Palestinian doctor whose children died in Gaza air strikes takes Israel to court

Izzeldin Abuelaish's case reached Israel's Supreme Court this week

Izzeldin Abuelaish at Israel's Supreme Court in Jerusalem. Photo: Reuters
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A Gaza doctor whose children were killed in an Israeli strike is taking the state to court, saying he has already won the case no matter the verdict.

Sisters Aya, Mayar and Bessan were at home in Jabalia refugee camp, northern Gaza, when they were killed by tank fire alongside their cousin Nour.

Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish has spent more than a decade seeking damages from Israel over the attack in early 2009.

“I appealed to the Supreme Court for an apology, acknowledging the human face of my daughters, and any compensation as [recognition of] responsibility,” Dr Abuelaish said, during a visit to Hadassah Medical Centre, Jerusalem.

After appearing at Israel’s top court this week, he is waiting for a date when the judges will deliver their verdict.

About 1,400 Gazans were killed during the 2008-2009 war, along with 13 Israelis, a UN fact-finding mission said.

Before the conflict broke out, Dr Abuelaish worked during the week as a gynecologist at Israel’s largest hospital, Sheba Medical Centre, and spent weekends with his family in Gaza.

He left the Palestinian enclave months after burying his daughters, who were aged 14 to 21, and emigrated to Canada with his surviving children.

“I don’t want anyone on earth to suffer what I suffered,” he said.

Palestinian boys clean the graves of the three daughters and niece of Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish. AFP

Years after opening legal proceedings against Israel, Dr Abuelaish’s claim was rejected by a district court in 2018.

Judges at the country’s highest court may imminently rule against him, but he remains confident the legal challenge has been worth the financial and mental costs.

“I am winning in the end. I am winning if the court and the judges have the moral, human courage to acknowledge it,” and rule in his favour, he said.

“If not, I am winning. Because this is bad for the reputation of the judicial system in Israel. And it exposes the injustice.”

Israel’s Defence Ministry successfully argued in the lower court that there was “no malicious intent” to aim at civilians.

Describing the killing of Dr Abuelaish’s relatives as an “unfortunate incident”, the ministry said the strike was carried out “during an army operation, for which the state is not liable”.

In a statement, the ministry said ammunition stored within the residential block without the doctor’s knowledge exploded as a result of the strike. The Israeli military fired on the family home because soldiers thought that Gazan militants were using the building as a lookout.

“Mistakes happen, so we need to acknowledge and to take responsibility for these mistakes,” said Dr Abuelaish.

“If there’s no justice here, there’s justice in other places,” he added. Until the Supreme Court announces its decision, the doctor will not confirm plans to seek legal avenues internationally.

Since Dr Abuelaish’s daughters were killed, Gaza and Israel have fought three more wars.

Ruled by militant group Hamas, the coastal enclave has additionally been under an Israeli-led blockade since 2007.

When Dr Abuelaish travelled to Gaza this week, to visit his family’s graves, he saw a worsening situation.

The “Gaza Strip is the largest prison and the largest grave,” he said. A “grave to bury the hopes, the plans, the humanity, the potential of the people.”

Updated: November 20, 2021, 2:24 PM