His is a vision of peace. A vision of Middle Eastern men and women sitting together. It is a vision of not just respect for women, but of respect for people everywhere. He is known as the Gaza Doctor and the first Palestinian doctor to work in Israeli hospitals.
Doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish, is the author of I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey.
Perhaps, it is his work as a fertility specialist that has helped him to focus on the similarities of people and not their differences. He knows that a newborn baby does not know hatred. Hatred can only be taught.
His vision is of education for all, and that education for Middle Eastern women will bring about peace. He believes that thoughtful mothers, will raise thoughtful children.
You see, life has not been easy for Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. He is the son of a farmer who was driven from his home to live with his family as a refugee in Gaza. Dr. Abuelaish watched his father’s identity shaken, as he went from a respected businessman that provided for his family and contributed to his community, to a man with nothing and dependent on others for everything. Izzeldin Abuelaish struggled to become a doctor against all odds, and was supported by a mother who never lost faith. He describes life in Gaza, of hours spent crossing the Israeli Palestinian border, and the uncertainty of just that one small aspect of daily life. He could never know how long it would take or if he would be turned back. Life in Gaza: where everything is dependent on goods coming into the country, and which are often denied. Life in Gaza is filled with insecurity and the struggle to escape the fear. Dr. Abuelaish says that education is the light in the darkness.
Dr. Abuelaish has lived a life surrounded by hate–the Israeli hatred of the Palestinians, and the Palestinian hatred of the Israelis. And yet, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish could not help but see the things that mattered; that the groups were more the same than they were different. He describes life in Gaza: a place where families go about daily life, preparing meals, discussing their day; a place where children play and sing; a place where stories and jokes are told; a place where people have dreams and disappointments, joys and sorrows.
Despite challenges and setbacks, Dr. Abuelaish speaks with a voice full of strength and determination. A determination fostered by his Palestinian mother. He describes his tragic loss on January 16, 2009, when his daughters Bessan, Mayar, Aya and his niece, Noor, were all killed by an Isreali rocket fired into the girls’ bedroom just days before a cease fire was ordered. Noor had come to visit her cousins just days before the attack.
Dr. Abuelaish’s voice softens when he is asked to describe each of his girls and what they had hoped for. Bessan, at age 21, was about to finish a business degree. She was completing her studies, while caring for her brothers and sisters following the death of their mother. Mayar wanted to be a doctor like her dad, and Aya wanted to be a journalist or a lawyer. He speaks of his relationship with his daughters, of the discussions they had, and the wisdom that his daughters revealed.
What does it take to continue on after such a horrific loss? Dr. Abuelaish wishes to see other girls educated and fulfilling their dreams that his daughters will never realize. And so, Dr. Abuelaish has established the Daughters for Life Foundation, a Canadian charity, that provides young women in high school and university the opportunity to improve the quality of their lives through education. He wants to see women develop strong voices and play more influential roles throughout the Middle East.
Dr. Abuelaish believes that good can come out of bad. He believes that education, medicine, respect for all people and communication are the way to peace. He says that hatred is a disease that shuts down understanding. He wants to see us talk to each other because if we talk to each other, we will know each other and what we know, we will no longer fear and hate.
Dr. Abuelaish currently lives in Toronto, Ontario, where he is an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. Information about the Daughters for Life Foundation can be found at www.daughtersforlife.com