A Heartbroken Gaza Father Has One Simple Request For Israel

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish's three daughters were killed by an Israeli air strike in 2009. For the past seven years, the Palestinian doctor just wants an apology from Israeli officials.

Abuelaish is due back in court soon.
Abuelaish is due back in court soon.
Piotr Smolar

JERUSALEM — He has the powerful, tireless voice of a man who would not stop knocking on a door until someone eventually opens up. And yet, for the past eight years, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish has been met with the silence of indifference from the other side.

What he's asking for is both a lot and not much at all: an apology. He wants a formal apology from the Israeli government for the death of three of his daughters — Aya, Mayar and Bissan — and of his niece Noor in the bombing of his family home, in Gaza, in January 2009.

He is not motivated by hatred, nor by a lust for revenge but by the unrelenting will to seek honor and justice for his beloved children. "We will never be numbers," he said at a press conference in Jerusalem a few days ago. "We are human beings, with dreams, with a future, with projects. The guilty party knows who it is. It must have the courage to admit its responsibility, as we've had the courage to refuse to be victims."

Dr. Abuelaish has become a noted figure amid the tragedy of Gaza. For many years, he worked at the Tel Hashomer Hospital near Tel Aviv. A Hebrew and English speaker, he's successfully sought to draw the attention of both Israeli society and the international media to his family's fate during the 2009 war.

Now, to obtain the acknowledgment of the immense damage he's endured, Dr. Abuelaish has decided to sue the Israeli government. The lawsuit, filed at the end of December 2010, finally saw its first court hearing on March 15. The next one will take place at the end of the month and would include testimonies of witnesses, among them two of the victims' sisters, provided the Israel authorities allow them to leave Gaza.

Three days before the first hearing came a dramatic turn of events. The army added a ballistics study to the case's dossier that noted that a shell fragment found on one of the victims wasn't Israeli made. This, according to the IDF, would imply that the family home contained a cache of weapons.

"The army is lying time and time again," said the Palestinian doctor's lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein, with a sigh. "At first, they said that the house hadn't been targeted. Then they said that there were snipers on the roof. And now, years later, they invent Palestinian munitions."

The grieving father, now 62, has another way of putting it. "They're blind and deaf. But a patient will never be cured if he doesn't acknowledge that he's a patient and that he needs treatment."

Close to 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died in Operation Cast Lead, between Dec. 27, 2008, and Jan. 18, 2009. When the war started, the army didn't authorize journalists to enter Gaza. Shlomi Eldar, a reporter for Israeli network Channel 10, would call Dr. Abuelaish every day to hear the latest news on the ground. On live television, Dr. Abuelaish would tell the host about the war, watching from his living room.

A patient will never be cured if he doesn't acknowledge that he's a patient.

On Jan. 16, a tank passed near the family home, where close to 25 people were living. When he got this information, a worried Eldar immediately alerted the military chief of staff to avoid any potential confusion. On Jan. 16, the carnage took place nonetheless.

A shell hit the house. Three of the doctor's daughters, aged 13, 15, and 21, were killed instantly. The doctor called the Israeli journalist live on television. "I wanted to try and save them, Shlomi, but they're dead!" the doctor cried in a sequence of overwhelming despair.

A few weeks before the war, Dr. Abuelaish had lost his wife, who died of leukemia. After the bombing tragedy, he emigrated with the surviving members of his family to Toronto, Canada. But he never strayed from his existential mission: to keep his daughters' memory alive.

"I want their names to be etched in stone and in metal, on the pediments of buildings." He has created the Daughters for Life Foundation, which aims to promote the emancipation and potential of young Palestinian girls who want to study abroad. Any damages awarded by the court would be donated to this charity. Born in a refugee camp in Gaza, Dr. Abuelaish won a scholarship that led to his medical training in the U.S. and UK before becoming the first Palestinian doctor to obtain a staff position at an Israeli hospital.

Dr. Abuelaish has received unexpected support from the Israeli side. Yehuda Glick, a member of the hard-line Knesset branch of the right-wing Likud party, wrote on Facebook that the Palestinian doctor is an "amazing man." Glick is an Orthodox rabbi who fights for Jewish worship rites in Jerusalem and he is firmly opposed to the two-state solution for a Palestinian homeland. But he also believes the Israeli government should apologize to a father for the death of his three daughters.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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