For more than 35 years of her life, Hala Khreis worked as an Arabic teacher at a local school in Gaza, where he was born and raised.
The 57-year-old Palestinian woman retired from her job a few years ago, and only recently settled in her new home, a dream house, to spend post-retirement life with her children and grandchildren.
But her plans didn’t turn out the way she would have liked. Just when she was trying to acclimatize to the new home and new environment, the Israeli regime launched its genocidal war on the Gaza Strip.
Amid relentless Israeli bombardment, Khreis’ daughter Nour tried for weeks to convince her mother to flee Gaza City for a relatively “safe” Rafah.
The quinquagenarian didn’t want to abandon her home as it was her only sanctuary that she had set up with love and passion. It was the home she had dreamed of all these years.
However, on November 12, Khreis gave in and decided to embark on a journey with her children and grandchildren to the south of the besieged territory. The idea was to escape death.
As the bombardment by the occupying entity intensified, her dream house was also reduced to rubble.
The grandmother started walking with her five-year-old grandson, Tayem, holding his hand as the duo navigated a street littered with rubble, with the toddler holding a white flag in his hand.
Moments later, Kheris lay in a pool of blood, shot by an Israeli sniper. The journey came to an end.
As per the rules of armed conflict enshrined in the Geneva Convention, a white flag “is a flag of truce” for “parlementaires,” a term used for individuals who are authorized to negotiate with the enemy during war ― or for people, both civilians and combatants, who seek protection or surrender.
Amid the genocidal war, which has so far killed more than 26,700 people in the besieged territory, the Israeli army has made a mockery of international law, including the white flag as a symbol of peace.
White flag in pools of red blood
Khreis’ children maintain that an Israeli sniper shot their doting mother in “cold blood” despite them waving a white flag and walking along an evacuation route that had been declared “safe”.
Khreis was leading a group of Palestinians who had been forced to leave their homes by the Israeli military.
In a verified and widely circulated video, Khreis held her grandson’s hand. The small child was waving a white flag when the Israeli soldier opened fire on them.
According to eyewitnesses, the Israeli sniper continued firing shots at the group of displaced Palestinians after killing Khreis, which made it difficult for her family to evacuate her body to a safe place.
Shell-shocked by seeing the blood-stained body of their mother lying on the road, Khreis’s family took the risk of traversing the street to bring the body near their home and hurriedly buried her at the entrance of her home – her dream home, which was in ruins.
The family hopes one day they will be able to go back to their home to give their mother a proper burial.
In another incident shot on the camera of a Palestinian reporter working for a British media network, a middle-aged man, part of a group waving a white flag was shot dead in Gaza by the Israeli forces.
On January 24, Mohammed Abu Safia was interviewing Ramzi Abu Sahloul while he was trying to evacuate his mother and brother from Khan Younis after the Israeli military laid siege on the whole area.
Before that, the Israeli army had asked Gazans to evacuate to Khan Younis, declaring it a “safe zone”.
Once the interview ended, Sahloul joined a group of men waving white flags, attempting to rescue their family after being forced to evacuate their homes.
Minutes later, Ramzi Abu Sahloul was shot in the chest, breathing his last on the spot.
In the viral video, Sahloul’s son Mohammed is seen screaming as his father lies lifeless on the ground.
Only moments before his life was cut short, the 51-year-old had in his conversation with the reporter stressed that there were no safe places in Gaza.
Abu Sahloul was a resident of South Gaza who would sell children’s clothes to earn a living.
Brothers, with a white flag, die in each other’s arms
In another heart-breaking picture that went viral on social media, two brothers, barefooted, could be seen lying in the middle of the street, in each other’s embrace, with blood oozing from their heads.
The brothers, one of whom was a minor, were shot dead by the Israeli occupation forces. They were holding a white flag when they were shot dead.
Euro-Med Monitor quoted an eyewitness as saying that on January 25, between 10:30 and 11 a.m., 14-year-old Nahed Adel Barbakh left his home near Al-Amal Neighbourhood School, holding a white flag in his hand.
He was leading a group of his family members, who were getting ready to leave their home after receiving evacuation orders from the Israeli army to head towards Al-Mawasi.
While attempting to cross the street, the child was immediately hit by a gunshot to his leg and fell to the ground, about three or four meters from his house, the rights group stated.
The 14-year-old Adel Barbakh tried to stand up even after receiving bullet injuries, however, the Israeli snipers stationed at nearby buildings shot the child again. The young boy tried to stand again to call for help and this time the regime’s military personnel directly fired into his head, killing the teenager instantly.
Seeing Nahed lying in a pool of blood, his elder brother, 20-year-old Ramez rushed to rescue his younger brother. The moment he reached near Nahed, he was also shot by the Israeli sniper.
Losing balance, Ramez tumbled over his younger brother. The two brothers remained in the middle of the road, unable to move their bodies fearing the Israeli snipers.
Euro-Med Monitor highlighted that its preliminary probe and eyewitness testimonies indicate that Nahed was entirely visible to the Israeli sniper before his killing, and posed no danger to Israeli forces.
It was clear that Nahed was a child, and was walking on a street commonly used by residents fleeing the area after receiving repeated Israeli evacuation orders, the human rights organization added.
The family was displaced from their home in Al- Amal neighborhood of Khan Younis.
“These findings indicate that the two brothers’ killing was premeditated and unnecessary, given that they did not pose a threat to the Israeli military and that the bullets targeted parts of their bodies that resulted in their swift death,” Euro-Med said in its report.
A video shot on November 10 documents one more incident where regardless of waving a white flag to indicate peace, a resident of North Gaza was brutally shot and killed by the Israeli army.
Palestinian journalist Rami Abu Jamous decided to record his family’s displacement from North Gaza, trying to escape the horrendous airstrikes by the regime.
His video chronicles the painful death of Abu Jamou’s neighbor Abu Ahmed’s son, who was carrying a white flag while walking through the route “deemed safe” by the regime’s military towards south Gaza.
“I told you, my son, we should have just stayed at home,” the grief-stricken father could be seen saying to the lifeless body of his son lying on the street, with him still holding the white flag in his hand.
Reaction of human rights organisations
“Israeli army forces continue to intentionally target civilians, carrying out premeditated murders and arbitrary extrajudicial executions,” Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement.
The group said that the crime where civilians holding white flags are killed mercilessly acts as further evidence of Israel’s widespread, systematic, and unjustified targeting of Palestinian civilians, pointing to a pattern of the premeditated murder and extrajudicial execution of defenseless civilians in Gaza, all of which fall within the framework of the genocidal war being carried out by Israeli army in the strip.
Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, in a social media post described the incident of the killing of Ramzi Abu Sahloul as “a televised war crime”.
“What kind of justification can be found for the killing of someone waving a white flag? From that distance? What kind of danger were those people posing? They were just talking to some journalist,” she wrote.
The Norwegian Refugee Council regarded the white flag murder incidents as “evidence of a war crime”.
The chairman of the council, Jan Egeland said the video of a 51-year-old Palestinian man being “killed despite waving a white flag is absolutely shocking, civilians have to be protected, and it’s not debatable” as the international law is very clear.
The regime’s forces have targeted Palestinians in Gaza waving white flags in the past also.
In 2009, seven incidents were documented in which Israeli soldiers shot and killed 11 Palestinian civilians, who were in groups carrying white flags.
Among the victims were five women and four children.
On December 16, the regime in line with its Hannibal directive killed three Israeli captives in Gaza’s Shujaiyya neighborhood, who were carrying white flags and shouting in Hebrew.
By Humaira Ahad