By MINDY MAULDIN
Palestinian doctor and peace activist Izzeldin Abuelaish published a best-selling memoir in February on his lifelong commitment to preserve life on both sides of the Gaza Strip, one of the most contested and oppressed areas in the world.
“I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey On the Road to Peace and Human Dignity” compellingly portrays Abuelaish’s continual rejection of retaliation and bitterness in the face of hostility and trauma, most famously, in the loss of three of his daughters and a niece to Israeli military fire two years ago.
Known as “the Gaza Doctor,” Abuelaish has always treated both Israeli and Palestinian patients and sought to be a “bridge” between the two entities.
Intimately conversational in tone, Abuelaish writes with poignant emotional honesty as he articulates his grief and frustration, while maintaining the integrity of his conviction that human life is too sacred to be lost to hatred.
The most critical test of Abuelaish’s commitment to peace was brought into the international spotlight when three of his daughters and a niece were killed by an Israeli Defense Forces tank on Jan. 16, 2009.
The tank shelled Abuelaish’s house on the final day of the 22-day Israeli military operation named “Cast Lead.” According to Al-Jazeera English, the surprise operation claimed some 1,400 Palestinian lives, over 1,000 of whom were civilians.
On the day after the attack, Al-Jazeera English reported that the Israeli army claimed the tank fired on Abuelaish’s house due to sniper fire coming from the building, but the claim was denied by eyewitnesses.
According to the New York Times, an anonymous spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces said of the events: “The Israeli Defense Forces does not target innocents or civilians, and during the operation the army has been fighting an enemy that does not hesitate to fire from within civilian targets.”
Abuelaish, who had been about to do an interview with the Israeli Channel 10 TV News later that day, called reporter Shlomi Eldar minutes after the attack.
Eldar put Abuelaish’s anguished voice on speakerphone on air and rushed with a news team to the scene to try to assist Abuelaish, giving viewers a rare glimpse into Gazan grief. An Israeli ambulance took the casualties to an Israeli hospital to be treated.
On Jan. 14, during his ongoing book tour, Abuelaish described his daughters’ blood as “holy and noble,” saying that it “asks for justice. And hate cannot bring [his daughters] justice.”
In the years before the attack, Abuelaish had sent three of his daughters, Bessan, Dalal and Shatha, to the Creativity for Peace camp in Santa Fe, N.M. to educate his family about peace.
After the death of Bessan and daughters Mayar and Aya, Abuelaish founded Daughters for Life in their memory.
As described on its website, Daughters for Life advances the quality of life for women in the name of Abuelaish’s daughters, providing high school and college scholarships, curriculum improvements, research funds for the advancement of women, and public advocacy of such goals.
Abuelaish’s book captures the essence of what he calls “My Gaza,” an insider’s view of life in an impoverished and dangerous zone.
Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel said of Abuelaish’s memoir, “This book is a necessary lesson against hatred and revenge.”
May this lesson of forgiveness and humanity generate real change in the lives of many.