The Abuelaish sisters: Aya, Mayar and Bessan, 13, 15 and 21 respectively,

Israel killed my three daughters, I just want peace

How one man who lost three daughters responded with a message of hope. Meet the Palestinian doctor hoping his daughters will be the last sacrifice on the road to peace.

By Mohammed Arafat • 13 April 2016

Over eight years ago during the Israeli offensive on Gaza ‘Operation Cast Lead’, Toronto University professor Izzeldin Abuelaish lost three of his daughters and niece.

Aya, Mayar and Bessan, 13, 15 and 21 respectively, as well as their 14-year-old cousin Nour, were killed as an Israeli tank fired at their home in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army justified the act, saying they believed there were Hamas supporters near the family house, hence why they chose to target it. Israel has refused to apologise, calling the killing of his three daughters and niece “an operation of war.”

“Despite the severe outcome, from a legal standpoint our stance is that the operation during which Dr. Abuelaish’s family members were hurt was an operation of war,” Attorney Ahaz Ben-Ari stated.

The Israeli army’s explanation did not satisfy Dr. Abuelaish, and he launched a lawsuit against the Israeli government in 2010 asking the Israeli government for a formal apology and for financial compensation, adding that money could never compensate his daughters’ lives.

After nearly six years of haggling, Dr. Abuelish’s testimony was scheduled to be heard in a court in Beer Sheva on March 15, and a concluding session due to take place on April 19.

When asked about his feelings towards the legal procedures, Dr. Abuelaish told The New Arab that he has the determination to continue and advocate for justice for his daughters, and to bring hope to innocent Palestinians and others.

“I came to the courts to advocate, not to defend,” the doctor added.

Choosing this legal battle for Dr. Abuelaish was not only for his daughters, but for the innocent people “who pay the biggest price during the wars.”

The celebrated peace advocate tried to resolve the issue outside the court system, but Israel’s refusal forced him to pursue the case legally and to demand for an official apology.

“After going to court, they now regret not settling the case peacefully,” Abuelaish explained.

The Gazan doctor, who had previously worked in Israeli hospitals before losing his daughters, said that Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, wants to settle the case.

“The Israeli president wants to settle the case. There is no way, they have to admit it and apologise, and I am hopeful it happens soon.”

Dr. Abuelaish has received fourteen honourary degrees, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a Belgian state secretary.

Abuelaish explains that numerous Israeli parties and Israelis, including the Future Party, have asked the government to apologise and to solve the case the right way.

The heartbreaking tragedy occurred minutes before Dr. Abuelaish spoke live on an Israeli TV programme. Israeli journalist, Shlomi Eldar, who allowed him to grieve on air, will be returning to Israel from the US in order to be a witness in court.

In memory of Bessan, Mayar and Aya, Abuelaish established Daughters For Life Foundation that aims to empower girls in the Middle East through educational scholarships and awards.

Through his charity, Abuelaish said that any compensation awarded from the case would be used to establish schools. His charity offers scholarships to young women in the Middle East regardless of nationality or religion.

He also has written and published I Shall Not Hate, a book that carries a human universal story of hope and peace.

“In my book, which I hope can be included in the Palestinian curriculum, I show the world the steadfast Palestinian person who has dreams, while he misses his freedom and the independent state.”

In his book, which was translated into 23 languages, and reviewed by many officials including Obama and Carter, Abuelaish considered hatred a poison which destroys human potential, and that he does not “want to be a victim of hatred.”

When asked about his message to the world and to the Palestinians, the Palestinian doctor said that Palestinians have to be united and they must be proud to be Palestinians since Palestine gives them honour, pride and courage.

“We must be responsible and keep our country high. We must give Palestine what it gives us.”

He added, “I want to tell the world that the lifeless, hapless and helpless Palestinian deserves the best.”

Abuelaish and his surviving children moved to Canada in 2009, shortly after the tragedy. He now works as an associate professor in the Department of Public Health at the University of Toronto. In late 2015, all of his family members were granted Canadian citizenship.


Mohammed Arafat holds a bachelor degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and is preparing for a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies. Author of, “Still Living There”, a book documenting Gaza’s last war and its aftermath.