The Commission of Inquiry regarding the Hebron Massacre

Background Information

Foreign Ministry

28 February 1994

1. On February 27, following the Hebron massacre, the Government of the State of Israel decided to establish a Commission of Inquiry in accordance with the Commission of Inquiry Law, 5768-1969.

2. According to this Law, a Commission of Inquiry may be established when it appears to the Government that a matter of vital public importance exists which requires clarification. The Commission is unique in that it has the same authority as a court of law. For example, the Commission may carry out an investigation, summon witnesses, compel them to testify, and to issue warrants (search and seizure, arrest, etc.).

3. A Commission is appointed by the President of the Supreme Court, upon the request of the Government. The Commission is headed by a judge of the Supreme or District court, and its members are usually prominent public figures, experts in the matter under review who enjoy personal and public esteem.

In this instance, The members of the Commission established on 28 February 1994 by the President of the Supreme Court, Justice Shamgar, are: – President of the Supreme Court Justice Meir Shamgar – Chairman – Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg – Nazareth District Court Justice Abd el-Rachman Zoabi – President of the Open University, Prof. Menachem Yaari – Former IDF Chief of Staff, Major General Moshe Levi

4. The method of appointment of Commission members ensures that the Commission is completely independent. Members are appointed by the head of the judiciary. The executive branch has no influence upon its decisions. The objectivity of the Commission is ensured and any influence on its workings or members is eliminated.

5. The Government determines the Commission’s terms of reference. In the case now under investigation, the terms of reference of the Commission states that the Commission is to investigate the massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron on February 25, 1994, and will ‘determine its findings and arrive at conclusions regarding the facts and circumstances relating to the massacre’.

6. The Commission is empowered to subpoena witnesses and to compel them to testify or produce documents. It is not bound by regular court procedures, and may admit any matter in evidence. A person attempting to influence the Commission unduly may be charged and imprisoned. The maximum penalty for perjury in testifying before the Commission is seven years imprisonment.

7. As a rule, the Commission holds its hearings in public. It may decide to hold a hearing or part of it in camera if it finds it necessary to do so for the protection of, inter alia, the state’s security, its foreign relations and classified procedures of the Israel Police.

8. Pursuant to the Law, once the investigation is completed, the Commission prepares a report of its conclusions, and may put forward any recommendations it finds appropriate. The report and recommendations are submitted to the Government and thereafter made public unless the Commission is convinced that publication of the report or parts thereof may harm, inter alia, the State’s security, its foreign relations, and classified procedures of the Israel Police.

9. The Commission may recommend steps to be taken against specific individuals, both on a public level (such as dismissal from office), or steps of a legal nature (prosecution). Although its recommendations are not binding, the directions of the Attorney General stipulate that in principle, they must be carried out. The Supreme Court of Israel has determined that as a rule, the Attorney-General must carry out Commission recommendations to prosecute. As for the Commission’s public recommendations, the Government must consider them and take them into account properly when making its decisions regarding the matter.