Palestinian gynecologist and peace advocate Dr. Izzeldeen Abuelaish speaks to Democracy Now! producer Anjali Kamat and Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films in his home in Jabaliya, Gaza, where Israeli shells killed three of his daughters and a niece two months ago. Walking through his daughters’ room, he points out the remnants from the attack: blood-stained walls, books, clothes, hand-drawn pictures, gaping holes that were once windows, burned-out bits of computers, twisted pieces of metal, destroyed cupboards, shattered glass, and shrapnel. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to one of the better known tragedies from Israel’s attack on Gaza, a tragedy that partly unfolded live on Israeli television. Dr. Izzeldeen Abuelaish is a well-known Gazan gynecologist, peace advocate, who has worked in Israeli hospitals for several years. He speaks fluent Hebrew, and during the war he was a rare Palestinian voice on Israeli television and radio, giving daily accounts of life and death inside Gaza.
Democracy Now! producer Anjali Kamat narrates the exchange that took place live on Israeli television a day and a half before the official end of what the Israelis called Operation Cast Lead.
ANJALI KAMAT: On January 16th, when Dr. Abu al-Aish called Shlomi Eldar of Israel’s Channel 10 TV News, Israeli tank shells had just struck his home. They killed his family, he says. “I think I’m a bit overwhelmed, too.”
He explains that Dr. Izzeldeen Abuelaish is a physician at Tel Hashomer Hospital. He always feared his family would be hurt. His daughters were injured. “I want to save them, but they died on the spot, Shlomi. They were hit in the head.”
A visibly emotional Eldar explains that the doctor had unsuccessfully tried to get out for many days and was afraid to even raise a white flag. “A shell hit his home,” Eldar says. “And I have to tell you, I do not know how to hang up this phone. I will not hang up this phone call.”
The anchor calls on the Israeli Defense Forces to allow ambulances to get to the doctor’s family. Shlomi Eldar then excused himself from the show, took off his earpiece and rushed off the set to get help to Dr. Abu al-Aish.
AMY GOODMAN: But the ambulances never reached the doctor’s home, which was surrounded by Israeli tanks. It was too late to save his three daughters — twenty-one-year-old Bessan, fifteen-year-old Mayar, and thirteen-year-old Aya — as well as his niece Nour, who was age fourteen. They were all killed instantly by the shells.
JUAN GONZALEZ: The family says they walked a quarter of a mile carrying the dead and wounded through the streets, until they found an ambulance that took them to the closest hospital and then to the Erez crossing with Israel. Emergency vehicles organized by Israeli TV correspondent Shlomi Eldar awaited them at the border and took the doctor and his badly wounded sixteen-year-old daughter Shada to the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv.
AMY GOODMAN: Two months after the tragedy, Democracy Now! producer Anjali Kamat and Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films visited Dr. Abu al-Aish at his home in Jabaliya, Gaza. He pointed out the remnants from that fateful day: blood-stained walls, books, clothes, and hand-drawn pictures, gaping holes that were once windows, burned-out bits of computers, twisted pieces of metal, destroyed cupboards, shattered glass, and shrapnel. He told his story late Monday night to Anjali Kamat, as he walked through his daughter’s room.
DR. EZZELDEEN ABU AL-AISH: We are standing in the scene of the tragedy, in the place where four lovely girls were sitting, building their dreams and their hopes, and in seconds, these dreams were killed. These flowers were dead. Three of my daughters and one niece were killed in one second on the 16th of January at a quarter to five p.m. Just a few seconds, I left them, and they stayed in the room — two daughters here, one daughter here, one daughter here, and my niece with them.
The first shell came from the tank space, which is there, came to shell two daughters who were sitting here on their chairs. And when I heard this shell, I came inside the room to find, to look. I can’t recognize my daughters. Their heads were cut off their bodies. They were separated from their bodies, and I can’t recognize whose body is this. They were drowning in a pool of blood. This is the pool of blood. Even look here. This is their brain. These are parts of their brain. Aya was lying on the ground. Shada was injured, and her eye is coming out. Her fingers were torn, just attached by a tag of skin. I felt disloved, out of space, screaming, “What can I do?”
They were not satisfied by the first shell and to leave my eldest daughter. But the second shell soon came to kill Aya, to injure my niece, who came down from the third floor, and to kill my eldest daughter Bessan, who was in the kitchen and came at that moment, screaming and jumping, “Dad! Dad! Aya is injured!”
The second shell, it penetrated the wall between this room to enter the other room. Look. This is the room with the weapons, where this room was fully equipped with weapons. These are the weapons which were in this room. These are the weapons. These are the weapons: the books and their clothes. These were the science handouts. There, you see, these are her handouts for the courses that she studies, which is stained with her blood. It’s mixed with her blood. These are the books. These are the weapons that I equipped my daughters with: with education, with knowledge, with dreams, with hopes, with loves.
I am a gynecologist who practiced most of my time in Israel. I was trained in Israel. And I devoted my life and my work for the benefit of humanity and well-being, to serve patients, not as someone else that you are delivering or helping choose. I am dealing with patients and human beings. We treat patients equally, with respect, with dignity, with privacy. Politicians and leaders should learn from doctors these values and these norms and to adopt them.
ANJALI KAMAT: Have you received an official response from Israel about why your home was targeted, about why your daughters were killed?
DR. EZZELDEEN ABU AL-AISH: What I received, that they admitted their responsibility about shelling my house and killing my daughters and my niece. That’s what I received. But other — the reasons behind that, you can’t ask them. They justified something which is not convincing, and it has many criticisms.
ANJALI KAMAT: What did they say?
DR. EZZELDEEN ABU AL-AISH: You know, they said there were — they think there were snipers on the roof of my building. It’s important to say the truth, and the truth lies here: only innocent civilian girls were in this room and this building and this surrounding. Nothing else.
ANJALI KAMAT: Doctor, you’re going to be traveling to the United States in a few weeks. What’s your message to the government of the United States, to the people of the United States?
DR. EZZELDEEN ABU AL-AISH: To judge things by two eyes and that the coin has two sides, and that there is a nation, a Palestinian people in Gaza, who are waiting to get their rights and their chances of living equally, as every nation in the world. And it’s important for the Obama’s administration to take the Israeli Arab file seriously and to deal with it seriously as soon as possible, because it’s a matter of saving lives. There is no need for delay. It’s important to start solving with the minimum justice that what are we looking for: respect human rights, equality, dignity and justice. And what they like for themselves, I want Mr. Obama to put himself in the position of the Palestinians and to defend the rights of the Palestinians, as he is in the position of the Israelis.
This is Mayar’s book. This is the math book. Mayar, who was fifteen years old in grade nine, who was dreaming to be a doctor and was happy that she will follow the same path as me. Mayar, she was the chairman of the students’ parliament at the school. She was elected. She was brilliant in mathematics, so genius. Even when I went to the school to see her friends, still they are remembering Mayar.
Yes, this is Aya. This is Aya’s notebook. Look. Read what it’s saying: “Excellent. God bless you. Well-organized.” This is what was written by her teacher. It was her dream to be a journalist. She was outspoken. She was a very lovely, very beautiful girl.
Bessan is a special girl, not [only] for me, for her uncles, for everyone who knew Bessan. She was twenty-one years old. She was about to graduate and get her BA from the Islamic University. She was a special girl. So humble, so wise, so beautiful.
What can I say about my daughters? It’s living with me. It’s part of me. I smell them. I taste them. I speak with them. When I’m speaking with you, I am speaking with my daughters. These are the good memories of my daughters, and it will follow me the whole of my life. And I will do my best, this memory, to be changed into positive actions, to establish a foundation under their name for only girls, to empower girls and women, who will achieve and seal, these girls, the dreams of my daughters.
You know, this invasion, from the beginning, I said it’s useless. It’s futile. No one is winning. The innocent civilians, the Gazans, civilians, paid the price of this invasion, no one else. And even the IDF, when they came here, the Israeli government, they said, “We want to teach the Gazans a lesson,” as if the Gazans are lacking teaching or education. Really, they succeeded in that, in educating the Palestinians, the Gazans especially, a lesson about strengthening animosity, hatredness, a bloodshed, and widening the gap between the two people in both sides. This is the only lesson. This is the only outcome of this invasion, nothing else. Anyone who is saying anything else apart from that, he is lying.
Military ways proved its failure. We should look for other ways to give each other its rights. We don’t want to speak about peace. Peace is — you know, this word lost its meaning. We should find something else: respect, equality, justice and partnership. That’s what we should look for.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Abu al-Aish, Palestinian gynecologist and peace advocate. He was speaking with Democracy Now! producer Anjali Kamat and Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films, who both visited him in his home in Jabaliya, Gaza, where Israeli shells killed three of his daughters and a niece two months ago.