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Palestinian doctor chooses peace over revenge

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If you ask Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish about last January, he will talk about his daughters.

He will tell you Mayar always helped with dinner. That Aya hated doing the dishes.

Bessan once attended a peace camp in New Mexico. There she met a number of teenage Israeli and Palestinian girls like herself.

"I remember her coming back and saying, 'Those girls are just like me,'" he says.

Sitting across the table in a pressed suit, the large Palestinian man looks up at the ceiling.

Abuelaish remembers standing in the dark foyer. Six mattresses spread out around him on the floor. Earlier, he had his eight children bring them out from the bedrooms. With the Israeli tanks forcing their way down the streets, it was safer away from the windows and the walls, he'd said.

He nervously awaited a call from the local television station--for weeks he'd been providing them daily updates on the war from his home in the Gaza Strip.

Abuelaish was in the foyer when the first shell hit. The force of the blast rattled the walls, and the back room was blown apart.

"I went into the room just to see dust. Smoke. Dark. You can't see. Am I awake or not? Is this my house?" Abuelaish said.

He saw his daughters--Bessan, Aya, and Mayar. All three of them killed.

Because of gunfire in the streets outside his home, Abuelaish was helpless to evacuate other wounded family members. Hoping someone would hear his call for help, he called the news station.

The Israeli news anchor opened the line, broadcasting the Palestinian doctor's cries live to the Israeli people.

"It was broadcasted live to open the eyes of the Israeli public," Abuelaish said. "What are we doing? This face, we have seen him. We have heard him before. We know him."

A year later, tension in the region remains.

As the Obama administration is awaiting a start to Palestinian and Israeli "proximity talks," Israel continues construction of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem--an area disputed and vital to any future peace deal. The construction of Jewish settlements is currently jeopardizing these indirect talks, impeding the peace process.

"New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need," said Hilary Clinton, in a recent address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Clinton highlighted that defying the administration's demands to freeze the construction of settlements undermines the role of the U.S. as mediator.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has argued that Jerusalem is not a settlement, but the capital of Israel.

The possibility of the U.S. tabling parameters for an American-proposed peace agreement in the near future is also unlikely. Israel is a close ally and though both sides hold separate grounds regarding the construction of Jewish settlements, they are both unwilling to make tough stands that could risk their close ties.

As indirect talks and initial progressive steps toward a peaceful resolution are stalled, Abuelaish's story provides a sense of hope to the region, offering a personification of an Israeli and Palestinian coexistence.

Abuelaish has retaliated the death of his daughters by promoting peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. He has established a foundation to promote education and advancement of Palestinian girls and women, and he is currently touring Canada speaking publically about his daughters' story in hope that their deaths are the last sacrifice for peace between Israel and Palestine--a hope that is promising if a prospective resolution can be mediated by the U.S.

Abuelaish remembers his son asking to see pictures of Obama before the bombing. "He kept asking me, why haven't they stopped--the leaders? They were supposed to stop."

He hopes his son's question will be heard in the next steps toward peaceful resolution.