World

The Palestinian and Israeli who give Obama hope

US President Barack Obama quoted a Palestinian and an Israeli, in his speech on the Middle East on Thursday, both of whom have lost children in the violence but remain committed to reconciliation. Who are they?

When a jet-lagged doctor woke up and checked his e-mail after a long flight to Australia, he was astonished to find his in-box flooded with messages of congratulations.

Friends and admirers had written to tell him that - without his knowledge - he had been quoted by President Obama.

The president referred to Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, without mentioning him by name.

"I'm convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past," the president said.

"We see that spirit… in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza. 'I have the right to feel angry,' he said. 'So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate. Let us hope,' he said, 'for tomorrow'."

Dr Izzeldin was astonished and moved to find that he had been cited by the president as part of his vision for the future.

"I woke up to see e-mails from friends and cried when I saw and learned that today in his speech Barack Obama referred to me and said this is the right approach," he said.

"As you know, it's my life and I am devoted to it."

I have known Dr Izzeldin for 10 years ever since producing a radio documentary about him.

His family fled in 1948 from their farm in what is now southern Israel to the Gaza Strip.

Despite being brought up in intense poverty, Izzeldin qualified as a doctor, specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology.

As a teenager he worked on an Israeli farm and there became convinced that ordinary Israelis and Palestinians wanted peace, whatever their political leaders might say.

When I met him he was living in Gaza, hosting groups of Israelis who would visit the strip to see the living conditions of the Palestinians there for themselves.

He travelled into Israel every week for his medical work, and campaigned tirelessly for reconciliation.

In 2009 during fighting in Gaza, an Israeli shell hit his house, killing three of his daughters as well as his niece.

Almost immediately, Dr Izzeldin went live by phone on to an Israeli TV news programme, pleading for an ambulance to help his surviving children.

That broadcast caused an extraordinary reaction in Israel and he became seen as the public face of Gazans caught up in the conflict.

Dr Izzeldin recently moved to Canada where he teaches medicine and has established a peace foundation in memory of his daughters.

He has published an autobiography - a book whose title was quoted by President Obama.

It is called I Shall Not Hate.

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