Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Please Read this Remarkable Article from The New York Times

Could any of us be this open-minded and open-hearted?

Believing in Peace, Even After the Unthinkable

Working as the lone Palestinian gynecologist at an Israeli hospital had its fraught moments for Izzeldin Abuelaish.

The husband of a Jewish patient angrily accused him of jeopardizing his wife’s pregnancy because he was an Arab. Palestinian neighbors scorned him for delivering babies who would grow into the “soldiers who bomb us and shoot us.”

Each time Dr. Abuelaish comforted himself with the conviction that he could overcome fear by building personal bridges between two distrustful cultures. But that belief was sorely tested two years ago during the three-week Gaza war, when Israeli tank shells slammed into his apartment, killing three of his daughters and costing another her sight in one eye.

Now Dr. Abuelaish has written a memoir that reaffirms his belief that the decades-long conflict will only be transformed when individual Palestinians and Israelis recognize their shared, precarious humanity. As he often does, he turns to medical metaphors.

“We are like conjoined twins with one heart and one brain,” Dr. Abuelaish said in a telephone interview from Canada, where he is now an associate professor in women’s health at the University of Toronto. “Any harm to one will affect the other.”

The memoir, published by Walker & Company and with a blurb by Elie Wiesel, is called “I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity.” A reviewer for The Globe & Mail in Toronto said the book was “one of the most affecting I have read on the subject of Israel and Palestine.”
The anguishing deaths of his daughters — Bessan, 20; Mayar, 15; and Aya, 14 — “immunized me against any more suffering,” said Dr. Abuelaish, an earnest man of 55. He came to recognize that suffering is caused not by God but by individuals, and “you as a human being with your potential and your ability can challenge the human beings who are making the suffering.”

Rather than questioning the legitimacy of a Palestinian nation, Dr. Abuelaish argues, Jews — “because they were burned by the fires of suffering” in the Holocaust — must focus on improving the wretched living conditions of many Palestinians.

And Palestinians must realize that firing rockets into Israel incites retribution. “The antidote for revenge is not revenge,” he said. “If I want to get revenge, it will not return my daughters. The innocence of those girls must not be spoiled by revenge. I can keep their memory living with good deeds.” He has set up a foundation called Daughters for Life to memorialize his children and to provide scholarships for young women in the Middle East.

In an interview Mr. Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, said that he could not explain why people like Dr. Abuelaish can overcome their impulse for vengeance and others cannot, but he imagines that Dr. Abuelaish has recognized that “hate hates both the victim and the hater.”

“One must not forget, but not use memory against other innocent people,” Mr. Wiesel said.

Dr. Abuelaish rejects those who dwell in the morass of historical arguments, who accuse Palestinians of inciting the conflict by rejecting the 1947 United Nations plan to partition British Palestine, or who blame Israelis for injustices as occupiers. You cannot correct history, he maintains.

“Being a medical doctor helped me a lot because you are focused on living people,” he said. “When patients are dead, it’s a waste of time.”

Still, the book bristles with that tormented history. Dr. Abuelaish grew up the son of refugees in the Gazan city of Jabalia, but his family originated in the Negev region. He possesses that property deed, though the land is now owned by Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister of Israel.

“To be pushed out,” Dr. Abuelaish writes, “is to be marked with the scar of expulsion for the rest of your life.”

He describes the squalor of the Gaza camps — fetid latrines, no running water or electricity — both under Egyptian and Israeli control. After the two intifadas, Israeli soldiers made crossing the border especially difficult, even for an infertility specialist at an Israeli hospital. Yet Israeli doctors saved the legs of his nephew Mohammed, who had been shot in the knee and ankle by Hamas gunmen in 2007.

The most excruciating crossing occurred in 2008 when his wife, Nadia, was lying in an Israeli hospital with leukemia, and he was in Europe. He had to fly to Amman rather than to Israel’s main airport; take a taxi to the Allenby Bridge, which connects Jordan to the West Bank; then endure hours of waiting at checkpoints. By the time he arrived, his wife was unconscious. She died a few days later.

Still, Dr. Abuelaish said he had worked hard not to equate a rude guard with all Israelis, just as he would not want Israelis to equate all Palestinians with suicide bombers. What helped was his friendships with Israelis: as a teenager working with a farming family and then with doctors, one of whom, Dr. Marek Glezerman, wrote the book’s introduction.

True, Dr. Abuelaish moved to Toronto in 2009. But that is because he no longer wanted the problems of crossing checkpoints to separate him from his five remaining children.

He has formed a relationship with the Israeli novelist David Grossman, who lost a son in the closing hours of the 2006 Lebanon War. When they meet, Dr. Abuelaish said, they discuss their children. And it is the future of children, he said, that should spur both sides toward peace. As he writes: “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.”

1 comment:

  1. I had never heard the concept of becoming immunized against more suffering by an extreme tragedy, such as the deaths of Dr. Abuelaish's daughters. A very heroic man.