Gaza doctor sues Israel over 2009 shelling that killed 3 daughters

Izzeldin Abuelaish, now a Canadian, wants Israel to take responsibility for apparent mistaken targeting of his home during Operation Cast Lead

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish (courtesy)
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish (courtesy)

A Gazan doctor who lost three daughters to IDF shelling during 2009’s Operation Cast Lead is suing the state of Israel in a bid to obtain an acknowledgement, an apology and reparations for the deadly fire.

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish’s daughters and a niece were killed when a tank shell struck his Gaza home in the waning days of Israel’s 2008-9 war with Hamas. The Israeli shelling occurred as Abuelaish, a longtime advocate for coexistence with Israel, was speaking with then-Channel 10 reporter Shlomi Eldar on a live broadcast. He found out his daughters had been killed during the broadcast, with Israeli viewers listening as he cried out into his phone.

He moved to Canada soon after the war and is now a Canadian citizen.

His lawsuit, brought before the Beersheba District Court, alleges that there was no military rationale for targeting his home, making the shelling a war crime. No fighting was taking place in its vicinity and no Hamas fighters were located nearby, his suit claims.

According to Channel 10, state attorneys responded to the suit by saying that it was not IDF fire that struck Abuelaish’s home. If the Channel 10 report is correct, the state’s defense appears to contradict the findings of an internal military inquiry that found the shelling was carried out by the IDF, and that his home was targeted by mistake.

Israeli tanks at the staging ground outside Gaza on December 29, 2008, the third day of Operation Cast Lead (Photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/ Flash 90)
Israeli tanks at a staging ground outside Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, December 29, 2008. (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

The damages sought in the suit will 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.

Currently in Israel for the lawsuit, Abuelaish told Channel 10 in a Hebrew-language interview set to be broadcast on Saturday, “I came here to tell my daughters that I did not forget them, and am continuing on the same path that they believed in.”

Last November, Abuelaish accompanied Canada’s Governor General David Johnston on a visit to Israel, where he met Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin.

In the meeting, Abuelaish compared the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a disease that “is destroying the patients. The Israelis are sick with fear due to their history and narrative. The Palestinians are sick with the occupation. How can we grow stronger, in order to live proudly alongside each other? That is what worries me: that instead of becoming close to each other we are drawing apart,” he told Rivlin.

He added: “Each of us suffers from this (ongoing conflict) and time is running out, life is short. God created us to live. We have a responsibility to our children.”

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.

Today Abuelaish is an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. His two oldest surviving children, Shatha — who was gravely wounded in the attack — and Dalal, are studying engineering at the university. His three younger children, Muhammad, Raffah and Abdullah, are in high school and grade school.

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, second from right, with his family after taking the Canadian citizenship oath, Toronto, Canada, December 10, 2015. (Courtesy)
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, second from right, with his family after taking the Canadian citizenship oath, Toronto, Canada, December 10, 2015. (Courtesy)

Abuelaish is an OB/GYN with a masters degree in public health and was the first Palestinian physician to work in Israeli hospitals.

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.

In its report, the IDF said it was “saddened by the harm caused” to the family, but contended that “the forces’ action and the decision to fire towards the building were reasonable.”

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