Twelve Years Ago My Children Were Killed in Lebanon

Twelve years ago, my children were killed in the shelling of a United Nations compound in Qana, Lebanon, during a trip to visit their grandmother. The compound was supposed to be a safe haven, a place to take refuge. More than 100 innocent people, almost half of them children, were killed in the attack, and even more were seriously injured, including U.N. personnel. My mother lost her arm.

My country, the United States, has never called for justice or pressed for an official inquiry into their tragic deaths. Even now, as the United States and the United Nations press the investigation into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, dust gathers on the inquiry into the death of my two boys and all the others at Qana that day.

Twelve years ago, two of our children left our home in Dearborn, Mich., to visit my mother in the village where I grew up -- Qana. She wanted to see her grandchildren, Abdul-Mohsen, who was 9, and Hadi, who was 8. She missed seeing them grow up, playing outside, riding their bikes. Abdul-Mohsen dreamt of being a doctor, because he had watched his grandfather suffer with kidney disease and wanted to help the sick. Hadi hoped to be an engineer -- he wanted to fix things, especially cars. Unfortunately their dreams were taken away from them before they could become reality.

The last time I spoke to my sons, they told me that they had to flee with their grandmother from her home because the Israeli army had announced they were going to bomb the area. My mother was old and could not drive, so the closest place to seek safety was the United Nations compound. Like so many other civilians, they sought refuge there. I assured them they would be safe with the United Nations.

Twelve years ago, on April 18, 1996, I was at work listening to the radio when I heard that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had attacked the compound in Qana. I rushed home and frantically called Lebanon. My brother told me the unbearable news: my boys were dead.

A U.N. investigation concluded that it was unlikely the strike on the U.N. compound was a mistake, as the IDF had claimed. The U.N. General Assembly condemned the attack as a violation of international humanitarian law, found that Israel should compensate Lebanon for the destruction, and has repeatedly adopted resolutions calling on Israel to bear the cost to the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon. These resolutions have gone unheeded.

Since that day 12 years ago, I -- along with survivors of the Qana attack -- have sought justice for the many lives lost -- lives of the young and old, of children and grandmothers. We have pled for those responsible to account for their actions. We went to the United Nations, to no avail. We sought justice in the U.S. courts -- unsuccessfully. Three years ago, Qana survivors brought a case with the help of a U.S. human rights organization, the Center for Constitutional Rights, on behalf of the injured survivors and all of us whose children, parents, and spouses were killed in the attack. The suit against retired IDF Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon brought while he was a fellow in Washington, D.C., was dismissed because the court found that Ya'alon was shielded by Israel's immunity. Where do we turn next?

This Friday, like every April 18 since 1996, my family will commemorate the anniversary of the attack along with other families from Qana who now live in Dearborn, Mich., Qana's sister city. We will remember our children, our parents, our loved ones. We will call for justice and for those responsible for their deaths to be held accountable. We will call for Israel to compensate the Qana survivors, in particular the children who lost their parents and need help and support. We would like for everyone to come together to promote peace and call for an end to the killing of children.

Please join us in our call. Twelve years is too long.

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