In a moving ceremony, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish (pictured left) bestowed The Daughters for Life Award on four BGU women students last Thursday.
The Daughters For Life Foundation is a Canadian philanthropic organization that provides awards and scholarships to young women in their final year of studies at universities in the Middle East. The Daughters for Life Award granted by the foundation recognizes female students who have overcome hardship and made an outstanding contribution to the improvement of the lives of girls and young women.
This award is presented in memory of Bessan, Mayar and Aya, the three daughters of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, President of the Foundation, who were tragically killed on January 16, 2009, when an IDF tank shell hit their home in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza during the waning days of Operation Cast Lead.
The Foundation seeks to perpetuate their love of life and learning and their hopes and dreams for an educated future, as agents of change in the journey towards peace. Dr. Abuelaish was accompanied by his five other children Dalal, Shatha, Mohammed, Rofah and Abdallah.
Rector Prof. Zvi HaCohen remarked on how unusual it was for someone to honor the memory of their children by aiding the people who had harmed his family.
“It is unexpected to give scholarships to the people who hurt your family. I learn a lesson from it – possibly, somehow, eventually, two peoples can live in peace together,” he told Dr. Abuelaish and his family.
“If you let each other live, you don’t have to be afraid of each other,” HaCohen said.
Dr. Abuelaish gave an impassioned speech focusing on the need to empower women to secure the peaceful future of humanity. “When I look at Nitzan, Livnat, Arij and Hala, I see my daughters Bessan, Mayar and Aya. For the sake of humanity, we need to help them to be strong. Nothing is impossible in life. We need to give women the right opportunities,” he declared.
“When we see anything wrong, we must speak out. We want these women to be educated to speak out. Our enemy is ignorance of ourselves and others,” he urged.
Dr. Abuelaish spoke fondly of the Negev and Soroka University Medical Center where he had worked as an OB/GYN, noting the “goodness” of Negev residents. “The cry of a newborn baby is a cry of hope. A new life is coming. It is our responsibility to secure the future of these babies. Their future is in the hands of their mothers,” he said.
“Don’t waste time blaming others. Blaming is the best way to escape responsibility,” Dr. Abuelaish admonished.
Dalal Abuelaish reminded the recipients that the Foundation also supports graduate work abroad in the US and Canada, offering full tuition, room and board and annual round trip tickets home.
This year’s BGU recipients of the Daughters for Life Award are:
Arij Elbada of the Deptartment of Hebrew Language, studying towards her teaching degree:
After marrying at age eighteen, Arij decided to change her life. She got divorced and resolved to pursue an academic degree. Her parents had no way of supporting her studies, but Arij was determined to reach her goal. She volunteers teaching Hebrew at the community center in her hometown of Hura. Many of the girls she teaches have dropped out of high school and married very young, and they find it difficult to function in Israeli society because of their poor Hebrew skills. Arij encourages them to improve their Hebrew and to pursue university studies. She serves as a role model to them – and she proves to them that anything is possible.
Hala Tlalka of the Division of Arabic Language and Culture, Department of Middle East Studies:
Hala volunteers at a community center in her hometown of Rahat, counselling teenage girls how to enroll at the university. She also leads workshops for teenagers to boost their self-image and help them decide on their future careers.
Nitzan Kaufer of the Departments of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: Nitzan volunteers in a social club for youth at risk. She mentors young girls who have undergone sexual harassment and assault, helping them to understand that they should not feel guilty about what happened, and teaches them how to protect themselves in the future. She hopes to become a child therapist.
Livnat Cohen Gvura of the Department of Psychology:
Livnat volunteers in a women’s psychiatric ward at the psychiatric hospital in Beer-Sheva. She encourages inmates to believe that their lives will change for the better and hopes to work with mentally ill people in the future. Livnat has always been a perfectionist and has never let herself quit anything she has started. This determination has helped her to overcome financial hardships and she now tries to instill this determination in others.
The Award Recipients with Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish (center, pink shirt) and his children at the ceremony at BGU.