Court rules against Gaza doc who sued over IDF shelling that killed 3 daughters

Izzeldin Abuelaish wanted an apology and reparations for the deadly 2009 incident; justices find deaths stemmed from terror groups’ fighting from within civilian population

In this May 7, 2009 file photo, Palestinian Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish poses for a picture with his children in his house in Jebaliya, northern Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)
In this May 7, 2009 file photo, Palestinian Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish poses for a picture with his children in his house in Jebaliya, northern Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

An Israeli court on Monday ruled against a Gazan doctor who filed a compensation suit against the state over the death of three of his daughters in IDF shelling during 2009’s Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.

The Beersheba District Court said in its decision that it was terror groups that bore responsibility for the girls’ deaths by fighting from within a civilian population and storing weapons in the building where they died.

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish’s daughters and a niece were killed when two tank shells struck his Gaza home in the waning days of Israel’s 2008-9 war with Hamas. The Israeli shelling on January 16, 2009, occurred as Abuelaish, a longtime advocate for coexistence with Israel, was speaking with then-Channel 10 reporter Shlomi Eldar on a live broadcast via telephone.

He found out his daughters had been killed during the broadcast, with Israeli viewers listening as he cried out into his phone.

A controlled explosion of a Palestinian house is seen as IDF tanks move inside the Gaza Strip, as seen from the Israel side of the border, January 16, 2009. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)

For Israelis, the deaths of Bessan, 21, Mayar, 15, and Aya, 14, along with their cousin Noor, put a face to Palestinian suffering during Operation Cast Lead.

Justice Shlomo Friedlander said in his ruling that IDF shells hit the building in the midst of a battle in the area because figures on the roof the building were suspected of acting as lookouts for terror groups and directing fire at IDF forces. In addition, he said, there was evidence that secondary explosions were apparently cause by weapons stored at the site, albeit without Abuelaish’s knowledge.

“It is regrettable that the four children who were not involved in the fighting lost their lives,” Friedlander said. “However, this is a very unfortunate side effect of the criminal practice of the terrorist organizations to fight Israel out of a civilian population.”

“In the whirlwind of war — mistakes and incidents are expected,” he continued. “When the war is carried out of a civilian population, the mistakes may harm the lives of civilians, as unfortunately happened in our case.”

Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish in his house in Jebaliya, northern Gaza Strip, May 7, 2009. (Khalil Hamra/AP)

A defense attorney for the state had in the past told the court that fragments of munitions extracted from the bodies of those killed or injured in the incident “had chemicals and black powder on them which were unequivocally consistent with the weapons found in the use of Gaza terror groups.”

Abuelaish’s lawsuit claimed that there was no fighting in the area and therefore no military rationale for targeting his home, making the shelling a war crime.

He had promised that any damages won in the suit would go to the Daughters for Life Foundation, founded by Abuelaish in memory of his daughters, which helps fund academic scholarships for Middle Eastern women, including both Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians.

The IDF accepted responsibility for killing Abuelaish’s family, acknowledging on February 4, 2009, that a Golani infantry force, under fire and believing it had seen Hamas surveillance “spotters” in the vicinity of Abuelaish’s home, had radioed in a request for tank fire.

Abuelaish moved to Canada soon after the war and is now a Canadian citizen. In November 2016, Abuelaish accompanied Canada’s Governor General David Johnston on a visit to Israel, where he met Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin.

More than 1,400 Palestinians, roughly half of them civilians, died during the Israeli-Hamas war between December 27, 2008, and January 18, 2009. Thirteen Israelis, including 10 soldiers, were killed.

Israel said the conflict was a response to hundreds of rockets launched by Hamas at Israeli population centers. Hamas has vowed to destroy Israel.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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