Before ceasefire, Gaza doctor's grief was heard on live Israeli TV
'Oh, God, my daughters!' he cried after Israeli shells hit house
Before a ceasefire took hold Sunday in Gaza, the tragedy of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish's three dead daughters unfolded live on Israeli television.
Speaking via cellphone Friday night, he told correspondent Shlomi Eldar that two shells had just torn into his house.
"My daughters!" he screamed. "Oh, God, my daughters!"
Three of his daughters and a niece were killed.
Abuelaish had been planning to take his family and start fresh in Canada, but no one in crowded Gaza or nearby Israeli towns was immune to shells or rockets during the conflict, which left more than 1,200 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
Less than 24 hours before Israel announced its ceasefire in its assault on Hamas, his daughters and niece were killed by Israeli fire.
Gazan officials identified his dead daughters as 22-year-old Bisan, 15-year-old Mayer and 14-year-old Aya, and the niece as 14-year-old Nour Abuelaish, the Associated Press reported.
Eighteen members of his extended family were in the house at the time, and at least two of his five surviving children were wounded in the shelling, AP said.
The cameras then followed Eldar as he appealed to the Israeli army to get an ambulance to the scene, at least to help the others who were wounded.
Abuelaish was able to arrange the transfer of his two injured daughters to Israeli hospitals, something that has been extremely rare during this conflict, AP said.
The Israeli army for the first time allowed a Palestinian ambulance to go straight to the Erez border crossing, where the injured were transferred to Israeli ambulances. From there, they were taken by helicopter to Tel Hashomer hospital in Tel Aviv.
But much of Abuelaish's world has been shattered. Although his wife died six months ago, there were high hopes for the future of the rest of the family.
"I was sitting there with them, planning, because I got an offer in Canada, at the University of Toronto," he told CBC News.
In the midst of tragedy, however, he has somehow found hope. "If I remain stuck with my sadness, my anger, can I return the life to them? No. But I have other children; I have hope."
Even as he said that, an Israeli man visiting the hospital began yelling at him.
Militants shot from the house, the Israeli said, repeating media reports that the home was shelled after someone fired at troops from nearby.
Abuelaish said no one was there but his family, and that he would have personally thrown out any militants.
Committed peace activist
Even in his grief, Abuelaish remains convinced that people must talk to each other across the Israeli-Palestinian divide, he said. "From our pain we can learn," he said. "We may disagree, but we should learn from that. Let us express the pain, let it out. It's beneficial to us all."
Over the past three weeks, Israelis have remained largely unmoved by the scope of death and destruction in Gaza, but Abuelaish's story is being followed closely by every Israeli news agency and has struck a national chord: A man who has lost almost everything still has hope that Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace.
"Maybe the blood of my daughters was the price," he said, "and if it was, I am happy about it. The cost of ceasefire to save lives to be my daughters' and my niece's blood — honestly, I am proud of it. I am fully proud of it."
The 55-year-old gynecologist is a known peace activist involved in promoting joint Israeli-Palestinian projects and an academic who studied the effects of war on Gazan and Israeli children, AP reported. He works at Gaza's main Shifa Hospital.
During the call-ins, he often spoke of his fears for his eight children as Israeli shells punished not only the Hamas militants they were targeting in Gaza but civilians who live in the tightly packed enclave, unable to leave.
With files from the Associated Press