The Humane Message of “I Shall Not Hate”

From his childhood in Gaza to achievements in the medical field, Izzeldin Abuelaish has a unique life story. Against the odds, which included poverty, refugee camps, isolation and discrimination, he still managed to become the first Palestinian doctor to practice in Israel. Unfortunately, it would be the tragic death of his daughters that propelled him into an international figure as the violence of a historical conflict was exposed at its most personal level. After an incident like this, most people would turn to anger and revenge, but Abuelaish chose a different path and the reasons for doing so are expressed in his book, I Shall Not Hate, ‘A Gaza’s Doctor Journey’. Against the backdrop of the ongoing problems between the Palestinians and the state of Israel, he describes an unwavering support for peace and the need for the leaders on both sides to make such a breakthrough possible.

Abuelaish also provides firsthand accounts of life in Gaza and how local conditions were the final result of prolonged global power struggles in the Middle East. For outsiders, trying to understand Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be challenging. Along with the tendency to project our own values and beliefs on the situation, the history of this region is deeply complex. It involves the intersection of European imperialism and colonialism with the declining legacy of an ancient Islamic empire. Abuelaish’s book is thus a contemporary narrative about a society whose modern problems cannot be separated from a sequence of events that originated centuries, if not thousands of years ago. In fact, I Shall Not Hate can be regarded as the biography of an individual, whose life has been profoundly impacted by the historical tensions of the Middle East. The death of his children was thus highly symbolic of a region under constant invasion and at times a dangerous place for local citizens. He writes, “Throughout history Gaza has been eyed by outsiders who had conquest on their minds. Alexander the Great tried to rule it; the Israelite King David ruled for a while, as did the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, Persians and the Greeks. So did Napoleon, the Ottomans and the British. It seems every warrior king or emanate general who made it into the history books has taken a run at Gaza.” [1] Abuelaish’s story relates directly to World War One and Two, which resulted in the creation of the state of Israel, in 1948. This event would shape his childhood in Gaza, his educational pursuits, his relationships with both Arabs and Israelis, along with the tragic death of his children and rise to prominence, as a spokesperson for peace. For such a small geographical region, Palestine has seen a disproportional amount of political maneuvering and conflicts.

After being run as a British protectorate from 1917 to 1948, a period in which Jewish migration to the region began to increase, it has seen the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, the Six Day of 1967 and another Arab-Israeli War in 1973. This was followed by the expansion of Jewish settlements, the rise of the PLO and Hamas, along with two intifadas. In addition, this period has also been defined by constant infighting, rising factionalism and the failure of leaders from both sides to establish a lasting peace accord. [2] Many of the circumstances and experiences described in Abuelaish’s book are directly related to this turbulent history. This is because the lives of Palestinians are greatly impacted by the security measures and policies of the state of Israel. Therefore, I Shall Not Hate can be used to provide insights into these daily realities and how families, Palestinian culture and Islam as a whole, have responded to this situation. Abuelaish writes, “How come a Palestinian child does not live like an Israeli child? Why do Palestinians have to toil at any manner of hard jobs just to be able to go to school? How is it that when we are sick, we can’t get medical help Israeli kids take for granted?” [3] As an autobiographer, Abuelaish is able to personalize this crisis by sharing his thoughts on the world around him, both as a child and as an adult. In doing so, readers can learn about the daily lives of a Palestinian family whose search for peace, normalcy and opportunities ended with the ultimate tragedy.

Unlike other narratives about this crisis, I Shall Not Hate is different in that Abuelaish, despite his loss, still argues for peace and reconciliation. The book is not about expressing his anger or hatred for the state of Israel, but rather an expression of what unites both sides of the conflict and how they can move forward. Having formed close friendships with both Israelis and Palestinians, Abuelaish concluded that a majority of people simply want cooperation. In the introduction, friend and fellow doctor, Marek Glezerman wrote, “He believes that the situation is the reverse today. From the grassroots up, Palestinians and Israelis want to live in peace, to live decent lives, to have roofs over their heads and safety for their children. It’s largely the leaders in both camps who continue to fight the unfinished battles of yesterday.” [4] Here lies the core issue and the main point that Abuelaish was trying to make in writing his memoirs.

As a doctor, Abuelaish saw how the human condition transcended politics and religion and consequently chose the path to peace, despite the death of his daughters. Therefore, when he began to receive international attention, he took the opportunity to become a spokesperson for unity, rather than hate. He talked about the need for Israelis and Palestinians to get know to each other like he did when he was becoming a doctor. He states, “…you shouldn’t hate something you don’t know, because it may turn out to be the bearer of your greatest fortune.” [5] This is his key message and the main theme of this book. For as an optimistic and empathetic person, Izzeldin Abuelaish believes that a better future for Palestinian people is not beyond human potential.

References Abuelaish, Izzeldin. I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey. Toronto: Vintage, 2010. Cleveland, William L & Bunton, Maria. A History of the Modern Middle East. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2016. [1] Izzeldin, Abuelaish, Izzeldin. I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey (Toronto: Vintage, 2010), p. 25. [2] William L, Cleveland & Maria, Bunton. A History of the Modern Middle East. (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2016). p. 239. [3] Abuelaish, I Shall Not Hate, p. 58. [4] Abuelaish, I Shall Not Hate, p. xi. [5] Abuelaish, I Shall Not Hate, p. 34.