Monday, June 13, 2011

Review: I Shall Not Hate - Izzeldin Abuelaish

by Glenn Jessop

A book with balls? Izzeldin's story has it in spades.

A potted history of this autobiographer’s life: Born at the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza in 1955, eldest of six brothers and three sisters, Izzeldin worked hard to help support his family while at the same time applying himself diligently at school. At 14 he was employed on a Jewish farm at an Israeli town north of the Gaza Strip, a foundational experience which helped him realise that Jewish people were people just like himself (i.e. Palestine). Weeks after returning to Gaza his family home was bulldozed to the ground by Israeli tanks. He persisted in his studies in medicine, seeing this as a bridge between two nations at war. In 1983 he graduated as a doctor from the University of Cairo and then obtained a diploma in obstetrics and gynecology from the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia. He became the first Palestinian obstetrician and gynecologist to be given a residency in an Israeli hospital, and continued to study and practice in a range of countries, eventually moving into policy development and research. During his pioneering career he maintained a passion for using health to achieve justice.

In 2008/09 his life took a cruel turn. His wife died of acute leukemia and within four months his house was bombed by Israeli tanks, killing three daughters and a niece. The pain and injustice of the death of innocent people jumped off the pages and shook my faith in humanity. Izzeldin’s response quickly restored it. He saw it as an opportunity to heal wounds and find a new way forward. As he courageously and generously declared:

“What happened to my family still strikes me as inconceivable. I lost three beautiful daughters and a wonderful, loving niece. What I can say is this: Let my daughters be the last to die. Let this tragedy open the eyes of the world. If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I would accept their loss”.

He concludes with a simple but astoundingly simple challenge (and solution): “It’s time we sat down and talked to each other”. Following the publication of his book Izzeldin was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.

What struck me throughout this account was the author’s struggle in facing impossibly frustrating circumstances (such as protracted border crossings, prejudiced views and war), whilst maintaining patience, courage and hope. He certainly practices what he preaches: using the death of his daughters as a call to peace, using the promise and practices of medicine to improve relations between two nations at constant loggerheads, and defending the ideal of a common humanity wherever possible.

Izzeldin is a man with a powerful story, one which offers a stirring account of life in the Gaza Strip. I for one have watched the events in the Middle East – and the conflict of Israel and the Palestinians – over the course of my life and never fully understood the dimensions and human context of the situation. Whilst I will never completely comprehend it, this book certainly helped me to understand the human element, the utter anguish and pure frustration of a man and his family living as Palestinians in Gaza. In a situation that strikes me as hopeless, this story conveyed a ray of hope, and helped me to gain sympathy for those in such circumstances.

Understanding ‘the other’ is a critical and fundamental tool to combat injustice, prejudice, inequality and war; reading this book is one small step in seeing life through the eyes of another.


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