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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tragic Gaza doctor preaches peace

From The Toronto Star:
In January, during the final hours of Israel's three-week war in Gaza, a pair of Israeli tank shells blasted through a bedroom on the third floor of the Abuelaish home in Jebaliya, north of Gaza City.

Never fully explained, the strike ended the lives of three of Abuelaish's daughters – Bisan, 20, Mayar, 15, and Aya, 13. The shells also killed their cousin, Nour, 14, and badly injured another sister, Shatha, then 16, as well as another cousin, Ghaida, 13.

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Distraught and desperate, Abuelaish contacted Israeli TV journalist Shlomi Eldar on his cellphone, and his frenzied pleas for help were broadcast live across Israel on Channel 10 and soon circled the globe via YouTube and other video websites.

In the eyes of much of the world, this carnage, combined with a father's very public anguish, promptly became the central symbols of the three-week Israeli invasion of Gaza, which killed some 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Eldar was able to arrange clearance into Israel for the doctor and the wounded.

After a frantic journey out of Gaza, the party found themselves at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, where the injured girls received medical treatment of the highest quality and where the paradoxes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, never scarce, seemed only to multiply.

Here, after all, were two innocent Palestinian victims of Israeli firepower undergoing treatment for their wounds in one of Israel's finest hospitals, while Abuelaish preached a fervent message of peace – a message he continues to communicate.

He stubbornly refuses to submit to the anger he surely must feel.

"This anger is not leading anywhere. I don't want any bad feeling to control me and dominate."

Instead, taking advantage of the notoriety that has inevitably come his way, Abuelaish continues to promote peace to Jews, Arabs and anyone who will listen – as many seem eager to do.

Public-speaking engagements crop up several times a week, and he is under contract with Random House of Canada to write a book about his experiences and the Middle Eastern conflict, which has shaped so much of his life.

Before the deaths of his daughters 10 months ago, Abuelaish had received an offer of a teaching and research post at the University of Toronto, and it was while he hunkered down in Gaza during the war that he decided to accept.

The family landed in Toronto on July 22, a day after leaving Gaza.

Now his business cards identify Abuelaish as the Michael and Amira Dan Professor in Global Health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

His contract is good for an initial period of five years and comes with a house, an office, a research assistant and a Chevrolet minivan.

Abuelaish says he intends to lecture graduate students on the intertwined themes of peace and health.

"I am against any violence, from both sides," he says. "I am against violent action, against rockets. I fully believe this is futile."

With a hard-line, security-conscious government in Israel, and with Palestinian leadership split between the inflexible militants of Hamas and a demoralized Fatah, many observers consider the prospects for peace in the Middle East to be near their lowest ebb ever. But Abuelaish is not among them.

"I am optimistic. We must take action to bridge the broken trust."

Notice that his new job is funded by a noted Jewish philanthropist who also has close ties to Haifa University.

(h/t ehwhy via email)