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Palestinian committed to end hate and war

Palestinian physician Izzeldin Abuelaish could have gone down the path of hate and revenge after losing his three daughters and niece to an Israeli attack in 2009 on his home in Gaza, said Jim Mohr, chair of the board of Gonzaga University’s Hate Studies Institute, introducing him as speaker for the institute’s recent International Conference on Hate Studies in Airway Heights.

Izzeldin Abuelaish
Izzeldin Abuelaish, Palestinian physician

His interview on Israeli TV minutes after their deaths may have contributed to ending the War on Gaza when he called for people to start talking to each other, hoping the sacrifice of his family members would move Palestinians and Israelis to peace.

“People who have had lesser wrongs have sought revenge in a misplaced search for satisfaction and justice to fill the holes of their losses created with violence,” Jim said.

However, as a physician working in an Israeli hospital, Izzeldin wondered “which one” to hate when he was told to hate Israelis.

Pain can sear human memory,” he said. “Fixing on pain, we risk being trapped by it.  I could not stay in the past and let my life end with the tragedy.  The biggest weapon of mass destruction is hate in our souls.”

Izzeldin, who is now a professor in global health at the University of Toronto, accepted the challenge to be better and break through the hate.  He tells of his life growing up in Gaza and his views on peace for Israel and Palestine in his book, I Shall Not Hate:  A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity.

Based on teachings in the Koran that the world is one human family, he has learned “to answer hate with love, conflict with reconciliation.”

He believes that to avoid being enslaved, one must acknowledge the past and embrace the future.

Second International Hate Studies Conference drew 125 participants to hear speakers from 14 countries. “The conference has given us contacts with other universities doing the same work.”

Jim Mohr - chair of the Board
for the Institute for Hate Studies

“If we face and challenge hate in the world, the world can be different.  It’s time to speak about hate on a global level, not just on the individual or national levels,” Izzeldin suggested to participants at the conference on hate studies.

He calls for efforts to make hate be seen as a disease that kills.  He calls for physicians to be emissaries of peace, as well as health.

As a Palestinian growing up in refugee camps, he knows the pain is of hundreds of millions of children who never tasted childhood.

“Our suffering is not from God, but man-made, so we must challenge and change it,” he said.

As a child, I dreamed of being a doctor.  If we dream big, our dreams can become reality,” said Izzeldin, who studied medicine in Cairo and earned a diploma from the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of London.  He did a residency at Soroka Medical Center in Israel and subspecialized in fetal medicine in Italy and Belgium.  He also has a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University.

“I went to the university to learn and struggle for our society,” he said.  “Being confident in myself, I learned that nothing is impossible—except to return my daughters and niece to life.”

On Sept. 16, 2008, his wife, the mother of their six daughters and two sons, died.  He continued to give witness as the first Palestinian doctor practicing medicine in an Israeli hospital, hoping co-workers would see a Palestinian “as human, skilled and giving.”

On Jan. 16, 2009, an Israeli tank shell hit his daughters’ room, five seconds after he had left it.

“I would not want anyone to see what I saw,” he said.  “Where was my Bisan, 20, who went at age 14 to a peace camp with Israelis to learn how similar we are?  Where was Mayar, 15, who planned to be a doctor?  Where was Aya, 13, who wanted to be a lawyer to be a voice for the voiceless?”

Aware Gazans had become numbers, Izzeldin affirmed that the craziness must stop with this tragedy:  “We may like something and find it’s not for good.  We may not like something, and find it’s for good,” he said.

To discourage his son from violence and hate, he encouraged him to know “your sisters are with their mother.”

To keep balance, he kept moving, determined not to give up.  As a Muslim, he encourages people to spend as much time as possible with the people they love.

“It’s time for us to understand that the most holy things in the universe are other human beings and freedom.  We all come from Adam and Eve, created to know, care about, respect and have compassion for each other.  We must run our lives as free human beings.  No one should fear unemployment, homelessness or hunger.  For me to be free, all must be free.  We must fight for the freedom of all,” Izzeldin said.

We must treat each other as human souls, seeing beyond divisions of ethnicity and religion to find commonalties,” he said.

As he wrote the book, he said that he suffered and wanted to hate, but knew if he did, he would be drawn into “the ocean of hate.”  Although his pain was severe and his wound deep, he did not want to become another victim of hate.

Hate is a poison.  When it’s injected, we never recover,” Izzeldin said.  “My focus is on prevention.  It’s more effective to immunize oneself and one’s children from hate.  The antidote to hate is success.”

Instead of using a weapon like the one that killed his daughters and niece, he used his education to stand stronger and gain wisdom.

His daughter Shada, then 17, who survived but lost her right eye and has malformed fingers, did not lose her compassion.  She is determined to study computer engineering to achieve her sisters’ dreams of higher education.

Izzeldin feels outrage when he goes to the grave, but chooses to use that anger to bring change.

Our enemies are our ignorance of each other and greed.  We must learn about others so the world can be safe.  We need both justice and security,” he said, noting that justice is what he wants for others.  “Change does not come from outside but from within our hearts, minds and souls.”

He quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., that “our lives begin to end when we are silent about things that matter” and when “good people do nothing.”

Izzeldin believes “we need more than words.  We need presence and action.  It’s time for each of us to do something,” he said.

I am confident the world can be changed by justice, truth and peace,” he said, adding that part of truth is for men to realize they are indebted to their mothers, wives and daughters, and to challenge calls for budget cuts that affect the health of women and children.   

Now Izzeldin wants to see the plans of his daughters fulfilled by other girls, so he has started a scholarship fund called, Daughters for Life, Education and Health Canada.   It will give 35 awards in six countries this spring.  He hopes women receiving the awards will work to end wars and hate.

Izzeldin called conference participants to “smash the mental and physical barriers within and among us and to take action.”

“The future is our priority.  Our children are the future,” he said.

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