Dutch nonagenarian returns Righteous Among the Nations medal after six relatives killed in Gaza

Download Mr Henk Zanoli’s letter

Henk Zanoli, who helped save a Jewish child from deportation to concentration camps, said holding on to the medal would be an ‘insult to the family.’

A 91-year-old Dutch man who was declared a Righteous Among the Nations for saving a Jew during the German occupation on Thursday returned his medal and certificate because six of his relatives were killed by an Israeli bombing in the Gaza Strip last month.

In 2011, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum declared Henk Zanoli and his late mother, Johana Zanoli-Smit, Righteous Among the Nations for having saved a Jewish child, Elhanan Pinto, during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Pinto, born in 1932, was hidden by the Zanoli family from the spring of 1943 until the Allies liberated Holland in 1945. His parents perished in Nazi death camps.

In hiding a Jewish child, the Zanoli family took a double risk, because it was already under Nazi scrutiny for having opposed the German occupation. Zanoli’s father was sent to the Dachau concentration camp in 1941 due to his opposition to the occupation, and he subsequently died at the Mauthausen concentration camp in February 1945. Henk Zanoli’s brother-in-law was executed because of his involvement in the Dutch resistance, and one of his brothers had a Jewish fiancée, who was also killed by the Nazis.

Zanoli’s great-niece, Angelique Eijpe, is a Dutch diplomat who currently serves as deputy head of her country’s diplomatic mission in Oman. Her husband, economist Isma’il Ziadah, was born in the al-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza. The couple has three children. Ziadah’s parents were born in Fallujah, on whose lands the town of Kiryat Gat now sits. His father died in 1987.

On Sunday, July 20, an Israeli fighter jet dropped a bomb on the Ziadah family’s home in al-Bureij. The bomb killed the family matriarch, Muftiyah, 70; three of her sons, Jamil, Omar and Youssef; Jamil’s wife, Bayan; and their 12-year-old son, Shaaban. The bombing thus orphaned Jamal and Bayan’s other five children, four daughters and a son, while bereaving Omar’s two sons and Youssef’s three sons and a daughter of their fathers. The bombing also killed Mohammed Maqadmeh, who happened to be visiting the family that day.

Zanoli, an attorney by profession, heard about the killing of the Ziadah family from his niece. As a way of expressing his shock and pain, he decided to return the medal and certificate that were awarded to him and his mother (posthumously) as Righteous Among the Nations. Because of his age and poor health, he did not do so in person, but sent them by messenger to the Israeli Embassy in The Hague – the same place where he received them in an official ceremony three years ago.

In the accompanying letter, addressed to Ambassador Haim Davon, Zanoli began by describing the price his family paid for resisting the Nazis and their successful effort to save a Jewish child.

“Against this background it is particularly shocking and tragic that today, four generations on, our family is faced with the murder of our kin in Gaza. Murder carried out by the State of Israel,” he wrote.

“The great- great grandchildren of my mother have lost their [Palestinian] grandmother, three uncles, an aunt and a cousin at the hands of the Israeli army … For me to hold on to the honour granted by the State of Israel, under these circumstances, will be both an insult to the memory of my courageous mother who risked her life and that of her children fighting against suppression and for the preservation of human life as well as an insult to those in my family, four generations on, who lost no less than six of their relatives in Gaza at the hands of the State of Israel.”

Noting that Israel’s actions in Gaza “have already resulted in serious accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he continued, “as a retired lawyer it would be no surprise to me that these accusations could lead to possible convictions if true and unpoliticized justice is able to have its course. What happened to our kin in Gaza will no doubt be brought to the table at such a time as well.”

The Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit did not answer Haaretz’s questions as to whether the Ziadah home was bombed by mistake, or if not, who in the house was a target and whether the IDF’s legal department considers the death of six civilians to be legitimate collateral damage. Its response said merely that the IDF invests great efforts in trying to avoid civilian casualties, is currently working to investigate all allegations of irregular incidents and will publish its conclusions after this investigation is completed.

Download Mr Henk Zanoli’s letter