Gaza father stonewalled in search for justice

Muhammad al-Hadidi with his son Omar, the only one of five siblings to survive Israel’s May 2021 attack on Gaza. 

Omar Ashtawy APA images

The experience of Muhammad al-Hadidi illustrates how there is no way for Gaza’s people to obtain justice.

Muhammad’s wife and all bar one of his children were killed during a major Israeli attack last year.

After the massacre, Muhammad examined the possibility of filing a lawsuit against Israel.

He soon came to the conclusion that any such lawsuit would be futile. Lawyers informed him that if he wished to sue Israel, he would have to petition that state’s high court.

“I do not trust Israel’s courts,” he said. “They will not hold to account Israelis who believe in killing Palestinians. It is irrational to expect that they would.”

Muhammad also asked lawyers and human rights groups if the International Criminal Court could investigate the crime that Israel committed against his family. For that to happen, Muhammad was told he would need support from the Palestinian Authority, a party to the ICC’s founding charter, the Rome Statute.

While some PA representatives promised to help Muhammad approach the ICC, he complained that the representatives have not kept their promises. “I found that the road was full of obstacles,” he said.

The stonewalling he has encountered makes it all the more difficult for Muhammad to cope with the loss of so many family members.

Death without warning

On 15 May last year, his wife Maha and their five children were staying overnight with the family of Maha’s brother Alaa Abu Hatab in Gaza City’s Beach refugee camp.

Without issuing any warning, Israel fired a number of missiles at the family’s home. Alaa’s wife Yasmin and four of their children were killed as a result, along with Maha and four of her children.

The sole survivor in Muhammad’s family was his son Omar, then a 5-month-old baby. Omar was found lying on his mother’s body.

“The human mind cannot comprehend how a massacre like this can happen,” said Muhammad.

As soon as he heard about the incident, Muhammad rushed to Alaa Abu Hatab’s home.

“The rubble from the building was still hot,” he said. “And there was black smoke coming out of it. I saw the ambulance and civil defense crews. And just as I arrived the body of my son Suhayb was found – in pieces.”

Muhammad was left in no doubt that his family had almost entirely been wiped out. A tiny bit of solace was provided when he went to al-Shifa hospital and heard that Omar was still alive.

One year on, Muhammad spends a great deal of time inside his small home in Beach refugee camp.

Holding Omar, he walks up and down, constantly looking at the photographs of his dead children – Suhayb, Yahya, Abd al-Rahman and Osama.

Muhammad has made few alterations to his home since the horrors of 15 May 2021.

The Israeli attack occurred during Eid al-Fitr. Muhammad has still not taken down the decorations for Ramadan, the month of fasting which precedes Eid, last year.

He recalled how his children were excited by Eid al-Fitr last year. “They were so happy that they were going to their uncle’s house,” he said.

Another Ramadan and another Eid al-Fitr have passed since then. Muhammad avoided the celebrations this year as he found them too painful.

He did not hold even one iftar – the meal which ends each day of fasting during Ramadan.

In total, more than 250 Palestinians were killed, including at least 67 children, during the May 2021 attack.

It was the fourth major Israeli offensive against Gaza since December 2008.

Double standards

Israel’s judicial system has not held the state’s military accountable for atrocities committed in that period.

One of the most widely reported incidents during a large-scale Israeli attack on Gaza in 2014 involved the killing of four children from the Bakr family, who were playing football on a beach.

After a military investigation into that massacre was closed, the Bakr family petitioned Israel’s high court. Not only did the court refuse to order that the probe be reopened, it tried to justify the killings by accepting Israeli military claims that the children were close to a shipping container which Palestinian resistance groups used for storing weapons.

Last year, the International Criminal Court approved the opening of an investigation into the situation in Palestine.

Karim Khan, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, has mainly been silent about the Palestine dossier – although he has met senior figures in the Palestinian Authority.

While the ICC has dragged its heels on holding Israel accountable, Khan took the first step required to investigate Russia just four days after it invaded Ukraine in February.

The flagrant double standards on display here will surely exacerbate the suffering of Gaza’s bereaved parents.

Ola Mousa is an artist and writer from Gaza.