August 1, 2014 6:31 pm

Palestinian doctor wants to bring wounded kids from Gaza to Ontario

Update (August 05): The Ontario government will open its hospitals to injured children from Gaza. 

Amid all the carnage and suffering of the Gaza conflict some of the most heart breaking images are those of injured children.

A Toronto resident with intimate knowledge of death and loss in Gaza wants to help.

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Izzeldin Abuelaish was born and raised in the Jabalia refugee camp.  He became the first Palestinian doctor to gain a residency at an Israeli hospital, where he delivered babies from both sides of the divide, a living symbol of the possibilities of living and working together in peace.

His resolution was tested after a shell from an Israeli tank ripped into his Gaza apartment in 2009, killing three of his daughters and his niece.

But rather than descend into recrimination, he made an impassioned plea for reconciliation in a book titled “I Shall Not Hate.”

Now an associate professor at the University of Toronto, Abuelaish has come up with an audacious plan:  to bring 100 wounded Gaza children to Ontario for treatment.

“This idea came to my mind as someone who was burned by the fire of conflict and war,” he said in during interview at his campus office.

READ MORE: Israel fears soldier captured as Gaza truce unravels

Abuelaish hopes to have children from Gaza on a flight to Canada before September.

UN humanitarian groups working in Gaza have offered to assist with triage in selecting children who could benefit from medical attention in Ontario.   Both Sick Kids Hospital and Kingston General say they’ll participate.

And he is getting emails from ordinary citizens, reading one from a Toronto woman offering two spare bedrooms for the use of any parents who accompany their children.

Abuelaish leaned across his desk, his rising voice reflecting the passion he holds for his cause.

“It’s the collective effort. One can’t do everything, but each of us can do something and I urge all to come, to show the beauty and the greatness and the human face of Canadians,” he said.

READ MORE: Why a captured soldier is a nightmare scenario for Israel

The logistics are challenging: transporting gravely wounded children from a besieged war zone and somehow getting them on an aircraft to Canada.  But Abuelaish believes it is possible to bring the children through the Israeli or Egyptian border.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way,” he said.

Little help from the government

He has spoken to Ontario’s Health Minister Eric Hoskins, who in his private life used to run a charity called War Child.

A ministry spokesperson told Global News: “As a humanitarian and someone who has treated patients in conflict zones himself he has a deep understanding of this issue.  Our heart goes out to all those who are suffering on both sides of this conflict.”

But there was no initial offer of support.

And a spokesperson for the ministry of foreign affairs issued this statement:

“Hamas’s reckless aggression continues to put Palestinian lives at risk by impeding the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza.  Canada supports the Palestinian people and is considering a variety of options on how to best assist the current humanitarian situation.”

Abuelaish says his project is resolutely non-political.

“I’m not asking about right or wrong, I’m asking about someone who is bleeding and it’s a moral responsibility to stop the bleeding and heal the wounds.”

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