A Palestinian doctor who lost four members of his family when an Israeli tank fired on his home visited Derry on Saturday to speak at a Gasyard Féile event.
Dr Izzzeldin Abuelaish was invited to Ireland by Trócaire and spoke at a Féile event in the Verbal Arts Centre on Saturday evening.
The gynaecologist was the first Palestinian medic to secure a staff position at an Israeli hospital and treated both Palestinians and Israelis.
A well known peace activist, he regularly gave update to Israeli television during the Gaza war which began in December 2008. During one of these live updates, on January 18 2009, his house was shelled by an Israeli tank and three of his daughters, aged 20, 15, and 13, and a 17 year old niece were killed.
The incident brought the situation in Gaza to an international audience. Dr Abuelish later wrote a best-selling book, ‘I Shall Not Hate’ about his experiences and has become one of the best known advocates for peace in the Middle East.
He has won several international peace awards, including the Mahatma Gandhi Peace award, the Middle East Institute Award, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Speaking in Derry, Dr Abuelaish explained how he grew up in a refugee camp before going on to qualify as a doctor. “They can take our land, deprive us, and oppress us but no-one can prevent us from dreaming,” he said.
Explaining what happened on the night his daughters were killed, Dr Abuelaish said he had been in the room with them seconds before the tank opened fire.
“Each one of those girls was special. They never got less than 97 per cent in their schools. Myar wanted to become a doctor. I do not want anyone to see what I saw in that room at that moment. There was no reason for them to be killed. The girls had been killed just after they prayed. They had faith and humanity,” he said.
Dr Abuelaish also said that his daughters had promoted peace in their lives. “They attended peace camps from they were 14 years old. I remember my daughter Bisan called me from a peace camp, where she mixed with different people, when she was 14 years old to say how similar we all are. She said that we could not use violence against violence or negativity against negativity,” he said.
He explained that he followed their example after their death and did not seek revenge. “If we want to remember the ones we have lost we have to take responsibility and see what we can do to change the ones who did it. The perpetrator has the power to take lives but we have the power to challenge and say we will never accept it. We should not use what they used. I want to live and to move forward. I don’t want to stay in that moment.
“When we lose loved ones it is painful but we can’t get them back but we can keep them alive through speaking about them, not to seek revenge but to bring them justice. We are not sending them any blessings by committing revenge. We have to send an honourable message. If we look for revenge we are continuing that cycle. I want to break that cycle,” he said.
The Palestinian doctor also said there are many similarities between Derry and Palestine and lessons that can be shared.
“A community like Derry which has a history and experience of suffering is very impressive in the way that it has succeeded in ending conflict and moving on.
“I know it is a process but it is one which can be built upon,” he said.
Dr Abuelaish also met with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness during his visit to Derry.