Raw and Emotional

I Shall not Hate    by Izzedin Abuelaish

xviii + 233 pp, , Walker and Co., NY, 2011  ....   reviewed by David P. Stern


    This is a raw and emotional autobiography, well written by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, born and raised in a Gaza a refugee camp. Here are insights into the life experienced in and around Gaza, "a time bomb in the process of imploding," and also into the author's own life as a scrupulous and dedicated physician. For most people of Gaza, life is festering poverty while hemmed between Israeli barbed wire and Hamas guns, and the title concisely describes the author's own creed. The long introduction to the book is by Dr. Marek Glezerman, a leading Israeli physician with whom Abuelaish often worked.

    Izzedin was born in 1955 in the Jabalia refugee camp, six miles from the site of the village of Houge (or Huj) where his family once was a leading clan. His family escaped to Gaza from the battle between Egypt and Israel (more about that war, here) and then found it was unable to return. Today that same site is occupied by the Israeli town of Sderoth.

    Against the odds, Abuelaish stubbornly lifted himself above the widespread misery of Gaza. Urged to serious study by persistent mother Dalal, and contributing to the support of his family by manual labor even while still in school, he graduated successfully and received a scholarship to study medicine at the Cairo university. He graduated in 1983 in obstetrics and gynecology, and then practiced in Gaza, saving lives and treating infertility. Later he continued his studies in Italy and at Harvard, gained experience in managing public health, and served on temporary posts in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. But he always returned to Gaza, to his roots, helping his relatives there build a shared home.

    Medicine can be a network stretching across borders. Seriously ill patients in Gaza were often treated in Israel, and through such ties Abuelaish formed friendships with Israeli doctors, at times working at Israeli hospitals, learning Hebrew and trying to create mutual understanding. He also found friends in Israel's press. He wrote:

        "As a physician who has practiced in Israel and Gaza, I see medicine as the bridge between us, just as education and friendship have been bridges. We all know what to do, so who is stopping us? Who is holding up the barrier between our two sides? We need to reach each other by embracing one another's realities, sending messages of tolerance rather than intolerance and healing instead of hate."

    Though he has many friends and supporters in Gaza, he failed badly as independent candidate for the elected assembly, facing local control by El-Fatah and a well-organized campaign by upstart Hamas. He was left with a large debt, one reason he took the job in Afghanistan. In that election Hamas won a majority, and in a short all-out war it soon ejected El-Fatah from Gaza and set itself up there as the only government.

    This story, unfortunately, does not end happily. Because Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, its soldiers have sporadically launched home-built rockets against Sderoth and other settlements, and at one time launched a meticulous raid across the border to seize a random hostage, still being held.

    With all its militancy, Hamas only managed to inflict limited harm on Israel, which reacted by choking traffic of both people and goods across the Gaza border. However, rockets with greater range and other arms found their way to Hamas (probably from Egypt) and that finally drove Israel at the end of 2008 to an all-out attack on the "Gaza strip." Israeli tanks and troops crossed the border, Hamas fighters melted away, and for a while Israel's army controlled the territory, though in the end it declined to occupy it and withdrew.

    This was primarily a guerrilla war, and over 1000 Gaza Arabs died, many of them civilians. Somewhere in the middle of the fight an Israeli tank fired a shell into the Abuelaish home, hitting the floor where Izzeldin's family was sheltered. Later the army claimed it was responding to a sniper firing from the building, but no evidence was ever shown. The shell instantly killed three teen-age daughters of the author--Bessan, Aya and Mayar--and also their niece Noor, who stayed with them. The book is dedicated to those girls. It expresses the grief of Izzedin, now working in Canada, and is a memorial to their lives.

    It all happened in a loud flash--a sudden explosion, then blood, dust, the the bodies of the girls and several other badly wounded children. As neighbors pitched in to carry the wounded to a hospital, Abuelaish used his cell phone to call a friend at Israel's TV, Shlomi Eldar.

Here is the story Shlomi later told:

        "It was five on Friday afternoon, and I was doing the news when I saw Izzeldin's name come up on the screen of my mobile phone. I was live on the air so I didn't answer the call. We were about to do an interview with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and the introduction had already begun when I saw his name come up on my mobile again and I made the decision to take the call live on air. I told the viewing audience that we had something very important coming in and pushed the telephone speaker button and held the mobile phone up so the viewer could see it. I think my director wondered what on earth I was doing taking a phone call in the middle of a live news broadcast.

        Izzeldin was incredibly distraught and repeated what I heard later on my voice mail: "They shelled my house. They killed my daughters. What have we done?" I can't tell you how extraordinary this was--it's not something a news anchor ever does--to take a call in the middle of a show. I was all the time wondering if this was the wrong thing to do at the same time as I was listening in abject horror to what he was saying. Then I heard my editor's voice in my earpiece saying "Move the telephone closer to the microphone."

        The conversation that followed was heartbreaking. He kept crying "Oh God, they killed my daughters, Shlomi, I wanted to save them, but they are dead. They died on the spot. Allah, what have we done to them? Oh God." His surviving children were screaming when I asked Izzedin where he lived. He was sobbing. "No one can get to us. Oh Shlomi, oh God, oh Allah, my daughters are dead." He told me the roads were closed and that they couldn't move towards the border. I asked him which junction the house was near. He told me and I said on air, "If anyone hears us in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), call the Zimmo junction. Maybe some of the wounded can still be saved." I wondered if we could ask for a cease fire and get an ambulance to come. All this was live on air."

You can watch that video on You-Tube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnEe2N-kxJk , which also has links to other videos about the author. If it is ever removed from the web, just type "Abuelaish" into a search engine and find its current location.

Watch it! And then read the book itself, it tells much more.


Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern
     Mail to Dr.Stern:   david("at" symbol)phy6.org .

Last updated 15 June 2011