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Israel TV news broadcasts a Gaza father's heartbreak

Dr. Izz el-Deen Aboul Aish, who gave frequent interviews to the Israeli media, was minutes away from giving another when he called anchorman Shlomi Eldar, hysterical with grief.

January 17, 2009|Jeffrey Fleishman and Batsheva Sobelman

JERUSALEM — It was a voice of anguish that pierced a nation.

Israeli TV broadcast a father's heartbreak Friday night when a Palestinian doctor living in Gaza made a frantic phone call to a newscaster saying an Israeli tank had shelled his home, killing three of his daughters and injuring other family members.

Izz el-Deen Aboul Aish, who speaks Hebrew, worked as a gynecologist in an Israeli hospital. Even as the crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel had largely been closed in recent months, he had traveled frequently from one place to the other. But he had remained in Gaza since the Israeli offensive began 21 days ago. He gave frequent interviews to the Israeli media on living conditions in the seaside enclave. He spoke of having tanks around his house and of passing through checkpoints; he told Israelis what it was like to be Palestinian.

Minutes away from a scheduled phone interview on Israeli TV 10 with newscaster Shlomi Eldar, Aboul Aish called Eldar's cellphone, screaming and weeping in Arabic and Hebrew. The doctor's home had been struck by a shell:

"Oh God, oh my God, my daughters have been killed. They've killed my children. . . . Could somebody please come to us?"

Sitting at his news desk for one of Israel's main evening news broadcasts, Eldar held his phone up. For three minutes and 26 seconds, Aboul Aish's wailing was broadcast across the country.

Eldar welled up. He put his head down. He looked at the camera. He looked at his phone. He made pleas for help for the family, but the doctor kept crying, his voice scratchy, like sand on paper, until Eldar took out his earpiece and walked off the set to try to arrange for help. The newscaster's bewildered face seemed to capture a bit of pause in a nation that has largely supported its military campaign and prefers not to question its course.

News reports said there had been shooting in the area of the doctor's house before the shelling. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Israeli officials permitted ambulances carrying members of the doctor's family to cross the border to a hospital.

Aboul Aish was a single father. His wife had died of cancer. He made his daughters sleep close to the walls of their home in hopes that would keep them safe if airstrikes or artillery collapsed the ceiling.

"I don't know how this man will stand on his feet again after this tragedy," Dr. Liat Lerner-Geya, an Israeli who worked with Aboul Aish, told the Hebrew-language news website Ynet. "He would come to Israel and sleep at friends' houses for three nights. Even though he had all the necessary permits, they always gave him trouble at the crossings. But he believed there should be coexistence and practiced this in his work."

After the newscast, Eldar met with reporters. He said the doctor told him that evening "that since his wife's passing, the girls had been his entire life. He said his eldest daughter wanted to study at Haifa University. Just today another one of his daughters had told him she had gotten her period. 'In the middle of a war you get your period. You are a woman now.' "

She and her sisters are dead. The news spread across Israel's websites; the video of the doctor's broadcast quickly made it to YouTube.

Eldar said of Aboul Aish: "It is simply surreal. He is part of this place yet not of it, belonging and not belonging."

Even so, across Israel the doctor's anguished voice kept playing over and over.

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jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

Sobelman works in The Times' Jerusalem Bureau.

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