Gaza Israel IDF Palestine
Henk Zanoli is a retired Dutch lawyer who has returned a prestigious war medal in protest over Israel's Gaza campaignHaaretz

A 91-year-old Dutch man who was handed an award for saving a Jewish child's life during the Second World War has returned his medal after six of his relatives were killed by Israel's air offensive on the Gaza Strip last month.

Henk Zanoli was declared Righteous Among the Nations along with his late mother by the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in 2011 for saving Elhanan Pinto during the Nazi occupation of Holland.

Pinto, aged 11, was hidden by the Zanoli family from 1943 until the Allies liberated Holland in 1945, while his parents died in Nazi concentration camps.

Righteous Among the Nations is awarded by Israel to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

The lawyer's great-niece, Angelique Eijpe, is a Dutch diplomat who serves as deputy head of the Dutch diplomatic mission in Oman. Her husband is Ismail Ziadah, who was born in the al-Bureij refugee camp in Gaza.

It was when Zanoli heard the Ziadah family home had been bombed by the Israeli military, killing a mother, Muftiyah, 70, three of her sons - Jamil, Omar and Youssef, Jamil's wife Bayan and their 12-year-old son Shaaban - orphaning their five other children - that he decided to return the award.

"Murder carried out by the State of Israel"

Zanoli was unable to return his medal and certificate in person but sent the award to the Israeli Embassy in The Hague - the same location where he had been given the award in 2011.

He wrote a letter to send with the award that explained his decision. He talked of the incredible sacrifice that his family had to make to resist the Nazis and 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," Zanoli 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."

Zanoli added that Israel's operation in Gaza has "already resulted in serious accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity; as a retired lawyer it would be no surprise to me that these accusations could lead to possible convictions if true".

In response to the bombing of the Ziadah household, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) told Haaretz the Israeli military goes to great lengths in its attempt to avoid civilian casualties and will investigate any allegations of such incidents.