Palestinian families seek justice after 2012 assault on the Gaza Strip killed more than 100 civilians.
November 16, 2013
Ahmed Jamal al-Dalu's life changed in an instant last November. Nothing has been the same for the 29-year-old since an Israeli warplane dropped a bomb on his family's three-storey home in Gaza City, killing ten members of his family.
"We never expected that one day our home would [be attacked]," Dalu told Al Jazeera over the phone from Gaza City. "We didn't expect that my mother, my sister, my brother, his wife, his childrenů they would go like this in one second."
The Dalu family home was completely levelled by an Israeli air strike on November 18, 2012, during the last major Israeli military offensive into Gaza, dubbed "Operation Pillar of Defence". Ten members of the family - five children, four women, and the father of four of the children - were killed along with two neighbours, while nine others were injured. Only Ahmed's father, Jamal, and his younger brother, Abdallah, survived because they were not in the house when the bomb struck.
Ahmed was studying civil engineering in Turkey when the attack happened. A friend called to tell him the news, and he said he spent two days in a Turkish hospital for shock before rushing back to Gaza. "[My friend] called me and he told me there is an Israeli airplane that attacked your home by F-16 bomb. When I heard that, I didn't believe it. I called our home but no one answered," he said.
Human Rights Watch called the bombing "a clear violation of the laws of war". It was the deadliest single attack during the entire Israeli operation.
Now, Ahmed says, "my little brother needs care, and my father also needs a lot of support. I'm feeling like I became the father and the mother and the sister for both of them. I'm trying to make them forget, but we cannot forget."
'Threat of death'
The Israeli military offensive on Gaza began on November 14, 2012 with an air strike that killed Ahmed Jabari, a top Hamas military commander, in Gaza City. The Israeli army later posted on Twitter: "Ahmed Jabari: Eliminated". Israel justified the eight-day assault as a response to rockets fired from Gaza on southern Israeli cities.
Yet human rights groups documented several cases of indiscriminate Israeli shelling of civilian areas, and accused Israel of severe violations of international law. Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with 1.6 million people crammed into just 365 square kilometres. For its part, Israel said armed Palestinian groups often launched their attacks from civilian areas, "creat[ing] particular operational difficulties for the IDF commanders responsible for making targeting decisions in such a challenging environment".
A ceasefire was declared on November 21, after an Egyptian-brokered agreement set out terms to end Palestinian rocket fire and slightly ease Israeli restrictions on Gaza. But the damage had already been done.
"Palestinian civilians lived under extreme fear and threats to their lives due to direct attacks on civilians and their property throughout the Gaza Strip. There was no safe place and the threat of death was felt by everyone with no exceptions," read a statement issued by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR).
According to PCHR figures, 171 Palestinians were killed in eight days. Sixty percent of them - or 102 people - were civilians, including 35 children and 14 women. Another 625 civilians were injured. Six Israelis were killed during the fighting, including four civilians.
Gaza's infrastructure was also heavily damaged: 126 houses were completely destroyed, and schools, mosques, cemeteries, health and sports centres, and media institutions were also hit, among other structures. It was the largest Israeli military operation into the besieged Gaza Strip since "Operation Cast Lead", the December 2008-January 2009 Israeli offensive that killed 1,419 Palestinians.
After the dust settled, the Israeli Military Advocate General (MAG) denied a request to open a criminal inquiry into the killing of members of the Dalu family.
An MAG investigation found that the attack was aimed at "a senior terrorist operative and several other terrorists". The report, released in April 2013, called the Dalu family members' deaths "unfortunate" but said steps had been taken to reduce the chance of harming civilians.
"Various precautions had been taken in order to reduce the possibility of collateral damage to uninvolved civilians in the course of the attack," said an Israeli military spokesperson, "including the choice of ammunition used, and that the operations staff had not foreseen that as a result of the attack, collateral damage would be caused to uninvolved civilians to the extent alleged. In light of these findings, the MAG found that the incident does not raise suspicion of the commission of a criminal offense... As a result, the MAG decided that there was no basis to open a criminal investigation or to take any additional measures."
PCHR has criticised what it says is Israel's lack of accountability. Of the 1,046 complaints submitted by the group to the Compensation Officer of the Israeli Ministry of Defence from 2009-12 urging Israel to initiate civil claims on behalf of Palestinian victims of the Israeli military, PCHR received only 16 replies related to 26 cases.
"One year passed [since Operation Pillar of Defence] and there is no accountability and there is no [Israeli intent for] accountability," PCHR Director Raji Sorani told Al Jazeera, pointing to amendment eight to Israel's civil tort law, which exempts Israel from liability for damages caused to a resident of enemy territory during "combat action".
"This leaves no doubt whatsoever that even the slight opportunity left [to take Israel to court] has been deleted entirely. It's one more drastic, legislative and legal setback. [It's] intentional by the state of Israel, blocking the system for Palestinian victims," Sorani said.
For his part, Ahmed says he doesn't expect justice to come from an Israeli court. "What do they want from Gaza? What do they want from these people? Why are these people paying? They are paying and they will pay again."
'Nothing has changed'
On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited an Israeli army unit near the Gaza border to mark the anniversary of last year's operation, which he credited with lowering rocket fire from the Gaza Strip by 98 percent.
"In the end, this deterrence is achieved by the enemy's knowing that we will not tolerate attacks on our communities and our soldiers, and that we will respond in great strength. This is the foundation of our deterrence," Netanyahu said, according to a statement released by his office.
But for Ahmed, who just had his first child, Israeli justifications for the attack that killed most of his family are too little, too late. "When my son will ask me, 'where is my grandmother?', what I can tell him now?"
"After one year that this happened, nothing [has] changed in Gaza for us, for our family," said Ahmed. "Nothing [has] changed. The situation is getting worse - not for us only, but all the Palestinian people."