Dr. Abuelaish’s Gaza Tragedy-a Rare Glimpse of Arab Men as Loving Fathers

Los Angeles, CA–From The cries of a Hebrew-speaking doctor from Gaza announcing the deaths of three of his daughters live on Israeli television news brought home the suffering of Palestinian civilians to Israelis in the last hours of the conflict (UK Telegraph, 1/18/09):

“Oh God, my daughters have been killed,” wailed Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish as he phoned an Israeli television journalist live on air on Friday night.

The broadcast minutes after his house came under Israeli fire captured a tragedy that unfolded on the national airwaves. Throughout the 22-day conflict the suffering of Gazans had been overshadowed for the Israeli by a wave of support for its troops spearheading the assault on Hamas.

But Dr. Abuelaish punctured the insular viewpoint presented to Israeli viewers. Minute by minute coverage of the reporter organizing ambulances and liaising with the military to permit an emergency evacuation.

Dr. Abuelaish worked in several Israeli hospitals including the Chaim Sheba Medical Centre at Tel Hashomer.

He was a proponent of coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians and a unique figure who was well-known in Israel’s medical community but lived in Gaza.

But when he spoke at a news conference at the hospital on Saturday, his reputation and anguish was not enough to deter right wing hecklers from shouting abuse.

A distraught Dr. Abuelaish said the events were the antithesis of everything he had brought up his dead daughters to believe. “I raised my children to work and be soldiers of peace,” he said. “I believed medicine could be a bridge for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

An army spokesman said a preliminary investigation into the incident had found that soldiers in the area of the doctor’s house in the Jabalia Refugee Camp had been returning fire from the source of shooting towards them. The spokesman also noted the Israeli army did its best to avoid civilian casualties, a task made difficult by what he described as an enemy that took shelter in civilian areas.

The tragic deaths of Dr. Abuelaish’s three daughters and his niece are said to have “punctured the insular viewpoint presented to Israeli viewers” and given Israeli citizens of view of Palestinians as people, not as enemies or terrorists.  That may well be true.  However, this tragedy has another significance — it is a rare glimpse of Arab men as loving fathers.  Even rarer is it to see coverage of an Arab man’s love, pride, and protectiveness of his daughters. The media stereotypes Arab men as sexists or domineering patriarchs–the coverage of the tragic killing of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish’s is unusual in that we were (finally) shown a more accurate picture.

In the photo at the top, Dr. Abuelaish is kissing and holding one of his daughters who were hurt in the attack and being rushed to an Israeli hospital. In the smaller photo at the right, the doctor is waiting at the hospital, wracked with grief.

Right after his daughters were killed, he implied that Israeli did this with intent, but I doubt he meant it. The Israeli soldiers are probably just like the Americans in Iraq, most of them doing the best they can to separate out the combatants from the civilians.

The live broadcast of the tragedy can be seen here or below. The bereaved doctor’s press conference can be seen here.


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