“I shall not hate.” Those are his words. In fact, they are now the essence of his life and his message to the world: “I Shall Not Hate.”
This is Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the Palestinian gynecologist from Gaza who practiced in Israel and delivered Israeli babies – whose greatest joy was placing a newborn in its mother’s arms. He loved his Israeli co-workers and patients as he loved his Gazan family and countrymen, and he believed there could be tolerance and understanding between his peoples. So it was a bitter irony when in January, 2009, during an invasion of Gaza, an Israeli tank opened fire on his house and killed three of his daughters and severely wounded another. And this happened only four months after his wife died of Leukemia.
If ever there is cause for anger, for hatred and revenge, it is here. But Izzelden has chosen another way. In spite of his burden of grief and pain and the wrong he has suffered, he has set his course: “I Shall Not Hate.”
In the thirteen years since I lived in Bethlehem, the situation there has often been on my heart and mind, and Izzeldin’s story caught my attention right away. I met him last week at the Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh, and was moved and inspired by his witness for love – for justice and peace. He sees and reaches beyond his own suffering and pain to give others hope and courage to work for a better humanity. His witness for peace is powerful, and it gives me hope for Palestine and Israel.
Of course, his message is not appreciated by everyone. There are Israelis who blame him for his daughters’ deaths on the one hand, and fellow Palestinians who would take revenge on the other. As he writes:
Still, the cries for reprisals didn’t stop. What about the soldier who fired the deadly volleys from the tank? Didn’t I hate him? But that’s how the system works here: we use hatred and blame to avoid the reality that eventually we need to come together. As for the soldier who shelled my house, I believe that in his conscience he has already punished himself, that he is asking himself, “What have I done?” And even if he doesn’t think that now, tomorrow he will be a father. He will suffer for his actions when he sees how precious is the life of his child.
To those who seek retaliation, I say, even if I got revenge on all the Israeli people, would it bring my daughters back? Hatred is an illness. It prevents healing and peace.
Izzeldin speaks passionately for justice for his people, but he also believes strongly that Palestinians and Israelis are destined to live together peacefully in two nations. He pleads for honesty, that we listen for the truth, stop judging each other and have compassion.
Originally, Izzeldin wanted to write a book to tell the world how a Palestinian refugee kid from a large family in Gaza could overcome the odds of oppression, discrimination, and violence, and become a highly respected specialist in an Israeli hospital. But now he has another story documented in his autobiography I Shall Not Hate:
...In one horrifying year, my family and I faced tragedies that mountains cannot bear. But as a Muslim with deep faith, I fully believe that what is from God is for good and what is bad is man-made and can be prevented or changed.
The first blow was the loss of my dear wife, Nadia on September 17, 2008. The blow that does not kill will strengthen you. My children and I survived Nadia’s death, becoming stronger through our need to take on additional responsibilities and to help each other survive our individual suffering.
Then in January 2009, I lost three precious daughters and a niece when an Israeli tank shelled my house in Gaza. When it is your children who become “collateral damage” in a seemingly endless conflict, when you have seen their bodies literally torn apart and beheaded, their young lives obliterated, how do you not hate? How do you avoid rage? I vowed not to hate and avoided rage because of my strong faith as a Muslim. The Quran taught me that we must endure suffering patiently and forgive those who create the man-made injustices that cause human suffering. This does not mean that we do not act to correct those injustices...
...I want this book to inspire people who have lost sight of hope to take positive action to regain that hope and to have the courage to endure that sometimes long and painful journey to peace and a peaceful life…I hope to inspire people in this world, afflicted with violence, to work hard at saving human lives from destructive hostilities.
Brother Izzeldin, ya achui, may God bless you!