Shlomi Eldar was at the anchor desk of Israel’s channel 10 evening news on Jan. 16, 2009, when his cell phone rang. He took the call off-camera. It was his friend, an obstetrician from Gaza named Izzeldin Abuelaish who had long experience delivering babies in Israeli hospitals.
It was three weeks into Operation Cast Lead, the first of what would be three wars between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Two Israeli rockets had just struck Abuelaish’s house, killing three of Abuelaish’s daughters and a niece.
“I don’t know if I broke a rule,” Eldar said Monday at the University of Maryland. But when he heard his friend’s voice, Eldar switched on his phone’s speaker. And for four minutes, Israeli viewers heard the voices coming from Abuelaish’s shattered house, as Eldar tried to alert authorities to send aid to survivors.
“Tell me your home and maybe we can send an ambulance,” Eldar said on the air, after which Abuelaish is heard saying, “I want to save them but they’re dead.” Eldar: “If someone hears us, maybe something can still be saved.” Then: “Forgive me while I leave the studio. I cannot hang up on him.”
A son and a daughter survived the attack. Abuelaish wrote a memoir, I Shall Not Hate, in which he responds to his loss by choosing coexistence with Israel. A dramatized version is finishing its run this weekend at Mosaic Theater Company in Washington.
On a stage at the University of Maryland in College Park, at a program sponsored by the university’s Gildenhorn Institute of Israel Studies and Mosaic, the two friends reunited as Israeli-Palestinian actor Gassan Abbas performed scenes from the play.
And, along with an audience of students and others, they relived those four minutes, presented on video.
Eldar repeatedly pressed Abuelaish, who now lives in Toronto, to explain how he survived the ordeal. His faith and his profession, Abuelaish answered. “I will never let this self-destructive poison, hate, to approach me,” he said.
“Israelis and Palestinians are like conjoined twins,” he added. “It is our responsibility to spread the message” of coexistence.