A Palestinian doctor from Gaza who lost three daughters to an Israeli army shell in 2009 visited Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s house Wednesday and preached for coexistence, likening the conflict to a disease that was destroying all those involved.
“Israelis and Palestinians are Siamese twins,” Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish said, according to a report on the Ynet news website. “It is decreed that we must live together. Our future is entwined, one with the other…We must build bridges between people, not put up blockades.”
Three of Abuelaish’s daughters and a niece were killed when a tank shell hit his family home in the final days of Operation Cast Lead in January 2009.
Shortly after the incident Abuelaish emigrated to Canada with his remaining family. He has dedicated his life to advancing coexistence and established a foundation in memory of his daughters named the Daughters for Life Foundation.
On Wednesday he visited Rivlin as part of a delegation accompanying the Governor General of Canada David Johnston.
“The disease is destroying the patients,” he said of the decades-old struggle. “The Israelis are sick with fear due to their history and narrative. The Palestinians are sick with the occupation. How can we grow stronger, in order to live proudly alongside each other? That is what worries me: that instead of becoming close to each other we are drawing apart.”
Furthering his medical analogy, Abuelaish noted that for peace to be achieved, leaders may have to disregard public opinion. “In general the patient is reluctant to undergo an operation. But afterwards he is healed. Why don’t we do that today to spare more blood?” he said.
“The price is high. Each of us suffers from this (ongoing conflict) and time is running out, life is short. God created us to live. We have a responsibility to our children.”
Abuelaish said it pained him to come to Israel without being able to visit his daughters’ graves “because there is no time, because I need permits and because of the barriers here.”
He told the president of his pride at being invited to join the delegation as a Canadian Palestinian. Abuelaish accompanied the group to Jordan and at the end of the week will go with them to Ramallah to visit the Palestinian Authority.
The doctor praised Rivlin, saying that the president “works to bring together different groups within Israeli society. We must bridge the gaps, to find a way to live together as Arabs, Jews, religious and secular.”
The IDF accepted responsibility for killing Abuelaish’s family, acknowledging on February 4, 2009 that a Golani infantry force, under fire and believing it had seen Hamas surveillance “spotters” in the vicinity of Abuelaish’s home, had radioed in a request for tank fire. The IDF, the report said, was “saddened by the harm caused” to the family, but contended that “the forces’ action and the decision to fire towards the building were reasonable.”
For Israelis, the deaths of Bessan, 21, Mayar, 15, and Aya, 14, along with their cousin Noor, put a face to Palestinian suffering during Operation Cast Lead.
Today Abuelaish is an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. His two oldest surviving children, Shatha — who was gravely wounded in the attack — and Dalal, are studying engineering at the university. The others, Muhammad, Raffah and Abdullah, are in high school and grade school.
Abuelaish is an OB/GYN with a masters degree in public health and was the first Palestinian physician to work in Israeli hospitals.