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Israeli court rejects lawsuit by Gaza doctor whose 3 daughters killed by IDF shelling

In this May 7, 2009 file photo, Palestinian Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish speaks as he stands in his children's bedroom in his house in Jebaliya, northern Gaza Strip.
AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File

An Israeli court on Monday tossed out a lawsuit against Israel's defense ministry filed by a prominent Gazan doctor whose three daughters and niece were killed during a 2009 military confrontation between Hamas and Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.

On January 16th, two days before the ceasefire, three of his daughters and his niece were killed after their family home was hit by two separate rounds of IDF artillery fire.

Dr Abuelaish -- a Gaza native who studied in Egypt and the UK before finishing his training in Israel -- was speaking live on Israel’s Channel 10 news at the time, and learned of his daughters' deaths on air, crying his way through an emotional plea for peace, stirring many in the Jewish state.

Dr Abuelaish was an almost daily fixture on Israeli television during Operation Cast Lead, providing rare Hebrew-speaking commentary on events from a Gazan's perspective.

In its ruling Monday, the Beersheba court said that Gaza terror groups bore responsibility for the deaths of Dr Abuelaish's three daughters Bessan, 21, Mayar, 15, and Aya, 14, and their cousin Noor, due to their fighting from within a civilian population and storing weapons in the building where they died.

Dr Abuelaish had sued the state for damages claiming there was no operational justification for the strike on his house which he said posed no danger to an IDF force stationed several kilometers away.

The IDF did everything at the time to alleviate the doctor’s suffering, allowing two of his daughters, also injured in the attack, to be heliported to Tel Ha Shomer. But it refused to admit to any wrongdoing, arguing that the shelling was in response to enemy activity coming from the apartment.

Dr Abuelaish moved to Canada soon after the 2009 war and is now a Canadian citizen.

AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

The Israeli army argued during the case that troops were under fire from positions close to Dr Abuelaish’s home, and that Hamas had ‘spotters’ in the apartment itself. The defense, led by the office of Tel Aviv’s District Attorney, was unable to produce either the gunner or the tank commander who identified the figures in Dr. Abuelaish’s home. The operational diary of the battalion was also unavailable.

The defense also argued that shrapnel found in the victims’ bodies were not from Israeli ammunition, but rather from Qassam-type rockets, indicating that the apartment was likely a cache for Hamas weapons.

Dr Abuelaish dismissed the claim, saying he would not allow weapons to be stored in his house - but the evidence presented by the state was enough for Judge Shlomo Friedlander to reject the case.

Friedlander used the defense’s terms, and talked about the death of the young girls as an unfortunate incident, but one which fell under “legitimate actions of war”, for which the state could not be held directly liable.

“It is deeply regrettable that four girls that were not involved in hostilities were deprived of their lives, but this is a very unfortunate side effect of the criminal organizations' criminal behavior to fight Israel within the civilian population”, the judge added, as reported by Israeli daily Maariv.

“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.”

Dr Abuelaish, reached for comment by news website Mako, said "the truth is that I have lost faith in the Israeli judicial system. I am still weighing what my next steps should be, but my resolve will not be broken."

"Someone from above dictated the verdict to the judge" the doctor said, adding "it hurts me that ten years after the State of Israel is still running away from responsibility,

"If it is true there were terrorists or weapons in my house, why did not they not arrest me, put me on trial?" he said.

If he had won the case, Abuelaish's intention was to open a school named after his daughters in which Palestinian and Jewish children would learn how to live in peace. Now he called on President Rivlin, whom he met as part of a Canadian delegation in 2016, to do the same.


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