Update: As a Father Who Lost His Children in Gaza, I Call for an End to This Bloodshed
The man in the photo below, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, was born & raised in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza. He studied hard and received a scholarship to study medicine in Cairo, then went on to earn a diploma in Obstetrics and Gynecology from the University of London. He subsequently earned a subspecialty in fetal medicine in Europe, and finally a master’s degree in Public Health from Harvard.
Dr. Abuelaish, the first Gazan doctor on the staff of several major Israeli hospitals, had to pass thorough two checkpoints—one Israeli and one Egyptian—every day on his way to work and back. He says these crossings were always fraught with tension and the possibility of humiliation if one didn’t remain calm.
Despite all of this he has long been an advocate for peace. He sent his three eldest daughters to peace camps designed to bring Israeli/Jewish and Palestinian kids together and give them a chance to become familiar with and (hopefully) learn to begin trusting each other. His eldest daughter, Bessan, age 20, had participated in the peace camps three times and wanted to devote her life to peace activism.
In late 2008 Dr. Abuelaish’s wife was stricken with leukemia and soon died, leaving him a widower with eight children—six daughters and two sons, then aged three to 20—to care for.
Having received an offer to teach at the University of Toronto, he accepted the position because, though he loved Gaza, he wanted his kids to have a peaceful place to recover from the loss of their mother. The kids supported their father’s decision and were excited to be moving to a place where, as one of his daughters had once said, “‘rocket’ is just another word for space shuttle.”
On January 16, 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, three of his daughters, Bessan (age 20), Mayar (age 15) and Aya (age 13), along with his niece, Noor (age 17) were killed by an IDF shell fired directly into their bedroom. One daughter had been decapitated; another of the girls was still sitting in a chair, but had no legs; there were body parts all over the room. Others in the house were injured, and another daughter lost her eye.1
According to the Jerusalem Post, three weeks later an IDF investigation found that “the decision to open fire on Dr. Abuelaish’s Gaza house was ‘reasonable’.”
I don’t know how a parent can bear such a thing without going completely mad. Yet Dr. Abuelaish didn’t go mad. He didn’t turn to hatred or seek vengeance. As a matter of fact, he wrote a book titled I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity. I’ve purchased the Kindle version and will read it in rotation with the other books I’ve recently purchased on the subject by Amos Oz, David Grossman, and Robert Friedman.
Oh, I almost forgot: In addition, Dr. Abuelaish established a foundation in memory of his daughters called Daughters for Life. It seeks to help achieve lasting peace in the Middle East by empowering young women through education:
Our awards and scholarships are offered to young women of any Middle Eastern nationality or background, whether Arab or Israeli, and regardless of religious affiliation, whether Muslim, Jewish, or Christian. Our recipients are chosen not only for their academic achievements, often in the face of socio-economic adversity and hardship, but also for their character and commitment to improving the lives of girls and young women in the Middle East. Our goal is to invest in their potential for leadership and foster their success in whatever fields they choose to pursue.
He currently lives in Toronto with his surviving children.
Insanity, as Einstein said, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We Palestinians and Israelis have experienced many destructive wars and the result is always the same: more deaths, more terrible injuries, more bloodshed, more animosity and more hatred. What do we expect to be the result of any war?
After the killing of my three daughters by an Israeli shell in January 2009 I concluded that if my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I accept their loss.The current conflict has led to at least 260 people being killed, more than 1,600 severely wounded, more than 2,300 Israeli air strikes, more than 1,300 rockets fired from Gaza and at least 600 houses and institutions demolished and destroyed. The children of both sides are traumatised and all aspects of daily life paralysed. The Palestinians are under attack while millions of Israelis facing attack are forced to hide in fear in bomb shelters. But the consequences of war go far beyond what we see on our screens. What we don’t see is 10 times what is visible and both sides are suffering.
After the killing of my three daughters by an Israeli shell in January 2009 I concluded that if my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I accept their loss. I promised that I would continue to fight with the only means available to me: wisdom, courage, strong words and meaningful action.
But what I learned from that war that scarred my family so irreparably was that all of us (Palestinians and Israelis) take a defensive position to justify our acts. This originates from fear and from past experience. Only when we start to take responsibility and reconcile ourselves to new thinking will we get a different result. […]
In closing, let me say that it’s being aware that decent people like Dr. Abuelaish and his family exist in places like Gaza that causes me such vexation when people don’t distinguish between between Hamas and the general population, or when they act as if the victims must have somehow been complicit in the harm that befell them and their loved ones.
There are real people in Gaza, decent people who want peace & security for themselves as well as for Israelis, people who love their children every bit as much as any Israeli does (despite what Golda Meir said).
Update July 20, 2014, 1:21 pm ET: Here’s a talk he gave back in 2011, courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia (h/t cat-tikvah):
Update July 20, 2014, 3:41 pm ET:
Interview: Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, do you still have hope after the IDF killed your daughters and niece in Gaza? - Haaretz, 26 July 2010
Report (PDF): So Near Yet So Far: Implications of Israeli-Imposed Seclusion of
Gaza Strip on Palestinians’ Right to Family Life - HaMoked and B’Tselem, January 2014 (related video here)