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Contra Costa Times (N. California): "Healing with respect"

His speech at Kehilla was sponsored by the synagogue, Americans for Peace Now and the Bay Area chapter of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Go HERE for a Reuters Video about Dr. Abuelaish and his story


By Janet Levaux,Correspondent

Speaking respectfully and forcefully to more than 250 people at Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont on Sunday, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish shared the story of losing three of his eight children and a niece during Israeli shelling of Gaza on January 16.

"I share the craziness of our area and the tragedy I faced, because it is the tragedy of all people there," Abuelaish said. "I represent a willingness of both sides to live and respect each other with dignity and in partnership."

The physician, who lives in the Jabaliya refugee camp, but has worked in Israeli hospitals as a gynecologist for years, speaks regularly with religious and other groups worldwide and also does media interviews on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His speech at Kehilla was sponsored by the synagogue, Americans for Peace Now and the Bay Area chapter of Brit Tzedek v'Shalo, a Jewish alliance for justice and peace.

Abuelaish advocates a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, which he says most individuals on both sides of the conflict also support.

"I do not want to say peace, because the term has been overused and lost its meaning," he said. "We must learn to change course through respect, trust and mutual dignity."

During his presentation at Kehilla, the physician showed photos of his daughters at a beach on the Gaza coast, where he had taken them two weeks before the 22-day January conflict in Gaza began.

Bisan, 20, was the eldest daughter to die. Her two slain sisters were Mayar, 15, and Aya, 13. The doctor's niece, Nur Abuelaish, 17, was also killed. (Abuelaish also lost his wife to leukemia in September 2008).

"It seems that my daughters knew that life is short, as they wrote their names in the sand," Abuelaish said. "It was not the ocean, but the craziness (of the conflict) that ended their lives."

Abuelaish said people have asked him why he does not want revenge after his daughter and niece's deaths. "Putting violence against violence does not solve anything," he said. "We must learn from the children. Their deaths serve as teaching to our leaders about what should be done.

"I don't want anyone to ever see what I have seen," he said, speaking of the shelling and its aftermath. "We must rebuild the broken trust, trust that has been broken by our leaders."

Abuelaish, who studied medicine in Egypt and Europe and also received a public health degree at Harvard University, took questions from the audience after his presentation. Concerning the plight of children in the refugee camps of Gaza, he said, "Thousands are suffering there. The area is teaming with poverty and deprivation. Yet somehow, I managed to cut my way."

To cross the border for his work in Israeli hospitals, Abuelaish has to coordinate his journeys several days in advance each week. He then must cross through heavily guarded check points and about 20 electronically controlled gates equipped with video cameras and other security devices.

The journey also entails dragging his big medical bag along a 1-kilometer sand road.

Many of those attending Abuelaish's talk at the Grand Avenue synagogue were astonished by the Gazan's sincerity and clarity.

"I was just amazed," said Claudia Mansbach of Oakland's San Antonio district. "He has a vision that goes beyond all the nonsense and has no confusion. I have never heard anyone speak so clearly about this. He's really a remarkable person."

Ireni McPhail of Kensington agreed.

"To see such grace and presence, and what he is doing with his situation," McPhail said. "Now, we must all work on the ground everyday to support him."

"Nothing is impossible in life," said Abuelaish, "though the only impossible thing is to return my daughters to me."

Still, he says, "As a physician, I know that through good efforts a patient can survive and recover. For that reason, I will continue to hope. I know that this tragedy means that we can come together with open eyes."