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Palestinian families hope for justice at ICC

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Down an unpaved road near the mosque of Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, Mustafa al-Louh stepped out of his home into the chilly night air.

“There was no reason for them to bomb us,” he told Al Jazeera. “We never threatened the Israeli state in any way.”

During Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza, the Louh family, of which 60-year-old Mustafa is the patriarch, lost nine family members in a single night, including every member of his eldest son’s household. They were killed by an Israeli air strike while sleeping.

Late last month, their case and many others were submitted to the office of the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) by four Palestinian rights groups: al-Haq, al-Mezan, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), and al-Dameer. The family hopes their loss will help to bring charges against the Israeli politicians and military commanders responsible.

The pain of that night has been seared into his memory, Mustafa said.

“It was about 4:30 in the morning, August 20. I was preparing to go to the mosque, speaking to my wife in our home, which was next to the house of my son, Raafat. The Israelis dropped a bomb on his house, entirely without warning,” Mustafa said.

Raafat, a 32-year-old former security officer for the Palestinian Authority (PA) who took to selling vegetables, was in bed next to his wife, Nabila, 28. Raafat’s brothers – Mohammed, 21, and Ahmad, 20 – as well as his two sons and daughter – Mustafa, 11, Maisara, 9, and Farah, 6 – were all sleeping in other parts of the home.

Once the bomb hit, “we rushed outside, trying to scream the names of our children. It was hard, because the air and our faces were filled with debris and concrete from the destruction. There was only a hole where [Raafat’s] home once stood,” Mustafa said.

The scene was catastrophic, he said. They found Raafat dead, covered in heavy slabs of concrete, still on his bed. Mohammed, who had just graduated from the local technical institute with a degree in accounting and business administration, survived the initial blast, but died shortly thereafter. “He hadn’t even picked up his diploma yet,” his father recalled.

As the sun began to rise, the devastation became even clearer. Two of Raafat’s children were flung on top of a nearby roof, and his wife Nabila was found 100m away. “This is what affected me the most, the way the explosion threw them,” Mustafa said with a distant look on his face.

Compounding the family’s tragedy, Nabila was nine months pregnant when she died, and due to give birth any day. “They took Nabila’s body to the hospital and tried to save the baby. He lived for a few minutes after the doctors took him out of his mother.”

Amid the destruction, there was a ray of hope: Wafaa, Mustafa’s 20-year-old daughter, was found alive under rubble. “I had been sleeping, and when I awoke, I was sure I was dreaming. I couldn’t move,” Wafaa told Al Jazeera.

Her father managed to pull her out from under the wreckage, and she was taken to her uncle’s home to be with her mother. “We embraced immediately, and when we let go, her hands were covered in my blood.”

Wafaa suffered a wound to the head that required immediate medical attention. While in the ambulance, she was next to her wounded 17-year-old sister, Iman, who had just finished secondary school with top marks. She died from her injuries the following day.

“It was the worst day [of my life],” Wafaa said.

According to Raji Sourani, an experienced Palestinian lawyer and the founder and director of the Gaza-based PCHR, there are “hundreds of cases” similar to that of the Louh family. “All of them consist of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Sourani told Al Jazeera.

“There is no justice in the Israeli legal system. There are no consequences for these war crimes. This is why we had to go to the ICC, for redress, justice and dignity.”

The process for the ICC to open an investigation, let alone bring charges against any individual, is a long one, and the court has many ongoing commitments. According to the ICC’s website, it has nine “situations under investigation”, along with another eight “preliminary investigations”, including in Palestine. An ICC delegation is expected to visit the occupied territories in February.

Last month, ICC judges rejected prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s closure of investigations into Israel’s 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish-owned ship that formed part of a flotilla sailing through international waters to end the nearly decade-long siege of Gaza. Ten activists were killed in the raid.

Sourani understands the lengthy procedures, and says that the Palestinian rights groups involved in bringing cases to the ICC are prepared. The recent submissions were only the first, and they concentrated on incidents related to the 2014 Gaza war. “We will make three more submissions, focusing on the annexation of land by the Israeli wall, settlements, and the siege on Gaza,” he said.

Israel and the United States are expected to exert political force on the PA and other bodies involved in these proceedings. In January, Israel froze $127m in Palestinian tax revenues after PA President Mahmoud Abbas went forward with a request to join the ICC.

The Israeli government did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

“I don’t care what they think, or what they’ll do,” Sourani said. “No criminal has ever loved a court.” Al Jazeera

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