Israel’s Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an appeal from a Palestinian man who was seeking an apology and compensation from Israel over a 2009 tank strike that killed three of his daughters and a niece in the Gaza Strip.
The ruling appeared to be the final blow to a 13-year quest by Izzeldin Abuelaish to seek justice for what he says was a terrible mistake by the Israeli military. The case has received widespread attention both in Israel and internationally, in large part thanks to the Harvard-educated doctor’s campaign to honor his family through peace and coexistence since the tragedy.
“With this decision, they killed, and they are insisting to kill, to torture, to stab them again and again and again,” Abuelaish said in a phone interview from his home in Toronto.
Abuelaish, 66, was an obstetrician and peace activist well known in Israel even before the strike. He had worked in an Israeli hospital while living in Gaza. During a 2009 war, launched by Israel to end the Hamas terror group’s rocket fire on Israeli border towns, he often gave updates to Israeli media in fluent Hebrew.
But on January 16, 2009, Abuelaish delivered a nightmarish real-time report on Israeli national television.
“My daughters have been killed,” he sobbed into a phone to Channel 10 TV. A journalist listened at the other end of the line as the audio aired live.
The blast from the Israeli strike took the lives of his daughters Aya, 14, Bessan, 21, and Mayar, 15, as well as his niece Noor, 17. Another daughter was severely wounded but survived.
Israel has said the strike was aimed at a Hamas position and says shrapnel from the victims’ bodies was traced to weapons used by Hamas.
In its decision, the three-judge panel upheld a lower court’s 2018 ruling that the military is not liable for wartime actions.
“Our hearts go out to the appellant,” they wrote. However, they said there was “no answer and remedy within the scope of the proceedings before us.”
Abuelaish, a widower and father of five surviving children who moved to Canada after the tragedy, has spoken around the world about the cost of hate and war and tried to preserve the memories of his daughters with a series of peace and education initiatives. He has written a book titled in part, “I Shall Not Hate.”
He visited Israel this month to attend the Supreme Court hearing. He held meetings with Israeli officials, receiving a hug from Israel’s foreign minister, before visiting the girls’ graves in Gaza.
Abuelaish said he had expected a rejection from the Supreme Court but nonetheless called it “disappointing, frustrating.”
He vowed to continue his struggle, though it was unclear what options he has.
“Let me now start to set up the plan,” he said. “I do not want to rush. All of the options are open for now.”