By Sarah Holewinski, Executive Director of CIVIC
Ask any civilian who has lost a loved one, a limb, or a home in war and they’re likely to tell you they never received anything for their suffering. I’ve always found it shocking that international law doesn’t generally require warring parties to help the people they’ve harmed.
Take for example the family of 60-year old Fayiz Ad-Daya. He was killed along with twenty of his relatives on January 6, 2009, when an Israeli warplane roared over Gaza attempting to bomb a house nearby that allegedly contained a weapons cache. Fayiz’s family was killed instead, with victims ranging in age from four (granddaughter Kawkab) to sixty (Fayiz himself). An Israeli military official admitted it made a mistake in hitting the wrong house and said this “is bound to happen during intensive fighting.”
The Al-Daya family thus joins a long list of millions of civilians destroyed in war. Like so many before them, the surviving members will likely never receive a formal apology or compensation for their losses.
When a similar mistake was made by the US military in Afghanistan back in 2001, they didn’t pay any compensation either to a woman widowed by a missile intended for three miles east. Eight graves are lined up near her home, representing her husband and children. I’ve heard so many stories like this. And then a few years later, the US learned it had to do things differently: a compensation system now exists for “mistakes” and unintended casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. The system doesn’t work perfectly, but making amends to these civilians is the decent thing to do. It is befitting a nation like the US that prides itself on abiding by international laws that obligate respect for civilians (as Israel has claimed it does too).
Plenty of people have a bone to pick with Israel over this winter’s war with Hamas. And by bone I mean serious allegations linking Israeli Defense Forces to war crimes and violations of international laws governing armed conflict. All of the details have to be sorted out — the investigations, witness accounts, military records, photos and media reports. In the meantime, the UN estimates that three-quarters of the population still needs some form of aid. They’re talking about the basic stuff like food, water, shelter and healthcare.
So while the investigators press on and the applicable laws are figured out, here’s an idea: help these people.
Billions have been pledged from donor countries to help Gazans, but Israel has blocked all but a trickle from reaching across the closed borders. Hamas has played a role in the devastation too and Gazans are now being punished broadly (if not intentionally by Israel than certainly by default) for the acts of a few. Israel’s reticence comes from not wanting aid to go to people who will turn around and support Hamas; but who do they think they’re turning Gaza’s children toward by blocking life-saving aid?
If all that seems too daunting, start with the Al-Daya family.