Gaza doctor nominated for Nobel Prize

Palestinian whose daughters IDF accidentally killed quotes Herzl, hopes prize will bring "era of peace."

abuelaish 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
abuelaish 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish made headlines worldwide when his three daughters were accidentally killed by the IDF in January during Operation Cast Lead. Now, Abuelaish, a Palestinian doctor from Gaza's Jabalya refugee camp who has trained in Israel, is drawing international attention again - this time as a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. Abuelaish said he dedicates his nomination to both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. "I pray that this will be a window of opportunity to bring both together and to learn lessons from our tragedies, how tragedies can be changed into positive, inspiring acts," he told The Jerusalem Post by phone on Monday. He also dedicates the nomination to "prejudiced people everywhere" and to the leaders of both peoples, urging them to work together to prevent further destruction and pain. "Enough blood, enough animosity," Abuelaish said. "We must focus now on giving hope and love and good deeds and to focus on saving lives and to learn this lesson from doctors." Military means have proven a failure and a new method needed to be found to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said. Abuelaish said he was nominated after he visited Belgium last month, where he was offered honorary citizenship and met several times with the president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering of Germany. So far the Norwegian Nobel Committee has received 205 nominations - the most ever - for the 2009 Peace Prize, of which 33 are for organizations. The previous record was in 2005, when the committee received 199 nominations. An IDF investigation carried out in the weeks following the end of the Gaza offensive found that the doctor's daughters were killed when his house was accidentally hit by Israeli tank shells on January 16. When asked how he feels today about the death of his daughters, Abuelaish said he was a believer in God and trusted that ultimately, everything happened for the sake of good. "I think I was selected and my daughters were selected... by God [because] we have the power to make a difference," he said. Abuelaish, who speaks Hebrew and trained at the Soroka University Hospital in Beersheba and Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, believes the high-profile incident was a main factor motivating Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to declare a unilateral cease-fire two days later. In addition, "it opened the hearts and minds of the Israeli public about the tragedy Gazans were facing," he said. Since then, he has been approached by many Israelis who say they have been touched by his story. Abuelaish has wonderful memories of his daughters, who "are always with me." The tragedy has strengthened him, and given him more responsibility to "continue the fight for humanity, and to bring Palestinians and Israelis together." Abuelaish lost his three daughters exactly four months - to the minute - after he lost his wife to illness. The 54-year-old gynecologist, who studied medicine at Cairo University and has a master's degree from Harvard University, has five remaining children. But while God always creates good, "what is happening in our world is man-made, and that is what we have to change. He created us to live, to build and to enjoy," he said. He is not seeking to blame anyone but rather to inspire the leaders of the two peoples to create a win-win situation, rather than continuous war. "There is a future in front of us and there is hope," he said. "We were created for the future, not the past. The past is only to learn from." Abuelaish is now considering two job offers - to join the University of Haifa's school of public health and school of nursing, or the University of Toronto's Global Health Center. While both positions are attractive, he said he is leaning toward the Haifa position because of its location. "I would love to be with my people there, to be in the area," he said from Toronto, where he is visiting this week. "I have this responsibility to be with the people there that I care about, the Palestinians and the Israelis." Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.