Can anyone explain why Israel denies Izzeldin Abuelaish justice?

Can anyone explain why Israel denies Izzeldin Abuelaish justice?

Can anyone explain why Israel denies Izzeldin Abuelaish justice?
Palestinian Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish sits inside Israel's Supreme Court for a hearing on his demand for an apology from Israel over a 2009 tank strike in Jerusalem, Nov. 15, 2021. (AP/File)
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Every parent’s worst nightmare is losing a child, but to lose three, as well as a niece, while a fourth daughter lies bleeding, severely injured and fighting for her life before your very eyes, must be an excruciatingly painful experience and a heart-rending sorrow that is beyond comprehension.
However, this is exactly what happened on Jan. 16, 2009, to Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who only a few months earlier had lost his wife to leukemia. On that January day toward the end of another hellish war in Gaza, an Israel Defense Forces tank fired two shells at the family home, instantly killing three of his daughters — Bessan, 21, Mayar, 15, and Aya, 14 —  as well as his niece Noor, 17, while his other daughter, Shatha, 17, was severely wounded but mercifully survived.
Since this tragic loss, Abuelaish has been searching for justice from Israel, but he has been hindered every step of the way, whether by Israeli authorities or the justice system. Last week, after many years, the Israeli Supreme Court slammed the last door that might have led to some kind of reparation, rejecting his appeal for a formal apology and compensation, which had already been denied him by a lower court.
The banality of the justification of the ruling by the three Supreme Court justices must have hurt him almost as much as the killings themselves. While claiming that “our hearts go out to the appellant,” they also took a narrow legalistic view that there was “no answer and remedy within the scope of the proceedings before us.”
Dry, cold and heartless legalistic language in reply to the anguish of a grieving father who, for nearly 13 years, had cried out for one simple thing: Justice for his slain daughters and for those members of his family who survived that wretched day and who will probably relive it every single day for the rest of their lives.
Since it is not disputed that the victims were killed at the hands of Israeli soldiers, while in uniform and serving in the IDF, the request for Israel to take responsibility for the deaths in the form of an apology and compensation is the minimum that might be expected of a state claiming to hold the moral high ground in this conflict. Not surprisingly, Abuelaish responded to the court’s decision by saying: “With this decision, they killed, and they are insisting on killing, torturing and stabbing them again and again and again.”
What was brought before the court by Abuelaish was a civil case, not a criminal one, and the question was not whether the soldiers who fired the deadly shells intended to kill their victims, or even whether their actions were reckless. Those are two different questions and we are unlikely to know the answers any time soon, if ever, as the IDF in most similar cases at best investigates them half-heartedly, with little intention of bringing the culprits before the courts.

If the same thing had happened to Israeli citizens, there would have been legal remedy and accountability, yet when it happens to Palestinians there is complete impunity.

Yossi Mekelberg

The judges may be right and there is no recourse to law in the Israeli justice system for a grieving Palestinian father whose daughters and niece have been killed, though there can have been no victims more innocent than these four. But if this is the case, what does it tell us about Israeli laws and morality? If the same thing had happened to Israeli citizens, there would have been legal remedy and accountability, yet when it happens to Palestinians there is complete impunity.
The Supreme Court upheld a decision by a lower court that accepted the state’s defense that the killing stemmed from an “act of war,” therefore the state is shielded from any claim by the victims and their families. However, regardless of the law, there cannot be a clearer case in which any human being or a country with any sense of morality, humanity or compassion would feel a sense of obligation to apologize and beg for forgiveness.
After all, those killed were not combatants in this war but innocent victims. Aren’t they and their families deserving of, even entitled to, any sort of justice? Wasn’t it the duty of the justices in the highest court of the land to at least question the absence of recourse to law in such a tragedy and ask the Israeli legislature to rectify this?
The avoidable catastrophe that struck Abuelaish and his family epitomizes the ugliness and nastiness of the occupation. Abuelaish was born in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, where he received his formative education before continuing his medical studies abroad.
Moreover, he is the first Palestinian doctor to receive an appointment in medicine at an Israeli hospital and he became a peace campaigner, mobilizing health as a tool for peace, treating both Israeli and Palestinian patients. Israel cannot hide his case behind the usual accusations that his home was a hub of militancy or that his family was being used as a human shield. Hence, in this case “sorry” should not be the hardest word, but the most natural to anyone with the slightest capacity to express sympathy.
Notwithstanding Israel’s policies in Gaza, which are not exactly distinguished by their humanity, in this specific case — and not all these years later but immediately after those terrible killings took place — an apology and offer of compensation should have been made by the Israeli authorities.
Perhaps we should not be too surprised that no such apology has been forthcoming. In all the years that Israel has inflicted so many tragedies on innocent Palestinian families, there is still no government mechanism to express sincere apologies and compensate those victims and their families who are caught up in a war through no fault of their own.
Just imagine that, instead of dragging Abuelaish’s case through the courts, only to eventually deny him justice even there, an Israeli prime minister or senior member of the government had invited him to their office and expressed their sincere sorrow and deepest sympathy. For some Israelis, such an act would have been perceived as an admission of guilt or show of weakness.
However, on such occasions, to show humanity is, more than anything else, an empowering virtue, not a weakness. Acknowledging the suffering inflicted on others might even lead to a wider rethink about relations with the Palestinians. Unfortunately, this argument seems to fall on deaf ears, not only in the Israeli government but in large parts of society too.

• Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media.
Twitter: @YMekelberg

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