“I fully believe that my strength is my faith and my life experience. When everything is gone, God is always there to support us. I saw war and fighting, and I feel immunized against suffering and tragedies.”
His voice is shaking and resolute at the same time, sensitive but full of energy. Izzeldin Abeulaish is a 58 year-old Palestinian doctor, who recently became Associate Professor of Global Health at the University of Toronto. He was born, raised and educated in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jabbalia, in the middle of a non-ending war.
Despite the difficulties, he succeeded in studying medicine, obtaining a specialization in featal medicine. Moreover, he was the first Palestinian doctor who worked in an Israeli hospital.
Izzeldin lost three of his daughters during the Gaza war in 2009, which led him to write the book “I shall Not Hate”, where he describes the terrible moments he had to face and insists on the importance to establish peace in the Middle East region. That book is a lesson, teaching how to fight violence through non-violent means.
Still, it was difficult for me to understand why he chose to work in Tel-Aviv, and this is how he explained that to me:
“First of all we have to understand what we mean by medicine and what is health. They both mean dealing with human beings. And a human being is a creature of God. God created this human being to be valued as the most holy creature in the universe.
Izzeldin is firmly convinced that the security of Israel passes through the safety of the Palestinian civilians
“It is inherent in every religion: Christianity, Judaism, Islam all recommend and value human beings. Saving just one life is equal to saving the world, while killing one life is killing the world, because every life represents a whole.”
There isn’t any distinction between an Israeli and a Palestinian patient in a hospital. “Why can’t we bring the same message of hope and dignity outside of it?” asks Izzeldin.
He feels he inherited the possibility to practice what he considers to be a “holy profession”, the one where there is the chance to deal with people and cure their pain, wounds and scars. The doctor compares medicine to justice, because in both activities people are treated in the same exact equal way and not according to the nature, the background or the money of a person: help is provided depending on the suffering. As a consequence, health is a synonym for freedom to Izzeldin, as it permits to run a normal and serene life.
“Health is the engine of a journey through life and peace towards a united world. Since I started to practice, I have always believed that medicine can bring people together and equalize them.”
He started to work in the Israeli hospital during the first Intifadah in 1987, when Israelis described Palestinians as “those who throw stones” and when believing in cooperation and reconciliation was extremely difficult.
“I want freedom (for my country) and a world of justice. I have always believed in it and I will continue. I did my part in making a difference and in opening the eyes of the people so that they can spread this message of hope all over the world,” he affirms with an intense voice.
For Izzeldin, the dream of becoming a doctor dates back to his childhood,when at the age of eight he was hospitalized. The responsibility the doctors had in healing misery and the valuable role they played within the community, triggered something in this boy’s mind, strong enough to make him become the person he is now.
“Doctors are the number one messengers of humanity, freedom, and justice. Peace will be a consequence. Peace is a consequence of justice. I feel angry when I see children, in any part of the world, who are suffering. I want to take responsibilities, not to blame.
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“It’s through education that we get rid of the misery of life. I believe education is the best way to face the injustices and the diseases in this world.” Therefore, determination is the only necessary tool if we want to succeed. “I had to succeed from nothing. I dreamed of it. And dreams are not just words, they need actions and focusing. And you have to believe in yourself, to be confident.”
Izzeldin tries to see beauty and positivity in any single thing he observes or directly experiences.
“From pain, happiness can come: just think of a mother who is first screaming because of the labour pains, but as soon as the baby comes a smile spreads and prevails everywhere.”
Even from the pain he had to experience, the worst a father could ever live through, Izzeldin was capable to find the strength to look ahead and build something extremely powerful and beautiful in the memory of his beloved daughters and all the girls and women suffering because of this corrosive conflict.
He created the Daughters for Life Foundation, which goal is to provide better education for girls and young women in order to improve their quality of life throughout the Middle East. The foundation offers scholarships and awards for young women, giving them the opportunity to pursue studies. The awards and scholarships are proposed to women born in the MENA region, whether Arab or Israeli, and professing any religion, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian. Women are “the engine for a change in this world,” as Izzeldin says.
The Gaza doctor confesses to me that he is still waiting for an apology from Israel concerning what happened that day, because he deeply believes that the admission of guilt would be the first step towards reconciliation and a powerful example of human respect.
“I Shall not Hate”, written right after the tragedy, has been translated into twenty-three languages, included Hebrew, and acclaimed by the readers and the critics. What is more, a theatre piece has been created from Izzeldin book.
So, why can’t we see the light at the end of the tunnel? Why cannot peace be achieved? He decides to explain his point of view with an example:
“There is a patient who is suffering. Why is he suffering? Maybe it’s due to the fact that the patient doesn’t take his medicines, or maybe it is the doctor’s fault, because he doesn’t want to treat the patient or doesn’t know how to treat him correctly. Both of them can be responsible, but it is not an equal responsibility. The doctor has more responsibility, since once he has the diagnosis he can give the right treatment.
“The same goes for the Israel-Palestine conflict. We need to have a diagnosis in order to have a treatment. We need to take history and examine it. Peace is not just a word: it is action, it is sacrifice. And Palestinians are ready for that. They already sacrificed themselves, giving up 80% of their historical land. The road map is there, what we need is the Israeli government to implement and to be serious about moving forward.”
He says the settlements are a threat to the peace process, because the solution is there: a 'two states' solution, with the borders of 1967 and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and the right of return for all the Palestinian refugees.
“Peace will never come by force, as long as the Israelis don’t understand that their security, their future and their freedom are directly linked to the Palestinians.”
Izzeldin is firmly convinced that the security of Israel passes through the safety of the Palestinian civilians, because the two lands are deeply connected as they share the same past and the same future.
The whole Palestinian struggle is his own struggle, so why isn’t he in Palestine now?
“Palestine is in my life, in my genes, in my blood. It’s not the place, it’s the spirit. It’s moving with me. I miss it. In Palestine are the graves of my daughters, of my mother and my wife, of my beloved ones. Who is going to take that away from me? As long as I am breathing it breathes with me. It’s my life, my soul and my spirit. It’s there with me. It is not where you are, but who you are.”