Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who lost three daughters
when the IDF fired shells at his home during Operation Cast Lead,
will file on Sunday a massive damages claim against the State of Israel.
"I didn't want to file the lawsuit, and until now I didn't want to discuss it," he told Yedioth Ahronoth in a phone interview from Toronto, Canada, where he immigrated following the tragedy. "I tried to take every step that would allow me to close this with love and goodwill, but they didn't leave me a choice. According to the law, the statute of limitations will apply to this case within a few weeks – but there is no statute of limitations on the blood of my daughters. It will stay with me forever. It's a catastrophe that's impossible to forget."
Abuelaish, a Palestinian gynecologist, has worked in Israeli hospitals for nearly two decades. On January 16, 2009, in the height of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF fired two shells into the window of his home, killing three of his daugters: 20-year-old Bessan, 15-year-old Mayar and 14-year-old Aya. His 17-year-old niece Nour was also killed in the attack, and his 18-year-old daughter Shada and other family members were injured. The Israeli public heard the horrifying incident in a live broadcast, as Abuelaish was preparing at that moment for a phone interview with an Israeli television channel.
Abuelaish instructed his lawyer to avoid a lawsuit and reach a settlement with the security forces, which would include recognition and compensation. But no such settlement was reached: The Defense Ministry's legal adviser, Ahaz Ben-Ari, announced this week that Abuelaish does not deserve compensation.
"Despite the severe outcome, from a legal standpoint our stance is that the operation during which Dr. Abuelaish's family members were hurt was an operation of war," Ben-Ari said. "Therefore, the State of Israel does not carry the responsibility for the damage it caused."
Attorney Michael Sfrad, who represents Abuelaish, called the ruling a disgrace. "The Defense Ministry's decision does not only demonstrate cruelty and insensitivity, it also lacks wisdom," he said. "The State of Israel will suffer an immense blow from such a lawsuit, and eventually it will have to pay compensation. I am not just angry as Dr. Abuelaish's lawyer, I am ashamed as an Israeli."
Abuelaish told Yedioth Ahronoth that he has not lost hope for reconciliation and peace. "I wake up in the morning and hear my daughters telling me, 'don't be angry, turn the anger into something positive. Save lives, continue with the message that you brought us up with,'" he said. "I swear to God and swear to my daughters that I will not stop until I meet them and can tell them, 'I brought you justice, and your blood wasn't (spilled) for nothing but changed something in the world.'
"The situation will not change if we don't change something in our heart, thoughts and soul. We need to think of our children and our future," he added. "Palestinians and Israelis are like Siamese twins – attached at the heart and at the head. We must move forward, build bridges and get over barriers. We have no choice."
A Defense Ministry spokesperson said in response that "The Defense Ministry's hearts go out to the family that was stricken by the tragedy. Unfortunately, we can only act according to the law, and we will gladly assist Dr. Abuelaish as much as we can correspondingly."