On November 15, the AP reported on the attempt of a beloved Palestinian doctor, Izzeldin Abuelaish to obtain an apology for a terrible tragedy—the 2009 killing of his three daughters (Aya, Bessan and Mayar) and his niece (Noor) by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) who shelled his home in Gaza 13 years ago. As the AP explains,
Abuelaish, who moved to Canada after the tragedy, was a well-known figure in Israel when the strike occurred.
The Harvard-educated doctor and peace activist had worked at an Israeli hospital while living in the Gaza Strip.
During the 2009 war, the first of four between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers, he provided live updates to Israeli media in fluent Hebrew.
But when his home was hit, an Israel TV station delivered a real-time report from a sobbing Abuelaish to Israelis. “My daughters have been killed,” he cried as a journalist listened at the other end of the line as the audio aired live.
What the AP story does not detail is that Dr. Abuelaish’s daughters and niece were killed just hours after he addressed a crowd at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill (a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) by video about the need for “peace and coexistence.” As Pittsburgh’s Rustbelt Radio reported at the time, “[h]e also spoke at length about the dreams and aspirations of his daughters.” Much to the shock of people around the world, his daughters’ dreams and lives would soon be obliterated.
While the IDF claims that the aforesaid killings were a mistake, that they were instead targeting militants, this is of course cold comfort for Dr. Abueliash and the scores of parents who have lost children in similar attacks by the IDF. During the Israeli offensive of 2009 in which Dr. Abueliash’s daughters and niece were killed (dubbed “Operation Cast Lead”) at least 300 Palestinian children were killed. And of course, at least 63 Palestinian children were killed in Israel’s offense on Gaza this past May.
It is Palestinian children who always bear the brunt of such assaults, and the killing of Palestinian children occurs with such frequency that, at a minimum, they demonstrate such a lack of concern for the lives of civilians as to amount to a violation of international humanitarian law which requires an affirmative attempt by armed actors to protect civilians. In other words, to put a finer point on it, these killings amount to war crimes.
Dr. Abuelaish has now traveled 6,000 miles to appear before the Israeli Supreme Court for a simple apology for the killing of his beloved family members. At the same time, Dr. Abueliash, who wrote a book after the killings entitled “I Shall Not Hate,” spends his days preaching peace rather than vengeance. His life story and message have had a huge impact, even in Israel where an expectant Israeli mother, after reading about his story, announced that she has decided to name her baby Aya—after Dr. Abueliash’s own daughter.
But on November 24, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected Dr. Abueliash’s appeal. Dr. Abueliash stated that “With this decision, they killed, and they are insisting to kill, to torture, to stab them again and again and again” in response to the decision.
The reality confronting Palestinians is becoming increasingly grim. To the extent they can survive at all, their lives are a “hell on earth” according to the UN Secretary General. And the US, which funds Israel to the tune of over $3 billion a year, bears responsibility for this. In my own view, we can no longer run from the moral implications of the tragedies which befall the many Palestinians like Dr. Abuelish.
As we approach a holiday celebrating the birth of a child in Bethlehem—now, the occupied West Bank—attention must be paid to the plight of the many children in the Occupied Territories who seem to be abandoned by the world. Dr. Abuelaish’s message calls out to all of us, and especially to those of us in Pittsburgh who have been touched by his message of kindness and forgiveness.
-Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and lives in Highland Park. This article appeared in The Jurist.