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Shattered Lives in Gaza
The father of the family, Jamal Mahmoud Yassin al-Dalu, was praying when the missile struck. It was the afternoon of November 18th, the fifth day of the Israeli attack against Gaza misnamed “Operation Pillar of Defense”.
Jamal’s wife, Tahani Hassan al-Dalu, 52 was at home preparing lunch. His grandchildren, ages 1, 4, 6, and 7 were playing with their toys, waiting to eat. Also in the house were Jamal’s 73 year old sister, his two daughters, 16 and 25, his son, 29 and his son’s wife, 25. All 10 were killed at once. Three generations of a family wiped out in a single event: five children, 4 women and the father of four of the children.
Two neighbors in an adjoining building, 75 year old Ameena Matar al-Mauzannar and 19 year old Abdullah Mohammed al-Muzannar, were also killed, crushed by collapsing walls.
Two weeks later, there was a vigil with neighbors, friends and family of the 12 victims of the attack. Children stood with candles on the ruins of the home remembering their loved ones who were killed.
Jamal did not speak much at the vigil. Silently he gestured to show how the missile had dropped. Then he waved his hands to indicate erasure. Nothing. Gone. He turned his back on the ruins of the house where so much of his family had been lost and crossed his arms, staring up at the sky.
His son Ahmed was there with him. Ahmed had flown in from Turkey, where he lives, as soon as the attack was over. With indescribable anger and pain he lamented,
“My mother, gone. My sisters, gone. My brother, gone. My aunt, gone. My sister-in-law, gone. My nieces, nephews, all gone. Why did they do this? For what?”
His face red, tears welling in his eyes he recounted with eloquent rage how he had learned of the death of his whole family. How he had woken up in the hospital after hearing the news, hysterical with grief. How he had tried to deny it, explain to himself and others how it could not be true.
Even through all that has happened to him, all that he has lost, Ahmad Dalu has not resorted to religious hatred. He does not blame the Jews he said; he knows that they are not the same as Israel. He blames the governments of Israel and the US. “Obama has blood on his hands,” he said.
It was in fact a US made F-16 that the Israeli government used to target the Dalu family. The highly accurate F-16 fighter jet was used throughout “Operation Pillar of Defense” by the Israeli Defense Force to hit civilian targets. Between 2000 and 2009, the United States government provided and paid for more than 93 F-16D fighter jets at a cost of 2.48 billion dollars.
As for the targeting of the Dalu family home, the Israeli Defense Forces said they were “looking into” the Sunday afternoon air strike. According to an article in the NY Times, the Israeli Army spokesperson said “the target had been a man ‘in charge of rocket launching’ from the neighborhood, and that 200 to 300 rockets had been fired at Israel under his command in recent days, but it was unclear whether that man even lived nearby.” The IDF has produced no evidence that such a fighter was ever at the Dalu home.
The street where the house stood is a narrow one, in the center of highly populated Gaza City. The impact of the missile, in addition to the lives it took, caused all the windows across the street to blow out and many inside doors to break. In the home directly across from the Dalu’s a 10 square foot section of wall was drawn forward out of the rest of the house. The family in this home survived only because they were in a back room, farther removed from the blast. A car parked in front of their building was flipped forward and across the street, coming to rest crumpled up atop a 10 foot mound of rubble that had been the Dalu home.
Customary international humanitarian law, codified in the Hague Convention IV, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and in Protocol I of the Fourth Geneva Convention requires that “in the conduct of military operations, constant care shall be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects.” Absolutely prohibited is an attack on a civilian residence unless evidence is available to the commander of the operation showing that the house is being used for a military purpose, that attacking the house is the only way to accomplish the military objective, and that the anticipated loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian property would not be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the attack. Failing any one of these requirements the commander must not authorize the attack or must cancel the attack.
In addition, the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits collective punishment: “No protected person [a civilian] may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.” Thus, even if rockets were fired from the area, Israeli forces are prohibited from inflicting punishment on members of the civilian population. They are forbidden from using collective terror as a deterrent.
Gaza City is a thriving metropolis, very closely packed together. Two weeks after the eight day Israeli attack, things seem to be somewhat back to normal, with cars, motorcycles, donkey draw carts, and people everywhere. Littered throughout the city, however, are the reminders of what those eight days cost: a house embedded with shrapnel, an apartment with a floor missing or an entire building reduced to ruins. These scenes of destruction are not everywhere. They are spread out.
For eight days people here listened to the constant buzzing of drones in the sky and the periodic explosion of bombs, having no idea where the next bomb might fall. They could have no confidence that Israeli political and military leaders were targeting based on principles of international law. They had nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Gaza had no safe place at all. An entire society lived in terror, fearing that they might be the next target that an Israeli spokesperson would say the IDF was “looking into.”
The day after the Dalu family massacre, IDF attacks on civilians and civilian property continued as if no “mistake” had been made the day before. One such attack was perpetrated in the town of Al Nasassra, between Rafah and Khan Yunis, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.
This time the bomb fell on a Bedouin family, refugees from the Negev. Over a low burning fire, in a small low room with walls of corrugated metal, a screen roof and a sand floor, Wallid Al Nasassra recounted the tragedy that had befallen his family.
Wallid’s brother, Teewfiq Mamduh Id Abid, his wife, Amani Ibrm Qader and his 10 children were in their home on the 6th night of the Israeli siege. Some of the children were sleeping. Others were kept awake by the sound of drones which had been in the area every day since the start of the attack. Those who were up were watching TV when, around 10 PM, they heard the sound of a plane. Already accustomed to the sound, they did not imagine that it might be coming for them. But a minute or so later, an Israeli F16 fired a rocket at the tin roofed home, immediately killing two of the children, Ahmed and Mohamad, aged 17 and 19.
Two weeks later, the two parents, Teewfiq and Amani are still in the hospital. Teewfiq has a broken leg, while Amani was blinded in the explosion and is still nursing severe burns. Teewfiq’s son Sakher also remains hospitalized and in critical condition. The family is hoping Sakher can be transported to a hospital in Tunis that can better treat his serious wounds. The other seven children that survived the blast are staying in the house we visited with their uncle Wallid and his family of nine.
Four year old Lama has already had one surgery but will probably need another. Her leg is supported by a long brace with nine thick, eight-inch pins extending up, like pins in a pin cushion, out through a bandage. The pins are holding together her shattered leg bones. Wailing in the orange light of the fire, Lama does not seem like she should be out of the hospital. She and her six year old sister, Fatma, both have raised burns all around their heads. Their nineteen month old baby sister, Sama, is severely burned along her torso and legs.
Wallid says that none of the children have been able to sleep since the rocket hit their home. He himself has been so traumatized that he has not been able to water the olive plants that are their livelihood. Instead he goes every day to visit his brother and sister-in-law in the hospital. His house is just 200 meters from the one that was hit by the Israeli missile and the explosion shattered his windows and cracked his walls. Where his brother’s house had stood is now a 12 foot deep crater. A piece of the rocket is still there, sticking out of the mound of rubble that was their home.
“The resistance fighters did not come here. We would not permit them if they did,” Wallid said. “So why did Israel send a rocket here?”
Why indeed? Israeli political and military leaders who authorized or carried out these and other attacks in Gaza failed to meet the elemental requirements of law. US political and military leaders who provided the weapons and who authorized their use in this assault also failed to meet these requirements. An independent and impartial investigation is needed.
The recent vote in the UN General Assembly to upgrade Palestine’s status at the UN to non-member state removes an obstacle to Palestine bringing its case to the International Criminal Court. In view of this vote, an investigation should promptly be carried out by the prosecutor of the ICC at the Hague. If that route is blocked, the UN General Assembly should vote to establish an International Criminal Tribunal for Israel as a ‘subsidiary organ,’ as provided under U.N. Charter Article 22 to conduct the investigation. If violations of international law are found Israeli and US political and military leaders responsible should be prosecuted.
Massive public pressure is needed to end the system of immunity and impunity enjoyed by Israeli political and military leaders and by their US government sponsors. Without accountability for violations of international law, the law will become mere recommendation and the violations will be repeated. More families like those of Jamal and Ahmed Dalu and Wallid Al Nasassra will be torn apart. More lives will be ruined and more children traumatized and killed. But if sufficient public pressure is mounted to succeed in bringing US and Israeli officials to justice before the ICC or another tribunal, military and political leaders may be inclined to think twice before initiating attacks like the ones that destroyed these and other families in Gaza.
Eva Lewis and James Marc Leas participated in the US and UK emergency delegation to Gaza November 27 to December 3. Eva, from New York City, is a freelance journalist and activist. James, from S. Burlington Vermont, is a co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Free Palestine Subcommittee.