I was born and raised in a Palestinian refugee camp. As a child I never tasted childhood. I was born to face misery, suffering, abject poverty, and deprivation. However, the suffering in this world is man-made; it’s not from God. God wants every good thing for us and he created us for the good. But just because suffering is man-made, there is hope. It’s the hope that we can challenge this man-made suffering by not accepting it, and by taking responsibility. I can’t challenge God, but I can challenge someone on earth. And you can do the same.
People can deprive you, imprison you, or kill you, but no one can prevent any of us from dreaming. As a child, I dreamed of being a medical doctor. Through hard work I achieved my dream. Now I fight on a daily basis to give life to others. There are others who live to fight. Is this the purpose of our existence: to fight and to end others’ lives? A human life is the most precious thing in the universe. I know from my practice as a gynecologist how hard we work to save one life. Someone else can put an end to a life in seconds with a bullet. Each human being is a representative of God on earth, God’s most holy creation. We must value human life and be strong advocates of saving human life.
This world is endemic with violence, fear, and injustice. We often mention that one hundred, one thousand, or ten thousand people have been killed here or there. But people are not numbers or statistics: we need to zoom in to think of each of them as a beloved one. Each person who is killed has a name, a face, a family, a story.
I was the first Palestinian doctor to practice medicine in an Israeli hospital. Many Israelis see Palestinians only as workers and servants. I wanted them to see that Palestinians are human and that we are not so different. Medicine has one culture and one value: the value of saving humanity. Within the walls of a hospital we treat patients equally, with respect and privacy, wishing them to be healed. We don’t design treatment according to their name, religion, ethnicity, or background, but according to their disease and their suffering.
Why don’t we practice this equality outside of these institutions? Inside them we are angels and we remember that we are equal. We need to practice it outside. The happiest moment in my life is when I hand a baby to its mother; the cry of a newborn is the cry of hope that a new life has come to this world. There is no difference between the cry of a newborn baby of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Druze, or Bedouin parents. They are the same.
The most difficult time in my life was one four month period while I was working at this Israeli hospital. On September 16, 2008, I lost my wife, Nadia, to acute leukemia. It was sudden, taking only two weeks. I felt it was the end of the world. I believe that a mother is everything in life. The mother is the main pillar of the house; she is the one who gives, sacrifices, and builds without limits. In the loss of a mother, we lost her big heart, kindness, mercy, and love. But I couldn’t change it; I had to move with it. I was blessed to have six beautiful, bright daughters and two sons. I continued my work.
Then the unexpected happened. On January 16, 2009, just four months after the loss of my wife, an Israeli tank bombed my home in Gaza, killing three of my daughters and one niece. There was no reason to kill them. They were girls armed only with love, education, and plans. I raised them to serve humanity. They were drowning in their blood in their bedroom, their bodies spread everywhere. I wanted to see them. Where was Bessan, whom I saw a few seconds before? Where were Mayar, Aya, and Noor? Mayar was number one in math in Palestine and planned to follow my path and become a medical doctor. She was decapitated. I couldn’t recognize her. Where was Aya, 13, who planned to be a lawyer, the voice of the voiceless, to speak out and break the silence? Where was Noor, 17, who planned to be a teacher?
At that moment I said that God sees this tragedy, and it will be invested for the good. I asked myself why I had been saved; if I had stayed a few more seconds with them, I would have been gone. It was God’s mercy and plan that I was scheduled to be interviewed live on Israeli TV. My cries were heard through the world.
Even when the whole world seems dormant and paralyzed, God is awake. God is alive. At that moment I directed my face to God, the one who is alive, awake, and strong. I didn’t feel angry. I only felt that I couldn’t accept what was happening and asked what I could do. At that moment I swore to God and to my daughters: I will never rest. I will never relax. I will never give up or forget you. How can I forget them? They are my beloved ones and I miss them.
I believe I will meet my daughters again, and they will ask me, “What did you do for us?” Until then they are alive in me, and I will meet them with a big gift, and that gift is justice for them and for others. I must prove that their lives and noble blood were not wasted. That they made a difference in others’ lives. That they saved others. But to do that, we can’t use bullets and bombs like the one which killed them.
The bullet is the weapon of the weak: it kills once. You have the strongest weapon. It’s your wisdom and your kind, courageous words. Words are stronger than bullets. We need to say the right word in time. What is the value of saying it afterward? What is the value of treating patients after they have died?
The first message of support came from my fourteen-year-old son, Mohammed. While I was crying he looked at me and said, “Why are you crying? Why are you screaming? You must be happy.” I said that he didn’t know his sisters had been killed. How can he tell me to be happy? He said, “No, I know my sisters are killed, but I know that they are happy there. They are with their mom. She asked for them.” That fourteen-year-old Palestinian child could teach world leaders to be patient. I thought that if he said that, I don’t need to worry about him. He knows his way. And I too have to move forward. As Einstein said, life is like riding a bicycle. To keep balanced we must keep moving. I kept moving faster, stronger, more determined. Not looking backward, only forward.
I wrote my book I Shall not Hate because people expected me to hate. Maybe I have the right to hate. But we are blessed to be human, to have choices in life between the dark and the light, between what is right and what is wrong. If I want to bring my daughters justice, is it with hatred? Is it with darkness, with blindness?
Hatred is a disease that eats the one who carries it. It is poison. It is a fire which burns the one who started it. It is cancer, a self-destructive disease. It’s a heavy burden with which you can’t move forward. It makes you sink deeper. Don’t allow this disease. Build a shield around you. Don’t allow hatred. I said that I shall not hate, meaning that I’m not going to be sick. I will never be broken or defeated by this disease. I will challenge it and take responsibility. Don’t blame others, but take responsibility and move forward. Be angry, but in a positive way. When you see something wrong, don’t accept it. Ask, “What can I do to change it?” Don’t feel so angry that you lose control and then regret it. We need a constructive, positive anger that energizes us.
Whatever you do makes a difference. Don’t say it won’t impact others. The patient needs action, a prescription. They don’t need words. Everything starts with words, but these words have no meaning if they are not translated into action. It starts with small actions. First make a difference in your local community. Speak out. Evil flourishes in this world when good people do nothing and think they are far from risk. What do you hear? What do you see? Does it harm human beings? This world is becoming smaller and smaller. We live in one boat. We must not allow anyone to do harm to this boat or we will all sink.
Your freedom depends on mine. No one is free as long as others are not. We must stand for the freedom of all. We must speak out about the freedom of all – freedom from need, ignorance, poverty, sickness, and fear. In memory of Bessan, Mayar, Aya, and Noor, I established the Daughters for Life Foundation for the education of girls and women from the Middle East. Social and economic challenges should not be a barrier to girls’ education. In these girls I see my daughters’ dreams and plans being fulfilled. I see these girls as my daughters. God took three daughters and one niece from me, but has given me hundreds more.