Faith in Peace

By Frances Khirallah Noble

I Shall Not Hate
By Izzeldin Abuelaish
Walker & Company, 2010

In“I Shall Not Hate,” Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish tells his story of loss and forgiveness.  Raised in the Jabalia Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip, he describes a life of poverty and oppression: Israeli gunships on the horizon, helicopters overhead, UN relief trucks, smashed buildings, fear and outrage, and never enough of anything – cooking oil, fresh fruit or water.  Still, Dr. Abuelaish has enough faith in life and in the future to become an infertility specialist – to help bring children into this presently ravaged place.

Through sheer determination, Dr. Abuelaish obtains his medical education and earns additional certifications and degrees, including one from Harvard.  He marries Nadia and they have eight children together.  He becomes the first Palestinian doctor at the Israeli Soroka Hospital, where he and his Israeli colleagues work in mutual respect.  An optimistic outlook and a determination to respond to people as individuals, not members of a group, sustain Dr. Abuelaish as he goes through repeated humiliating border crossings from Gaza into Israel.  Rather than condemn all Israeli people for the cruelties and injustices he endures, he confines his anger to the specific border guards who mistreat him. He will not commit the sin of punishing everyone for the actions of the few.

When Nadia dies of leukemia in 2008, Dr. Abuelaish and his children are plunged into sorrow.  And more sorrow is to come. Hostilities escalate between Israel and Hamas and on December 27, 2008, Israel begins a 23-day assault on the Gaza Strip. It is a show of overwhelming force, a siege of bombs and tanks. The result is devastating: Gaza is cut off from the world, food is running out, and the air is dense with dust and debris.  Dr. Abuelaish wonders how leaders from either side could allow anyone’s children to be subject to such an attack.

On January 16, there is a direct hit on Dr. Abuelaish’s house. Three of his daughters and his niece are killed: Bessan, Mayar, Aya, and Noor. Much later, Israel admits this bombing was in error. Throughout the trauma, Dr. Abuelaish does not hate.  Instead, he continues to work for peace and brotherhood and sisterhood through medicine, crediting his strong Muslim faith for his ability to continue this journey toward human dignity and freedom.

This review appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 16, no. 63

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