EVENT DATE: April 11, 2012
TOPIC: Dealing with Unimaginable Challenges – Positively
Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish captured hearts and headlines in January 2009, when Israeli shells hit his home in the Gaza Strip, killing three of his daughters and a niece. That was minutes before he was to speak on an Israeli TV program, and his cry of anguish was heard around the world. He had lost his wife to leukemia just twelve weeks earlier.
His deepest hope is that his daughters will be the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis. In 2010, he wrote a bestselling book I Shall Not Hate about his life in Gaza. He has received numerous humanitarian awards for his contribution to peace and been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Dr Abuelaish is a Palestinian physician and infertility expert. He now lives in Toronto with his five remaining children, where he is an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto. He was born and raised in a Gaza refugee camp. He won a scholarship to study medicine in Cairo. He completed a residency in obstetrics and gynaecology at Soroka hospital in Israel, studied fetal medicine in Italy and Belgium, and received a Master’s degree in public health at Harvard University. He was the first Palestinian doctor to work on staff at an Israeli hospital – the Gertner Institute of Human Genetics.
Cries gave ‘human face’ to Palestinians
By Michael Lea/The Whig-Standard
Posted 11 hours ago
The number 16 is seared into Izzeldin Abuelaish.
It was on Sept. 16, 2008, that the Palestinian doctor’s wife died of leukemia.
“I thought it was the end of the world,” Abuelaish told the Canadian Club of Kingston on Wednesday afternoon.
Then, just four months later — on Jan. 16 — three of his daughters and his niece were killed when Israeli tank shells hit their bedroom at their home in the Gaza Strip.
Abuelaish had just left the room seconds before and rushed back in to find a horrific scene.
“I don’t want anyone to see what I saw,” he said. “I couldn’t recognize those beautiful girls, drowning in their blood.”
One had been decapitated.
Another daughter had been severely wounded.
He said as a Muslim he fully believes everything that comes from God is for good and believes that is the reason he had previously agreed to be interviewed live on Israeli television at the same time the shells hit.
He went ahead with the interview and his heart-rending cries of pain went out live over the Israeli airwaves, the sound of a father mourning the senseless loss of his daughters.
“My cries gave a human face to the Palestinians.”
Until then, he said, Palestinians were seen by Israelis as numbers, statistics, figures without names or faces.
The following day, a unilateral ceasefire was announced.
He went to his wounded daughter and told her sisters had not died in vain.
“The blood and souls of your sisters made a difference in others’ lives,” he told her. “It saved others’ lives.”
Abuelaish said people expected him to hate Israelis.
“I may have the right, but is it the right way to bring my daughters’ justice?” he said. “With hate and revenge, you are a victim.”
He wondered how his young son would react to his sisters’ deaths; whether he would become filled with hate and turn to violence.
“My son wasn’t born violent or a terrorist or hater. He was born with love and a big heart.”
Abuelaish’s son told him to be happy, that his sisters were now with their mother.
When he heard that, Abuelaish knew he had to move forward. “I kept moving, faster, stronger, more determined not to give up.”
He said the world can endure, but to do so requires justice and truth.
“It’s time to act and to speak up,” he said. “What makes evil flourish is for good people to do nothing. How many people do we want to be killed and turn a deaf ear to what is happening in this world.
“Hope and faith without action is not effective.”
Abuelaish was the first Palestinian doctor to be on the staff of an Israeli hospital. He has received several humanitarian awards and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is currently a professor at the University of Toronto.
Last year, he was given an honorary degree from Queen’s University.
He wrote I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity, a best-seller in Canada that has been translated into 15 languages.
Abuelaish also established the Daughters for Life Foundation, which provides scholarship awards to encourage young women to pursue their studies at universities in Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria.
“This world is moving fast, but it is our responsibility to look around,” he said. “We need to know more about what is happening in this world. This world is endemic with human craziness and what is happening in this world, it is not from God. It’s man-made.”
Abuelaish was born and raised in a Palestinian refugee camp. “I never tasted childhood,” he said.
He dreamed of becoming a doctor after seeing the kindness of the medical staff in his camp.
“Medicine is the human equalizer. We all value health and (we) value medicine and when we treat our patients we treat them all with equality, with respect.”
He said the happiest moments in his life come when he hands a newborn baby to its mother, representing new hope.
“The cry of the newborn baby is the cry a new life is coming.”
“No one can prevent any of us from dreaming. So we need to dream, to dream big. Life taught me that dreams are close to reality.”
He said dreams can be achieved with hard work and determination and education is key to making changes in life.
“Education is the strongest weapon to face the misery of life.”
Though his daughters were killed by shells, Abuelaish believes “words are stronger than bullets.”
“Education is stronger than the gun.”
He said the Arab Spring showed that military regimes are weak.
“They can succeed for a short term, but the long term they can’t sustain it. So it is time to use our minds and to challenge the biggest weapon of mass destruction — the hate in our souls.”
He said the antidote of hate is success, something his wounded daughter proved by achieving 96% on her final school exam.
“She lost the sight in one eye, two fingers from her right hand, but she didn’t lose the determination and hope.”
She is now studying computer engineering at the University of Toronto.
“That’s the challenge, not to be a victim, to stand up and to succeed and to move forward.”