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By turns inspiring and heart-breaking, hopeful and horrifying, I Shall Not Hate is Izzeldin Abuelaish's account of an extraordinary life. A Harvard-trained Palestinian doctor who was born and raised in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and "who has devoted his life to medicine and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians" (New York Times), Abuelaish has been crossing the lines in the sand that divide Israelis and Palestinians for most of his life - as a physician who treats patients on both sides of the line, as a humanitarian who sees the need for improved health and education for women as the way forward in the Middle East. And, most recently, as the father whose daughters were killed by Israeli soldiers on January 16, 2009, during Israel's incursion into the Gaza Strip. His response to this tragedy made news and won him humanitarian awards around the world. Instead of seeking revenge or sinking into hatred, Abuelaish called for the people in the region to start talking to each other. His deepest hope is that his daughters will be "the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis."
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Izzeldin Abeulaish, MD. MPH, is a Palestinian physician and infertility expert who was born and raised in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He received a scholarship to study medicine in Cairo, Egypt, and then received a diploma from the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of London. He completed a residency in the same discipline at Soroka hospital in Israel, followed by a subspecialty in fetal medicine in Italy and Belgium. He then undertook a masters in public health at Harvard University. Before his three daughters were killed in January 2009 during the Israeli incursion into Gaza, Dr. Abuelaish worked as a researcher at the Gertner Institute at the Sheba hospital in Tel Aviv. He now lives with his family in Toronto, where he is an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.
His website and foundation can be found at www.daughtersforlife.comExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Sand and Sky
It was as close to heaven and as far from hell as I could get that day, an isolated stretch of beach just four kilometres from the misery of Gaza City, where waves roll up on the shore as if to wash away yesterday and leave a fresh start for tomorrow.
We probably looked like any other family at the beach—my two sons and six daughters, a few cousins and uncles and aunts—the kids frolicking in the water, drawing their names in the sand, calling to each other over the onshore winds. But like most things in the Middle East, this picture-perfect gathering was not what it seemed. I’d brought the family to the beach to find some peace in the middle of our grief. It was December 12, 2008, just twelve short weeks since my wife Nadia had died from acute leukemia, leaving our eight children motherless, the youngest of them, our son Abdullah, only six years old. She’d been diagnosed and then died in only two weeks. Her death left us shocked, dazed and wobbling with the sudden loss of the equilibrium she had always provided. I had to bring the family together, away from the noise and chaos of Jabalia City where we lived, to find privacy for all of us to remember and to strengthen the ties that bind us one to the other.
The day was cool, the December sky whitewashed by a pale winter sun, the Mediterranean a pure azure blue. But even as I watched these sons and daughters of mine playing in the surf, looking like joyful children playing anywhere, I was apprehensive about our future and the future of our region. But even I did not imagine how our personal tragedy was about to multiply many times over. People were rumbling about impending military action. For several years, the Israelis had been bombing the smugglers’ tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, but recently the attacks had become more frequent. Ever since the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit had been captured by a group of Islamic militants in June 2006, a blockade had been put in place, presumably to punish the Palestinian people as a whole for the actions of the few. But now the blockade was even tighter, and the tunnels were the only way most items got into the Gaza Strip. Every time they were bombed, they had been rebuilt, and then Israel would bomb them again. Adding to the isolation, the three crossings from Israel and Egypt into Gaza had been closed to the media for six months, a sign that the Israelis didn’t want anyone knowing what was going on. You could feel the tension in the air.
Most of the world has heard of the Gaza Strip. But few know what it’s like to live here, blockaded and impoverished, year after year, decade after decade, watching while promises are broken and opportunities are lost. According to the United Nations, the Gaza Strip has the highest population density in the world. The majority of its approximately 1.5 million residents are Palestinian refugees, many of whom have been living in refugee camps for decades; 80 percent of us are estimated to be living in poverty. Our schools are overcrowded, and there isn’t enough money to pave the roads or supply the hospitals.
The eight refugee camps and the cities—Gaza City and Jabalia City—which make up Gaza, are noisy, crowded, dirty. One refugee camp, the Beach camp in western Gaza City, houses more than 81,000 people in less than one square kilometre. But still, if you listen hard enough, even in the camps you can hear the heartbeat of the Palestinian nation. People should understand that Palestinians don’t live for themselves alone. They live for each other and support each other. What I do for myself and my children, I also do for my brothers and sisters and their children. My salary is for all of my family. We are a community.
The spirit of Gaza is in the cafés where narghile-smoking patrons discuss the latest political news; it’s in the crowded alleyways where children play; in the markets where women shop then rush back to their families; in the words of the old men shuffling along the broken streets to meet their friends, fingering their worry beads and regretting the losses of the past.
At first glance you might think everyone is in a hurry—heads down, no eye contact as people move from place to place—but these are the gestures of angry people who have been coerced, neglected, oppressed. Thick, unrelenting oppression touches every single aspect of life in Gaza, from the graffiti on the walls of the cities and towns to the unsmiling elderly, the unemployed young men crowding the streets and the children—that December day, my own—seeking relief in play at the beach.
This is my Gaza: Israeli gunships on the horizon, helicopters overhead, the airless smugglers’ tunnels into Egypt, UN relief trucks on the roadways, smashed buildings and corroding infrastructure. There is never enough—not enough cooking oil, not enough fresh fruit or water. Never ever enough. So easily do allegiances switch inside Gaza that it’s sometimes hard to know who is in charge, whom to hold responsible: Israel, the international community, Fatah, Hamas, the gangs, the religious fundamentalists. Most blame the Israelis, the United States, history.
Gaza is a human time bomb in the process of imploding. All through 2008 there were warning signs that the world ignored. The election of Hamas in January 2006 increased the tension between Israelis and Palestinians, as did the sporadic firing of Qassam rockets into Israel and the sanctions imposed on Palestinians as a result by the international community.
The rockets—homemade, most often missing their targets—spoke the language of desperation. They invited overreaction by the Israeli army and retaliatory rocket attacks from helicopter gunships that rained down death and destruction on Palestinians, often defenceless children. That in turn set the stage for more Qassam rockets—and the cycle kept repeating itself.
As a physician, I would describe this cycle of taunting and bullying as a form of self-destructive behaviour that arises when a situation is viewed as hopeless. Everything is denied to us in Gaza. The response to each of our desires and needs is, “No.” No gas, no electricity, no exit visa. No to your children, no to life. Even the well-educated can’t cope; there are more postgraduates and university graduates per capita here in Gaza than in most places on earth, but their socio-economic life doesn’t match their education level because of poverty, closed borders, unemployment and substandard housing. People cannot survive, cannot live a normal life, and as a result extremism has been on the rise. It is psychologically natural to seek revenge in the face of relentless suffering. You can’t expect an unhealthy person to think logically. Almost everyone here has psychiatric problems of one sort or another; everyone needs rehabilitation. But no help is available to ease the tension. This para-suicidal behaviour—the launching of rockets, the suicide bombings—invites counterattacks by the Israelis and then revenge from the Gazans, which leads to an even more disproportionate response from the Israelis. And on it goes.
More than half the people in Gaza are under the age of eighteen; that’s a lot of angry, disenfranchised young people. Teachers report behaviour problems in the schools—conduct that’s related to war and violence. Violence against women has escalated in the last ten years, as it always does during conflict. Unemployment and the related feelings of frustration and helplessness create a breed of people who are ready to take action because they feel they have nothing to lose—and worse, nothing to save.
They’re trying to get the attention of the people outside our closed borders. Their rallying cry is, “Look over here, the level of suffering in this place has to stop.” But how can Gazans attract the attention of the international community? Even humanitarian aid organizations depend on permission from Israel to enter and leave the Gaza Strip.
The acts of violence committed by the Palestinians are expressions of the frustration and rage of a people who feel impotent and hopeless. The primitive and cheap Qassam is actually the most expensive rocket in the world when you consider the consequences it creates on both sides of the divide.
I’ve lived with this tension in various degrees for my whole life, and have always done my utmost to succeed despite the limits our circumstances imposed on us. I was born in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza in 1955, the oldest of six brothers and three sisters, and our lives were never easy. But even as a child I always had hope for a better tomorrow. Through hard work and constant striving, and the rewards that come to a believer, I became a doctor. I went to medical school in Cairo then did a diploma in obstetrics and gynecology with the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia in collaboration with the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of London. Later, beginning in June 1997, I undertook a residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Soroka hospital in Israel. Then I studied fetal medicine and genetics at the V. Buzzi hospital in Milan, Italy, and the Erasme Hospital in Brussels, Belgium, and became an infertility specialist. After that I realized that if I was going to make a larger difference for the Palestinian people, I needed management and policy-making skills, so I enrolled in a masters program in Public Health (Health Policy and Management) at Harvard University. Now I am working as a senior researcher at the Gertner Institute in the Sheba hospital in Israel. All of my adult life I have had one leg in Palestine and the other in Israel, an unusual path in this region. Whether delivering babies, helping a couple overcome infertility or ...
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