A doctor from Gaza has been missing since November. His Canadian cousin is still searching for answers
The last time Ontario resident Salem Aliwa heard from his cousin, an emergency doctor based in Gaza, was by phone on November 18, when the doctor said he was approaching an Israeli army checkpoint and would call him back later.
Eliwa has since been trying to find his cousin, Dr. Saleh Eliwa, by contacting the International Red Cross in Jerusalem and Canada, trying lawyers in Israel, and even turning to a local member of parliament.
“We haven’t heard a single thing about him or his whereabouts or anything like that,” Elwa said from his home in Burlington, Ont. “We don’t even know if he’s still alive.”
Eliwa described his cousin as “one of the brightest people you will ever meet” and was the valedictorian of his medical school program when he graduated in 2018.
Dr. Aliwa was working in the emergency department at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza when the IDF ordered the evacuation of the hospital on November 18.
Aliwa said: “On the news we saw that they were evacuating Al-Shifa Hospital, so we called him and asked him what was happening.” He added, “He told us that they gave them half an hour to evacuate the entire hospital.”
Aliwa said that the doctor’s plan was to go to southern Gaza to be with his family, as his house in the north was bombed. But, Eliwa said, no one in the family heard from him after that final phone call as he approached an Israeli army checkpoint on his way.
Dr. Tariq Loubani, an emergency room physician in London, Ontario, who worked and trained doctors in Gaza, was one of Eliwa’s mentors and did several courses with him.
Loubani said he spoke to other emergency doctors at Shifa Hospital who saw what happened to Eliwa, and told Loubani that the Israeli military arrested Eliwa at the checkpoint along with other health care workers, some of whom were later released.
Al-Lubani said: “The news came out through that type of prisoner that he was arrested and transferred to Israel.” “That’s the last we heard from him.”
Elwa said he heard the same thing from his cousin’s colleagues.
In a statement to CBC News, an IDF spokesperson said the force “recognizes the importance of the special protection afforded to medical personnel under international humanitarian law and is taking measures to prevent harm to them.”
The spokesman said: “The Israeli army is not at war with civilians in Gaza. The Israeli army is at war with Hamas. Hamas has entrenched itself in the civilian infrastructure and operates throughout the entire Gaza Strip.”
The spokesman said they could answer CBC’s questions about Aliwa if they had his passport or ID number.
But when those numbers were shared with CBC News by Elwa and passed on to the spokesperson, the spokesperson did not answer questions and instead referred them to the Israel Prison Service.
The Israel Prison Service did not respond in time for publication.
No answers from the Red Cross
By mid-December Report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human RightsThe Israeli army arrested a number of Palestinians from northern Gaza, and “many of the detainees were subjected to serious ill-treatment, which in some cases may amount to torture.”
The UN report stated: “The families of the detainees were not provided with any information about the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones or any reasons for their detention, which exacerbated their feelings of pain and fear.”
About two weeks ago, Canadian citizen journalist Mansour Shoman disappeared in Gaza. In a story similar to Eliwa’s, friends and family said aid organizations on the ground told them that witnesses saw Shuman being taken by the Israeli army.
Seeking answers about his cousin, Eliwa contacted both the International Red Cross in Jerusalem and the Canadian Red Cross.
Aliwa said: “The International Red Cross in Jerusalem told me that we are not allowed to publish any information because the occupation does not allow the release of any of it.” “They asked me to contact the Canadian Red Cross.”
The Canadian branch asked Eliwa to fill out a form containing his cousin’s information.
“Once the document is returned, we will process your request and forward it to the International Committee of the Red Cross – ILOT (Israel and Occupied Territories) Delegation,” a Canadian Red Cross representative wrote to ILOT in an email on December 6.
But neither Al-Kindi nor the Red Cross branch in Jerusalem were able to find answers.
In emails to CBC News, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross said the organization was unable to visit any Palestinians detained in Israel, or any Israelis being held hostage in Gaza.
When asked about the number of Palestinians detained in Israel, an ICRC spokesperson said: “We do not have numbers on that, and even if we did, we would not share them publicly because of our confidential and bilateral dialogue with the parties to the conflict.”
It is also unknown how many people in Canada have filled out forms with the Canadian Red Cross’s Restoring Family Links program, searching for missing loved ones in Gaza.
“We have considered your request and we will not provide you with the number you have requested,” a Canadian Red Cross spokesperson said when asked about the number of Canadians searching for people in Gaza.
They did not share why this number was not available.
Eliwa said he knows his cousin is not eligible for evacuation to Canada, but he will continue to appeal to the Red Cross, members of the Canadian Parliament and other international organizations to find out where Eliwa is and what condition he is living in. For two months, Eliwa continues to court the doctor via his phone.
“His cell phone is still ringing and you can send him messages, which means his phone is active somewhere,” Elwa said.