The last time Salim Elewa, an Ontario resident, heard from his cousin, a resident emergency doctor in Gaza, was on the phone on November 18, when the doctor said he was nearing a point of control of the IDF and which he would recall later.
Since then, Elewa has been trying to find her cousin, Dr. Saleh Eleiwa, by contacting the International Red Cross in Jerusalem and Canada, using lawyers in Israel and even calling on her local MP.
“We haven’t heard anything about him or where he is or anything like that,” Elewa said from his home in Burlington, Ontario. “We don’t even know if he’s still alive.”
Elewa described her cousin as “one of the brightest people you’ll ever meet” and the valedictorian of her medical school program when he graduated in 2018.
Dr. Eleiwa was working in the emergency room at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza when, on November 18, the Israel Defense Forces ordered the evacuation of the hospital.
“On the news we saw that they were evacuating Al-Shifa hospital, so we called him and asked him what was happening,” Elewa said. “He told us they gave them half (one) hour to evacuate the entire hospital.”
The doctor’s plan, Elewa explained, was to go to southern Gaza to join his family, because his house in the north had been bombed. But, Elewa said, no one in the family heard from him after that final phone call as he approached an IDF checkpoint along the way.
Dr. Tarek Loubani, an emergency physician in London, Ontario who worked and trained doctors in Gaza, was one of Eleiwa’s teachers and did several internships with him.
Loubani said he spoke to other emergency doctors in Al-Shifa who saw what happened to Eleiwa, and told Loubani that Eleiwa was arrested by the IDF at the checkpoint with other agents health, some of whom were later released.
“The news spread through this prisoner guy that he was under arrest and had been taken to Israel,” Loubani said. “This is the last we hear from him.”
Elewa said she heard the same thing from her cousin’s colleagues.
In a statement to CBC News, an IDF spokesperson said the force “recognizes the importance of the special protections afforded to medical teams under international humanitarian law and is taking steps to prevent them from harm.”
“The IDF is not at war against civilians in Gaza, but against Hamas. Hamas has integrated itself into a civilian infrastructure and operates throughout the Gaza Strip,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said they could answer CBC’s questions about Eleiwa if they had her passport number or identity number.
But when those figures were shared by Elewa with CBC News and forwarded to the spokesperson, the spokesperson did not answer questions and instead referred them to the Israeli Prison Service.
The Israeli Prison Service did not respond in time for publication.
No response from the Red Cross
According to a mid-December report report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rightsa number of Palestinians from northern Gaza have been arrested by the IDF and “many of those detained have been subjected to serious mistreatment, which in some cases may amount to torture.”
“The families of the detainees have not received any information on the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones, nor on the reasons for their detention, which has exacerbated their feeling of anguish and fear,” we can read in the UN report.
About two weeks ago, Canadian citizen journalist Mansour Shouman disappeared in Gaza. In a story similar to Eleiwa’s, friends and relatives said they were told by aid organizations on the ground that witnesses saw Shouman being taken away by the IDF.
In her quest for answers about her cousin, Elewa contacted both the International Red Cross in Jerusalem and the Canadian Red Cross.
“The International Red Cross in Jerusalem tells me: ‘We are not allowed to release any information because the occupation does not allow it to be released,'” Elewa said. “They told me to contact the Canadian Red Cross division.”
The Canadian branch asked Elewa to fill out a form with her cousin’s information.
“Once you return the document, we will process your request and forward it to the delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – ILOT (Israel and occupied territories),” wrote a representative of the Red Cross Canadian to Elewa in an email on December 6.
But neither Canada nor the Jerusalem branch of the Red Cross have been able to find answers.
In emails to CBC News, an ICRC spokesperson said the organization has not been able to visit any Palestinians detained in Israel or any Israelis held hostage in Gaza.
When asked how many Palestinians were detained in Israel, the ICRC spokesperson replied: “We do not have figures on this and even if we did, we would not share them publicly due to our confidential and bilateral dialogue with the parties to the conflict. “
It’s also unclear how many people in Canada have filled out forms through the Canadian Red Cross’ Restoring Family Links program, searching for loved ones missing in Gaza.
“I have reviewed your request and we will not provide you with the number you requested,” a Canadian Red Cross spokesperson said when asked how many Canadians were searching for people in Gaza.
They did not explain why this number is not available.
Elewa said he knew his cousin was not eligible to be evacuated to Canada, but would continue to appeal to the Red Cross, Canadian MPs and other international organizations for advice on where to go. find Eleiwa and in what condition he is being held. For two months, Elewa continued to consult the doctor on her phone.
“His cell phone is always ringing and you can send him messages, which means his phone is active somewhere,” Elewa explained.