By Nisreen el Shamayleh
A Palestinian doctor is filing a lawsuit against Israel for the death of his three daughters, just a day before the second anniversary of Israel’s war on Gaza. Dr Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish’s daughters were killed during the military assault when Israeli forces fired on his home.
The Toronto Star reports:
A Palestinian doctor who now lives in Toronto has launched a lawsuit against the Israeli state over the deaths two years ago of three daughters and a niece, all killed by Israeli tank fire.
The suit does not name the amount being sought in financial damages, but it is likely to be substantial.
“They forced me,” Izzeldin Abuelaish told the Star Monday.
He was referring to the Israeli defense ministry’s refusal to issue a clear apology or to provide voluntary compensation for causing the deaths.
“I tried during the two years to solve this in a peaceful way. I found no response, even denial.”
The killings, which took place in the waning hours of Israel’s 2009 invasion of Gaza, seized the attention of the world, as a distraught Abuelaish pleaded for help, live on Israeli TV, just moments after a pair of tank shells crashed into his family’s home.
The Israel Defense Force has conceded firing those shells, but government authorities have declined to apologize, calling the incident an “operation of war.”
The second anniversary of the killings takes place on Jan. 16, a date that will also mark the consummation of an Israeli statute of limitations.
After that, no court claims for compensation can be filed, a circumstance that has left the gynecologist with what he sees as no alternative but to sue.
“They forced me to leave it to the Israeli courts,” he said, speaking from the North Toronto home where he now lives with his five surviving children. His wife, Nadia, died of leukemia just four months before the deaths of their daughters.
“A human life has no ‘statute of limitations,” he said. “It is not a machine to be ‘expired.’ My daughters have souls, not a statute of limitations.”
He declined to specify the amount being sought in damages, saying he would leave that to the Israeli courts.
“I can’t put a number on it,” Abuelaish said. “Whatever you would accept, I would accept.”
But none of the money will go into his own family’s pockets, he said. Instead, the funds will be used to support a foundation he has set up to promote health and education for women in the Middle East and to commemorate his family members who died.
They were daughters Bessan, 20, Mayar, 15, and Aya, 13. A cousin, Nour, 14, also died.
Another daughter, Shatha, then 16, lost the sight in one eye. Another cousin, Ghaida, then 14, was badly injured in the attack and is now permanently disabled.
Long an advocate of non-violence, Abuelaish has continued to champion peaceful co-existence among Israelis and Palestinians, even after the tragedy that befell his family two years ago.
During that time, he has devoted much of his energy to lobbying Israeli authorities through informal channels, in hopes of securing a full apology for the killings, as well as monetary compensation to benefit his foundation.
But the answer was no.
“Despite the severe outcome, from a legal standpoint our stance is that the operation during which Dr. Abuelaish’s family members were hurt (sic) was an operation of war,” the Israeli defense ministry’s legal adviser Ahaz Ben-Ari, said recently, according to Israeli media reports. “Therefore the state of Israel does not carry the responsibility for the damage it caused.”
It was this refusal that triggered Abuelaish’s decision to proceed with a lawsuit, and legal papers were filed Sunday with the Jerusalem district court.
The doctor is represented by Michael Sfard, a prominent Israeli human-rights lawyer, who has condemned the defense ministry’s refusal to come to a voluntary settlement with Abuelaish.
“I am ashamed as an Israeli,” Sfard told Israeli media.
Following the deaths of his daughters, Abuelaish accepted an offer to take up a teaching post at the University of Toronto. He recently published a book about his life and his daughters’ deaths, titled I Shall Not Hate.