in flames in the desert, killing 106
people. Passengers included Egyptians, Libyans, French and Germans.
Some seven months later, Egypt and Syria went to war against Israel
to retrieve occupied Arab land. Israel turned back the Arab attack,
but the war set the stage for Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel,
the first such Arab-Israeli pact, which returned the Sinai peninsula
An official in the legal department of Israel's Foreign Ministry,
speaking on condition of anonymity, said talk of a suit now is
He said his country offered families of each victim US$30,000 in
compensation three decades ago, but many families refused the money
because they did not want to recognise Israel.
The Jewish state felt its pilots had acted ``100% right in the
incident. But because of humanitarian reasons ... Israel thought it
was appropriate to offer financial assistance,'' the official said.
However, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said that Israel had
never offered compensation. Mr Sherif, the son of the plane attack
victim, also said Israel never tried to contact the families.
Instead, he said, each family received about 1,800 Egyptian pounds
(105,000 baht) in compensation from the Libyan airline.
Tense Arab-Israeli relations have spilled into the international
legal arena before _ for example when Palestinians tried to bring
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to trial in Belgium under a law
that allowed Belgian courts to hear cases of war crimes committed
anywhere in the world. The Palestinians wanted Mr Sharon tried for
the massacre of hundreds of refugees by Christian militia allies of
Israel in two camps in Beirut in 1982. In February, the Belgian
Supreme Court rejected such a trial, saying Mr Sharon had diplomatic
The Belgian parliament has since restricted the scope of the
country's war crimes law. Yehia el-Shimi, a lawyer for relatives of
the Libyan plane victims, is looking for a country in which to file
suit, acknowledging ``the situation has become more difficult after
Belgium changed its war crime laws''.
Mr el-Shimi said Egyptian courts could rule on the case because the
plane was brought down on Egyptian territory, albeit then occupied,
but it would be difficult to implement the ruling because of a lack
of appropriate legal agreements between Egypt and Israel _ and
presumably their still cool relations.
Curtis Doebbler, a Washington human rights lawyer who represents
terror suspects held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, said the
families may need powerful allies.
The Lockerbie airline bombing case came to trial, he said, ``not
because citizens brought the case, but because the American and
British governments pushed very hard''.
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