A man of peace from Gaza
I Shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish; Walker & Company, New York, 2010. 238 pages.
By David Strom
SAN DIEGO — Izzeldin Abuelaish is an amazing person. Being born and raised in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza strip did not deter him from becoming a spokesperson for peace everywhere in the world and, especially, the Middle East.
In January of 2009 three of his children were killed by an Israeli tank blast just yards from his home in the Jabalia refugee camp. That same blast also killed his young niece. Horrified at what had just occurred, Izzeldin sought help from outside the refugee camp. He called and eventually reached one of his Israeli friends.
The friend he reached was an Israeli television news reporter who was on air at the time. Having received two emotional and urgent messages from Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the news reporter broke into his own show-a feat that was almost unheard of, and put Dr. Abuelaish immediately on the air. Almost in a panic state, Dr. Abuelaish told the audience exactly what was happening at the time. The people listening to the TV station could hear the gun blasts, the roar of the tank cannon blasts and the urgency of the civilian doctor’s cry for help. Dr. Abuelaish asked the Israeli newscaster to try to get permission from the Israeli authorities for him to bring his other seriously wounded children across the border to Israel to the hospital where Abuelaish worked.
Crossing from Gaza into Israel is often difficult and at best, extremely slow most of the time. But with so much media attention, the crossing of the border went just a little faster, but not without many unnecessary delays. Life and death hung in the balance for one child while for another eyesight or total loss of sight remained very questionable in another of Dr. Abuelaish’s children.
However, once the children reached the hospital the service and care given to the injured and helpless children was speedy and with medically accuracy. The Israeli hospital staff of doctors and nurses did their jobs professionally, warmly and compassionately.
On the day of the shelling by the Israeli army that killed three of Dr.Abuelaish’s children, the family had already decided to take the job offered him by the University of Toronto in Canada to work at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
When his family was somewhat mended, as best as it could be under the circumstances, they moved to Toronto, Canada. The children started learning English while attending public school. They were rather oddities and celebrities as many of the school children had seen or heard about them through the different media. Eventually they settled into their new life of peace and safety. Toronto was becoming their home.
Dr. Izzeldin settled into his job. He enjoyed his research work at the School of Public Health. Coming from and working in Gaza, a very deprived area of the world, Dr. Izzeldin understood the need for a good public health program and knew the good that could come from a well-funded and theoretically sound health program. In this medical area and others, Dr. Izzeldin offered sound practical advice.
Despite working full time at the Dalla Lana School of Health, Izzeldin did not relinquish his work for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. He has been interviewed by major newspapers, appeared on many TV shows and met with many leaders of the world. An Israeli colleague Dr. Marek Glezerman, chairman of the Hospital for Women and deputy director of Rabin Medical Center remarked:
“Lately, I sometimes hear people say that he’s too good to be true. Having lost his daughters, how can he speak about peace and love and keep his Israeli friends? Some even wonder if he is taking advantage of his tragedy. But I have known him for many years, and I can attest that nothing can be further from the truth. His vision of coexistence is deep, strong, and consistent-unshaken even by tragedy so enormous we have a hard time imagining how anyone could survive it. And still he moves on.”
With all the real life problems that Dr. Abuelaish Izzeldin encountered thus far in his life, it is a wonder that he does not hate all Israelis. Prior to the terrible day of the killing of his children, Dr. Abuelaish sent his daughters to camp cosponsored by Moslem Arabs and Israelis.
Both groups allowed and urged the children from the different religions and backgrounds to get to know one another. When one of the Israeli campers learned her camp friend was wounded and in an Israeli hospital, she visited with her and helped in her convalescence.
Abuelaish is an amazing person. He taught his children to be peace-loving human beings. Hopefully they will, along with many others follow in his peaceful footsteps. The world needs more like him, especially in the ever-volatile Middle East.
Strom is professor emeritus of education at San Diego State University. He may be contacted at email@example.com
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