Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish tells the story of the death of his daughters during the Israeli attack on Gaza
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Toronto. On January 16, 2009, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish was at home during the Israeli attack on Gaza. Just two days before the attack ended, a bomb hit his house. He walked into one of his rooms and found three of his daughters dead, his niece dead, and two other daughters badly injured. One year after the bombing, Dr. Abuelaish wrote a book called I Shall Not Hate. In the book he describes his experiences. The Israeli justification for the attack on Gaza was rockets being fired by various groups from Gaza on some of the southern Israeli cities. Not many people were actually killed by these rockets, but the Israelis said it created fear that they wouldn’t put up with, and that became the justification for the bombing of Gaza. Here’s an excerpt from the book. “The rockets–homemade, most often missing their targets–spoke the language of desperation. They invited overreaction by the Israeli army and retaliatory rocket attacks from helicopter gunships that rained down death and destruction on Palestinians, often defenceless children. That in turn set the stage for more Qassam rockets–and the cycle kept repeating itself. Everything is denied to us in Gaza. The response to each of our desires and needs is, “No.” No gas, no electricity, no exit visa. No to your children, no to life. Even the well-educated can’t cope; there are more postgraduates and university graduates per capita here in Gaza than in most places on earth, but their socio-economic life doesn’t match their education level because of poverty, closed borders, unemployment and substandard housing. People cannot survive, cannot live a normal life, and as a result extremism has been on the rise. It is psychologically natural to seek revenge in the face of relentless suffering.” Now joining us is Dr. Abuelaish. Thanks for joining us.
DR. IZZELDIN ABUELAISH, OB/GYN, AUTHOR: Thank you.
JAY: You write here that seeking revenge is natural, but your book’s called I Shall Not Hate. If anyone would’ve had reason to seek revenge and hate, it would be you after the death of much of your family. Talk about what led to writing the book.
ABUELAISH: I was supposed to write the book a few years ago about my experience, about my life experience as a Palestinian refugee, as a child who suffered, that never tasted his childhood, but succeeded to challenge those man-made challenges, as many millions still in this world, children, who are suffering, and then as a Palestinian doctor who practiced medicine in Israel. So there is something that I can tell people. I thought of it three years ago. But as a believer, as a Muslim, everything has its time, and the time to write this book came after awful, terrible tragedy.
JAY: You write in the book. There’s a difference between anger and hate.
ABUELAISH: You know, anger, we need to be angry. Anger is acute, it’s transient, and after some time it subsides. But hate is chronic. It’s a chronic disease. Once we are injected with it, we can’t recover, but we can manage it from time to time. And we need to be angry, in a positive way, to feel outraged, of not accepting what is happening in this world. You feel angry about your son when he is doing something wrong, your friend, your colleague. Don’t do that, because you care about him. And that’s–what do we want, all of us? To feel angry, not to accept, and to act, not just by words or by passion, by emotions. It’s good to show emotions, to show feelings. But as a medical doctor of the patient doesn’t need wars, the patient needs treatment, to be cured, to be freed from the disease.
JAY: During the actual attack in late December and in January, when the Israelis were bombing the city and Israeli troops were there and, we know from the Goldstone Report, committed what according to Justice Goldstone were essentially war crimes. You were actually reporting or being interviewed live on–is–was it Israeli radio or television? Talk a bit about that. And how was that heard by Israelis? ‘Cause you actually were describing what was happening to your house as it happened, if I understand it correctly.
ABUELAISH: During this craziness of the three weeks, the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza, because–the majority of whom are children. Fifty percent of the Gazans are children below the age of 15. It’s human. And no one in this world was listening or watching what is happening there. It was a secret. And I felt we need to transmit, to open the eyes, and to speak loudly. We need someone to speak to know that there is injustice and prejudice, innocent children are killed and suffering, not to watch, to open our eyes about that, and to stop it, because it’s a human life. The most holy thing in the universe is the human being and freedom.
JAY: So talk about–you were live on Israeli–was it Israeli television or radio?
ABUELAISH: I was supposed to be interviewed live at 4:30, and they were waiting in the studio there to interview me. So then my house was shelled. So I called them, I called my friend Shlomi [Eldar], who was always when–he was responding to my help. And luckily–and it was for good, this tragedy–he was in the studio. I called him expecting him to be at his house. So he was there, and to open the eyes of the Israeli public, the international community, the Arabs, the Palestinians, what are we going [sic], and to disclose the secret that this is useless. We are killing innocent children, mothers, old people, and this is not the right way. Military approaches and violence are useless and futile.
JAY: When you were live on–. This is Israeli television?
JAY: And you were on the phone. This was just after the bomb had hit the house?
JAY: As the bomb hits, you’re on the phone?
ABUELAISH: After the hit, I started to see my daughters, who were severely wounded. I don’t want anyone to see what have I seen–those lovely, beautiful daughters when they became parts, drowning in the pool of her blood, their parts spread everywhere. Started to look at Mayar. Where is Mayar? I can’t recognize Mayar.
JAY: Mayar is one of your daughters.
ABUELAISH: She was 15 years old, with decapitated head. Mayar is the one that I was happy for, that she planned to follow my path, to be a medical doctor. She was the president of the students parliament to be the voice of others. That’s [how] my daughters were raised, to be human, to be full of passion, and to give, not to take.
JAY: And you described this scene live on Israeli TV.
ABUELAISH: So I called, asking for help, ’cause I know what will happen to my daughter, Shada, when I saw her eye and her cheek. My niece–for three weeks, Gaza health system can’t cope with the number of casualties and the siege for three years. Any developed health system can’t cope with the number of severely wounded in Gaza, 5,500. What will happen to my daughter, Shada? Her eye will be taken out; her fingers will be amputated. At that moment I started to think, what can I do for her to save her eye? And I was ready to sacrifice her life to be with her daughters. But I don’t want to see her blind or disabled. So I asked for help where health can’t and doesn’t discriminate (we treat patients as a human being): without name, transferred her to the hospital where I used to work.
JAY: In Israel.
ABUELAISH: In Israel. So I called–.
JAY: So, the Israeli authorities allowed her to come in.
ABUELAISH: And then it took time, till we evacuated them to the Palestinian hospital, to coordinate their transfer to the Israeli hospital.
JAY: What was the effect of the radio broadcast? What kind of reaction did you get from Israelis?
ABUELAISH: It opened the eyes of the Israeli public to show them the truth, that they are fighting against innocent civilians, and that military ways is useless. And it made me satisfied, as you said, all of the Israeli officials, the Israeli public leaders, to see it. And it was the reason behind the ceasefire the other day.
JAY: It helped aspire yeah, the ceasefire comes two days after this.
ABUELAISH: So it saved others’ lives. And this satisfied me, that the blood and the souls of those holy girls wasn’t useless. It made a difference in others’ lives.
JAY: I was in the Middle East a few months ago, including Israel. The conditions there for Palestinians inside Israel are getting worse. The level of rhetoric is terrible. You have the foreign minister of Israel talking about even expelling Israeli citizens who are Palestinians. Conditions in the West Bank are bad, and, of course, Gaza far worse. And even the attack on Gaza, most Israelis seem to be okay with all of this. How do you explain this? Or how do you understand it?
ABUELAISH: I understand the fear of the Israelis, but I want to ask them to dig deeper and not to be superficial. They have to open their eyes, not to see things from one side. The coin has two sides. There is a Palestinian nation and there is an Israeli nation. Their safety, security, and life is linked to the safety, security, life, and the future of the Palestinian people. There will never be a good or just peace for one side. They can’t create peace with themselves. They have to search and to translate peace into action with the Palestinian people. And that’s what they have to realize and to understand. And it’s our responsibility to show them, to get rid, to help them to get rid of their fears, to be honest with themselves, and to say the truth: all of us, with honesty, with openness, we can reach a long-lasting solution. Peace can’t be forced. We can accept it’s by choice.
JAY: To what extent do you think this is driven deliberately? What I mean by that is that there are people on the Israeli side, there are forces, and perhaps on the Palestinian side, too, who are okay with the status quo. For example, in Israel there’s–you know, apparently there’s 18 families in the Israeli elite that, we’ve been told, control as much as 60 percent of the capitalization of Israel. The status quo’s okay for them. And perhaps even on the Palestinian side there are people that do quite alright with this negotiation business or in the peace industry. How much is this the real obstacle?
ABUELAISH: It’s–as you said, this is the minority. But we have to ask: what makes this minority to dominate and to shape our future and to decide for us is? What’s the role of the majority who are sitting there, silent? It’s their future, and they have to speak louder and to act and to feel angry and outraged about what is happening. We are, the minority and the majority, Palestinians and Israelis, living and riding the same boat.
JAY: Now, a lot of the Israeli Jews, as opposed to Israeli Palestinians, many of them believe that the hatred for Jews amongst the Palestinians is so profound that they’ll never get over it. That’s–they believe it to be true.
ABUELAISH: They want to believe it. And even if someone hates me or doesn’t accept me, I have to ask myself why he doesn’t accept me, and to search what can I do to let him accept me or to like me, not to blame–he is bad; he hates me. And that’s the responsibility (it’s mutual), not to blame (blaming will never lead to any way), but to be honest, to have the moral courage to take the change within yourself, to admit that and then take responsibility and ask others. The change doesn’t come from outside; it comes from inside, from within us first. I don’t ask my son to change unless I change myself.
JAY: To what extent is your voice or voices like yours heard in Gaza? Like, when people see the imagery of Gaza, it’s all–like, in newspapers and the media, it’s always people wearing masks with guns, and it’s always the rockets, the militant side of Gaza, Hamas’s army versus Hamas politicians. To what extent do you get heard? For example, to what extent will Hamas listen to a voice like yours?
ABUELAISH: I can say to you, if you believe in something–when I came to you here, I came during the day, during the light. If you believe in something, go to that to the end. The same message, what I said here, I said it in Gaza, in the West Bank, and anyplace I go, because I believe in it. But also what did you say? The people they see, those with masks, how many of them–because those who want to show, they are selective. As I said to you, Gazans, more than 50 percent are children, and about 25 percent of them are women. So the majority are women and children. It’s a human issue. We don’t want to be biased, we don’t want to be ignorant, and to transmit the right message and to spread it.
JAY: What are the conditions now in Gaza? After the last flotilla, when there was the people that were killed in that flotilla coming from Turkey, Israel said they were going to allow foodstuffs and other things into Gaza. There’s sort of the impression that it’s not so bad in Gaza as it was. What are the conditions like now?
ABUELAISH: I’m sad to say that [inaudible] repeating it. Human being is not dependent on food. The Gazans are hungry not for food. They are hungry for freedom, they are hungry for dignity, for respect, to feel they are valued and they are respected, to express their potential. Life is not food. Human being is not food. It’s more than that. And that’s what do we need, not to be deceived by that. What is the value if I was in a palace with all the needs deprived of the freedom? I don’t want that.
JAY: So what would freedom for Gaza look like?
JAY: What does it mean, concretely, politically?
ABUELAISH: Freedom of movement, freedom of life, freedom of opportunities, to feel, the Palestinian people, they have their dignity as others in this world. And it’s the responsibility of all to fight for the Palestinians’ freedom, and the Israelis’ freedom of fear, and then to see how the Palestinian people can make a difference in this world with their potential, show them something their life is worth to live.
JAY: In the next segment of the interview, let’s talk about your thinking about the current situation and how the Middle East people might achieve that freedom. Please join us for this next segment of our interview on The Real News Network.
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