I lost my daughters, but won't lose hope

By Jessica Elgot, February 24, 2011
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Family: the Abuelaishes in 2009

Family: the Abuelaishes in 2009

The Palestinian doctor whose three daughters were killed by Israeli shelling during the Gaza offensive in January 2009 has pleaded with both sides "not to give in to hatred".

Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, who was nominated for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, told an audience at London's Southbank Centre: "The Koran says that you must make a tragedy a force for good, even if you do not see any good at the time. So that is what I must do.

"I have a choice. I know I have the right to hate. And I am angry, the pain is severe. But I do not want to be another casualty of hate. When I meet my daughters again one day, I want to tell them that there was justice and peace."

Raised in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, Dr Abuelaish now lectures in public health in Toronto, where he lives with his five remaining children.

His three daughters Bessan, Maya, Aya, and his niece Noor, were killed a day before the ceasefire. "I never want anyone to see what I saw. Everyone who ever met them had loved them, Palestinian or Israeli. They knew how to be human."

Dr Abuelaish, who has written a book called I Shall Not Hate, said it was wrong to label Israelis as racist against Arabs, and he had formed close friendships when he worked at hospitals in Israel.

"I did not want them to think I was Israeli, I wanted them to know I was Palestinian, from Gaza. My colleagues told me that our friendship strengthened their hopes that our sides could learn to communicate."

But he was challenged by the event's chairman, Palestinian author Ghada Kharmi, who repeatedly asked about one Israeli doctor who had "looked down" on him." She said it was "very rare" for him to be treated equally. Dr Abuelaish responded: "He was the exception, this is not the rule. The problem is that people always talk about the extreme. And 99 per cent of my colleagues were my friends.

"I worked through the second intifada. My Palestinian friends told me to continue my work there. And one of my Israeli colleagues told me he was prepared to sacrifice his life if someone would try to harm me."

He added: "I see two sides of the suffering. For the Israelis, their security is linked to our security. The Palestinians must get their freedom."

The event was jointly staged by Jewish Book Week and the Palestine Festival of Literature.

    Last updated: 2:18pm, February 24 2011