At approximately 20:30 on 14 January 2009, during ‘Operation Cast Lead’, Israeli forces carried out a drone strike at the house of Ezz Eddin Wahid Mousa Family, in Gaza City.
At the time of the attack, the Mousa family members were sitting in the tin-roofed front yard of their house and had just finished having dinner.
As a result of this attack 6 members of the Mousa family were killed and another member was seriously injured.
Mahmoud Ezz Eddin Wahid Mousa (28) was severely injured in the attack, when several shrapnel from the missile pierced his body.
Among other injuries, Mahmoud sustained several injuries in his right hand and right leg, impairing the nervous system in both the limbs. More than four years after the attack, Mahmoud has still not fully recovered from his injuries, despite having been treated in hospitals in the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
In January 2010, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) filed a civil compensation case before the Israeli court on Mahmoud’s behalf but, on 27 February 2013 the case was arbitrarily dismissed on the grounds that certain Israeli legal provisions, in particular a 2012 amendment to the Israeli Civil Tort Law, absolve the State of Israel of any liability arising from the damages caused by Israeli forces during a ‘combat action’.
“I cannot believe that my case has been dismissed”, Mahmoud explained. “I got the news that my case was dismissed through my uncle, much later, because I was in Egypt at that time. I was receiving medical treatment in Egypt when my case was dismissed. My whole family, my parents, my brother and my sister were killed in the attack and I want to know why. Why did they kill my family? I did not file this case to get money. Money cannot bring back my family”.
When Mahmoud learnt about the Israeli legal provisions owing to which his case was dismissed, he said,
“This is not a law. How can they make such a law? They targeted my family in the attack. We are all civilians, and do not have any connections with militants. This was not a military operation; this was a civilian operation to kill my family. Why can’t they give me any reasons? It feels like my family died for nothing. I want the Israeli judge to tell me what he would do if he were in my place. He should look at the case fairly. If his family was killed in such an attack, he won’t have dismissed the case.”
Tears welled up in Mahmud’s eyes as he said, “I was sure that my case will succeed. It is a very clear case. All of us were targeted without any reason. We were just having dinner. What is wrong with that? They cannot kill us like this.”
Mahmoud expressed his disappointment by saying, “The reason behind this law is that they keep committing crimes against us civilians. They know that they are wrong. My case was valid and it should not have been dismissed like this. This is not right, this is wrong. They know that we are ordinary people who don’t have the money to meet their high court fees. Till when will the world keep silent about such crimes? Till when will they keep killing us like this? What do they want from us? We had to leave our homes because of them, and now when we are trying to build our lives again, they keep killing us.”
To file the case for a review Mahmoud need a huge amount of money but his financial condition is very weak.
Despite being disheartened, Mahmoud hasn’t lost hope, “If someone else was in my place, he would lose all hope. He would give up. But I won’t. I will keep fighting this case, no matter how long it takes. I am not expecting anything new from them, but I still have hope that someone will do justice. If I die before that then I will tell my next generations to fight the case. But I cannot give up my family’s dignity.”
The medical treatment Mahmoud has received so far is insufficient to improve his condition. He explains,
“After the attack when I was taken to the hospital in Gaza, they told me that they will have to cut my right leg to decrease my pain. But I did not want that. My nerves in my right arm and leg were damaged in the attack. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah arranged for me to go to Egypt for treatment. I underwent many operations and surgeries there, and my condition improved. Now, I am at a stage where I can save my leg. The problem is that even in Egypt they cannot sure me completely. The doctors said that I need to go to Europe for treatment, and there are better facilities there. The time is running out and if I don’t get treated soon then they will have to cut my leg. But I don’t have the money for that. I hope that somehow I will manage to get the treatment I need.”
Mahmoud needs to undergo a bone-marrow transplant operation to be able to save his leg, but given the lack of financial support this seems difficult.
After the devastating attack Mahmoud’s life has altered completely, and he has been having difficulties in both his personal and professional life,
“No one here will hire a person whose hand and leg don’t work properly. I tried working with the Ministry of Transport in Gaza as a receptionist for four months, but I could go there only for 10 days every month because I was undergoing treatment. I left later because it was very difficult for me. In Gaza there are so many people who are unemployed. When they can hire a person whose legs and hands work properly, why will someone hire me?” Mahmoud further said, “I was married earlier, but my wife divorced me after the attack. She could not live with me like this. With God’s grace I am engaged again. I want to start a family and lead a normal life. To do this I need to make money, but I am not able to do that because of my condition.”
Following the 2008-2009 Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip (‘Operation Cast Lead’), PCHR filed 1,046 civil complaints (or “damage applications”), on behalf of 1,046 victims, to the Compensation Officer in the Israeli Ministry of Defence.
These damage applications sought compensation for victims following alleged violations of international law committed by Israeli forces. Because the Israeli authorities did not act upon these damage applications, between June 2010 and January 2011, PCHR filed 100 civil cases before Israeli courts, seeking compensation for 620 victims. However, the Israeli legislature (Knesset) and the courts, through legislative amendments and recent decisions, have imposed various legal and procedural obstacles on the achievement of justice for victims.
In dismissing Mahmoud’s case, the court relied upon the 2012 Amendment No. 8 to the Israeli Civil Tort Law (Liability of the State), which exempts the State of Israel of any liability arising from damages caused to a resident of an enemy territory during a “combat action” or a “military operation”.
This amendment, which applies retroactively from 2000 onwards, and specifically in the context of the Gaza Strip from 12 September 2005 onwards, widened the scope of “combat action” by including any operations carried out by Israeli forces in response to terrorism, hostilities, or insurrections, if it is by nature a combat action, given the overall circumstances, including the goal of the action, the geographic location, and the inherent threat to members of the Israeli forces who are involved in carrying out the action.
This amendment disregards the vital question of the legality of these attacks and ignores the damages caused to the victims as a result of such attacks, which can potentially constitute violations of the rules governing the conduct of armed forces during military operations, as prescribed under international humanitarian law.
Amendment No. 8 directly contravenes norms of customary international law, which establish that a State is responsible for all acts committed by persons who are operating as part of its armed forces.
Moreover, as a High Contracting Party to the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Israel cannot be absolved of any liability it incurs in respect of grave breaches or serious violations, which are committed against the civilian population during military operations.
Moreover, the Israeli courts charge an average court guarantee of approximately NIS 30,000 (USD 8,000) from every claimant, and if the case does not reach the trial stage the court withholds this guarantee as ‘defense costs’.
Significantly, these decisions result in a situation whereby victims are financially penalised for having pursued their legitimate right to access to justice by filing civil cases before the courts. The judicial system is being used to provide an illusion of justice, while systematically denying Palestinian civilians their right to an effective remedy.
For more information please call PCHR office in Gaza, Gaza Strip, on +972 8 2824776 – 2825893
PCHR, 29 Omer El Mukhtar St., El Remal, PO Box 1328 Gaza, Gaza Strip. E-mail: pchr[at]pchrgaza.org,