Youssef Abu Hajaj will never forget the day he lost his mother and sister. In the early hours of January 4, 2009, his family's home near Gaza City was shelled. "My 13-year-old niece was injured so we rushed through the trees and bushes to the Safadi family's home. We were looking for a hiding place a little further from the tanks," he told Ynet.
Then came the incident over which an Israel Defense Forces soldier is slated to stand trial for Operation Cast Lead's most severe violation, and is likely to face charges of manslaughter.
Hajaj said residents of the neighborhood were instructed to evacuate the area in the afternoon. "My sister Majda and Ahmad Safadi, the man who we were staying with, were waving white flags that were cut from sheets. We walked some 400 meters and then we were fired at.
"We fled again in the direction of the Safadi family home, but some 300 or 400 meters later, as we were returning in a group of 27 people, half of which were children – they opened fire at us again."
He said his 35-year-old sister Majda, who was carrying a white flag, was hit in the shooting. "The fire was so intense that we had to leave her behind. My mother shouted, 'Majda has fallen, Majda has fallen'. We prayed for her and kept going. Some 100 meters on there was another blow of fire, and this time, the bullets hit my mother Raya, 64-years-old, in her chest. She collapsed and we were forced to leave her behind as well."
Hajaj said there was nothing unusual about their movement. "We were in a completely open area, but they still opened fire. We returned to the Safadi family's home until the end of the war, and all attempts to coordinate the removal of the bodies were unsuccessful. Only at the end of the war, over two weeks afterwards, did we bury my mother and my sister."
Soldier says felt threatenedTestimonies published by the B'Tselem organization of this incident, as well as others, led to a line of inquiries of soldiers and officers. S., the Givati Brigade combat soldier who opened fire at the group in question, was questioned by the military police only in 2010, and appeared to explain the incident as a threatening situation endangering the lives of the soldiers, though he said he fired at the victims' lower body.
About two months ago the military advocate told the soldier that before the case was decided he would be entitled to a hearing. However, the case was described as a "killing", indicating the advocate's intention to indict the soldier for a serious offense, though it is possible that a milder indictment may be submitted in the end.
Because of the sensitivity of the case, the military police will be present during the hearing. Military sources said to Ynet that it is a complex case that requires thorough investigation. They noted that the case had been handled with no regard for the allegations in the Goldstone Report.