Gaza doctor's loss grips Israelis
By Lucy Ash
BBC World Service
I first met Dr Izeldeen Abuelaish eight years ago when I made a radio documentary about his extraordinary life and work. A Palestinian obstetrician who specialises in treating
infertility, he lives in the Jabaliya camp in the Gaza Strip, but used
to work part-time in Israel helping Jewish women to have babies. He also had a clinic in Gaza, taught medical school students
there and arranged for seriously ill Palestinian patients to be treated
He put up with the tedious and sometimes humiliating border checks with dignity and patience.
He stayed calm when one of his own Palestinian medical students
told him she was "very, very angry" that he was helping Israelis to
have children."What if these babies grow up to become soldiers who kill our people?" asked the young woman. Despite all the suspicion, the hatred and the barriers Dr Abuelaish continued his work…. In September 2008 he was about to start working for the European
Union in Africa but had to return home after his wife, Nadia, fell ill
with leukaemia. She died soon after his return, leaving him a widower with eight children aged three to 20n
In the middle of the recent conflict, I interviewed Dr Abuelaish for the BBC World Service's Outlook programme. He told me all the glass had been blown out of the windows of
his house, he could hear firing and explosions all around and he was
desperately worried for the safety of his children.
Dr Izeldeen Abuelaish's children in 2001
Then on Friday afternoon, just a day before the ceasefire was announced, his worst nightmare came true. "My daughters were just sitting quietly talking in their bedroom
at home," Dr Izeldeen Abuelaish told me on the phone between sobs. "I had just left the room, carrying my youngest son on my shoulders. Then a shell came through the wall. I rushed back to find their dead bodies – or rather parts of
their bodies – strewn all over the room. One was still sitting in a
chair but she had no legs.
"Tell me why did they have to die? Who gave the order to fire on my house?" In a voice cracked with emotion, he added: "You know me, Lucy.
You have been to my house, my hospital; you have seen my Israeli
patients. I have tried so hard to bring people on both sides together and just look what I get in return."
The victims were Bisan, aged 20, Mayar, 15, Aya aged 13 and the physician's 17-year-old niece Nur Abuelaish. "My eldest daughter was five months away from finishing her
degree in business and financial management. She was looking forward to
the future and I was so proud of her…."
During the recent military campaign, Dr Abuelaish, who speaks
fluent Hebrew, had been acting as an unofficial correspondent for a Tel
Aviv-based TV station, giving daily updates by phone. He was determined to let Israelis know as much as possible about the
suffering of Palestinian civilians under Israel's bombardment. Minutes after the shell hit his house, Dr Abuelaish phoned the station's presenter, Shlomi Eldar, to describe what had happened.
The Israeli journalist looked awkward and visibly distressed as
the doctor's disembodied voice is broadcast crying: "My daughters, they
killed them, Oh Lord. God, God, God." Mr Eldar mobilised his contacts in the Israel military to open
the border and fly the injured girls by helicopter to the Tel Hashomer
Medical Centre, the largest hospital in Israel… Dr Abuelaish's 17-year-old daughter Shadha is recovering there
from an operation which may save her right eye, injured in the blast. Her 12-year-old cousin Daida is in a critical condition from shrapnel wounds.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli military said the incident is now under investigation. "For the time being, all that I can tell you is that our troops
fired on the house because they had come under attack from somewhere in
the vicinity of the house. Possibly a sniper but I can't confirm that,"
the spokeswoman said.
Speaking from the hospital, Dr Abuelaish denied that any militants had been hiding in or firing from his house. "Violence is never the right way. My daughters and I were armed with nothing but love and hope."
Yeah, and there were snipers in the UN compound too. Sure.