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Palestinian doctor talks peace in new book

BY ERIKA JOST
For the Daily
Published January 30, 2011

Minutes after an Israeli tank shell killed three of his daughters and his niece in January 2009 in a Gaza refugee camp, Izzeldin Abuelaish called Shlomi Eldar, the anchorman of an Israeli TV station, to report the story to Israel and the world.

Abuelaish, a doctor and lifelong proponent of peaceful reconciliation between Israel and Palestine, continues this story in his book “I Shall Not Hate,” which he will discuss at the Michigan Theater on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

“I wrote the book at a time when I (thought) there (was) a complete need for a human message for people who are disappointed about what is happening in this world,” Abuelaish said in an interview with the Daily. “There is something I can tell people to aspire to.”

Since his childhood, when he treated his books “same as a mother cat would hold on to her newborn kittens,” Abuelaish writes in “I Shall Not Hate,” he has been able to “find the good chapter of the bad story.”

This trait, he said, has been an asset in his life, as he studied public health at Harvard, worked with the World Health Organization in Kabul and completed his obstetrics and gynecology residency in Israel.

This outlook was tested further when his wife Nadia died of acute leukemia in September 2008. Three months later, he lost three of his daughters, in whom he saw a brighter future for Gaza.

“I faced a lot of suffering as a Palestinian child,” he said. “We don't want to see any child going hungry, we don't want to see a child without school. I feel outrage when I see children suffering. We need to share all of the humanity we have.”

In his book, Abuelaish describes a 2006 documentary, “Dear Mr. President,” that his oldest daughter Bessan made with four young women from Israel and Palestine while they road-tripped across America. His humane philosophy echoes in the words of his daughter.

“We think as enemies; we live on opposite sides and never meet,” Bessan said in her documentary. “ But I feel we are all the same. We are all human beings.”

Bessan, who was prepared to graduate with a degree in business from the Islamic University in Gaza at the end of the 2009 academic year and who had assumed a maternal role with her siblings after the death of her mother, was killed during the January attack.

Through his medical work, Abuelaish continues trying to bridge the gap in the warring area.

“All of my adult life I have had one leg in Palestine and the other in Israel, an unusual stance in this region,” Abuelaish writes. “I have long felt that medicine can bridge the divide between people and that doctors can be messengers of peace.”

Abuelaish now lives with his three surviving daughters and two sons in Toronto, where he teaches at the University of Toronto School of Public Health. There, he said his family has had the opportunity to heal. He continues his advocacy for peace in Gaza.

“I find the impact of my book everywhere,” Abuelaish said. “People are responding; most people in Gaza understand. It strengthens my hope.”


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