I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignityby Izzeldin Abuelaish, Patrick Lawlor
The extraordinary, riveting story of a Palestinian doctor who, rather than seek revenge after witnessing his three daughters' deaths by Israeli tank shells, continues his humanitarian call for the people of the region to come together in understanding, respect, and peace.See more details below
The extraordinary, riveting story of a Palestinian doctor who, rather than seek revenge after witnessing his three daughters' deaths by Israeli tank shells, continues his humanitarian call for the people of the region to come together in understanding, respect, and peace.
Inspiring memoir of the struggle of a Palestinian doctor to preserve his family, humanity and hope in the face of injustice and destruction in the Gaza Strip.
The eldest boy of nine siblings raised in a tiny room in the Jabalia refugee camp, Abuelaish (Public Health/Univ. of Toronto) was determined to lift his family out of the penury to which it had been reduced by its flight in 1948 from its nearby ancestral farm, later swallowed by Ariel Sharon's ranch. With earnings from working on an Israeli farm when he was 15, the author built his family a house to replace the one bulldozed at Sharon's order. Despite increasing restrictions on Gazans' mobility and opportunity, the ragged ghetto boy realized his ambition of becoming the first Palestinian doctor to practice in both Gaza and Israel. Dr. Abuelaish built a five-story building in Jabalia City to house his extended family, who hunkered down there when Israel invaded Gaza in January 2009. Well-known in Israel for his advocacy of medical collaboration as a way to humanize Palestinians' and Israelis' perceptions of each other, Abuelaish felt confident that the Israeli tank sitting outside his window would not target his home. His shrieks of anguish when two shells exploded in the next room, killing three of his daughters and his niece, went out live on the Israeli TV news show for which he was a stringer. The worldwide outcry over the carnage inflicted on the household of a champion of nonviolence prompted Israel to declare a cease-fire. Instead of cursing Israelis collectively, Abuelaish passionately reaffirms his conviction that the resentment on both sides will never weaken until the Gaza-Israel barrier is made permeable to regular human interactions between ordinary Palestinians and Israelis.
A deeply affecting narrative told in a voice of poignant simplicity, punctuated by injunctions to love that are far from corny, tried as they are by the searing experiences of a righteous man striving to act decently in a place of madness.
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Read an Excerpt
I SHALL NOT HATEA GAZA DOCTOR'S JOURNEY ON THE ROAD TO PEACE AND HUMAN DIGNITY
By IZZELDIN ABUELAISH
Walker & CompanyCopyright © 2011 Izzeldin Abuelaish
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSand 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 two and a half miles 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, writing 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. And even I did not imagine how our personal tragedy was about to multiply many times over. People were grumbling 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 ????, a blockade had been put in place, presumably to punish the Palestinian people as a whole for the actions of a 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 had been 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 to know 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; it is estimated that 80 percent are 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—that make up Gaza are noisy, crowded, dirty. One refugee camp, the Beach Camp in western Gaza City, houses more than eighty-one thousand people in less than one half of a square mile. 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 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, and 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 is 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 by the international community, as a result.
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 defenseless 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 behavior 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 socioeconomic life does not match their educational 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 human nature 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 type or another; everyone needs rehabilitation. But no help is available to ease the tension. This parasuicidal behavior—the launching of rockets and 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 the vicious cycle continues.
More than half of the people in Gaza are under the age of eighteen; that's a lot of angry, disenfranchised young people. Teachers report behavior problems in schools—conduct that demonstrates outward frustration and a sense of helplessness in the face of 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 futility and hopelessness create a breed of people who are ready to take action because they feel like outcasts—like they have nothing to lose, and worse, nothing to save.
They are trying to get the attention of the people outside our closed borders: those who make decisions about who is welcome and who is not. 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. There is a blatant abuse of power by people given the title of border patrol officer and a uniform, but who may not even understand the implications beyond a simple list of rules dictated by ego-driven leaders. They are disconnected from the common ground with others who are fellow human beings.
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—the life-altering repercussions it has created on both sides of the divide and on the Palestinians in particular. The disproportionate reaction by the institutionalized military powers causes loss of innocent lives, demolishes houses and farms; nothing is spared, and nothing is sacred.
I've lived with this tension in varying degrees throughout my life, and have always done my utmost to succeed, despite the limits our circumstances have 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. As a child, I knew that education was a privilege: something sacred and the key to many possibilities. I remember holding on tightly to my books the same as a mother cat would hold on to her newborn kittens, protecting my most valuable possessions with my life, in spite of any destruction that might have been going on around me. I loaned those treasures to my brothers and even some friends who were younger than I was. But before I did so, I let them know that they better take care of them as though they were their own most treasured possessions. I still have all those books today.
Through hard work, constant striving, and the rewards that come to a believer, I became a doctor. However, it wouldn't have been possible without the tremendous, untiring efforts of my parents and the rest of my family, who altruistically sacrificed everything, even though they had nothing, to support me throughout my time of studying. When I went to medical school in Cairo, they worried because I would be far away from them. Would I have enough to eat? Would I find our traditional foods? My favorite cookies; my favorite Palestinian spices; olives and olive oil? My mother would send these things with Gazans who came to visit Egypt. Sometimes I would receive packages of clothing, soap, apples, tea, coffee—all of which I needed, but also some of my favorite things. My family recognized my deep desire to make a better life for everyone and wanted to invest in me with very high hopes that I could help all of us. After medical school, I got a diploma in obstetrics and gynecology from 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, becoming the first Palestinian doctor to be on staff at an Israeli hospital. 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 diff erence for the Palestinian people, I needed management and policy-making skills, so I enrolled in a master's program in public health (health policy and management) at Harvard University. Then I worked 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 stance in this region. Whether delivering babies, helping couples overcome infertility, or researching the effect of health care on poor populations versus rich ones, or the impact on populations with access to medical help versus populations without access, I have long felt that medicine can bridge the divide between people and that doctors can be messengers of peace.
Excerpted from I SHALL NOT HATE by IZZELDIN ABUELAISH Copyright © 2011 by Izzeldin Abuelaish. Excerpted by permission of Walker & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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