It’s been almost 10 years ago now, but some of you may remember Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish — if not the name, then at least the horrendous story of how his family was decimated in a matter of seconds during Israel’s brutal 2009 assault on Gaza: The Palestinian physician’s three daughters and his niece were all killed when the family’s Gaza apartment was shelled by the Israeli military, an act the IDF acknowledged responsibility for at the time but for which the State of Israel has never apologized.
Several facets of the story only add to the intense tragedy and drama: Abuelaish, at that time a gynecologist, was the first Palestinian to serve on the staff of an Israeli hospital, where he treated both Israeli and Palestinian patients, traveling to his work via checkpoints from his home in Gaza. He spoke fluent Hebrew, and was already an important figure in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Then, during the 2008-9 Israeli onslaught on Gaza, when Israeli journalists were barred by their government from entering the Gaza Strip, Abuelaish was phoning in daily reports to his friend in Israel, TV reporter Shlomi Eldar. On the day of the deadly shelling — Abuelaish was present in the apartment at the time, in another room — the doctor’s shocking, anguished phone call went out live on Israeli television. Later, with Abuelaish still awash in grief, several seemingly crazed Israeli citizens shamefully disrupted the doctor’s press conference, hurling wild accusations and verbal abuse at him [for video of both incidents, see links below].
In the wake of all this, one could could forgive the man his expressions of hatred, recrimination and revenge… except there were none, and never have been. Anger, yes, of course. But his message has been consistent throughout, from the moment he was thrust by tragedy into the global spotlight: that hatred is irredeemably destructive, and that people — if they choose to — can live together in peace.
NOW, in her nightly offering on PBS, Peabody Award-winning journalist Christiane Amanpour (a classy lady by any measure, IMHO) re-connects with the Palestinian physician in a 13-minute interview [CLICK on image below], not only revisiting those events but focusing on his pursuits in the years since.
Early on, Abuelaish channeled some of his loss into writing a book, the best-selling I Shall Not Hate, and also the creation of a foundation, in memory of his daughters, which provides scholarships and awards for young female students in the Middle East.
Based for the past several years in Canada, Dr. Abuelaish is now a professor and researcher in the field of global public health, and in that role he has come to view hatred — and the violence it spins off — within a public health model: that it is a “destructive disease” with specific causes and preventions. His wish, he says, would be to “immunize the people with resilience, education, tolerance, with compassion and sympathy, which is missing in this world.” Dr. Abuelaish is a devout Muslim, but I daresay no one (of any persuasion) can fail to be impressed by this man’s faith and profound humanity.
FOR VIDEO, CLICK ON THE IMAGE BELOW…
There is much more that could be said about this fascinating and courageous individual, some of which is provided in the various resources I’ve linked to. For one thing, the Abuelaish family were refugees, forced to leave their village of Huj (q.v.) near the Gaza Strip in 1948. (Their lands, expropriated by Israel under the 1950 Absentee Property Law, were later transformed into the Sycamore Ranch estate of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon). Izzeldin himself was born and grew up in Gaza’s Jabalia Refugee Camp, raising himself from that difficult, hardscrabble existence partly through his studies in the camp’s UNRWA (UN-sponsored) schools — the same program which President Trump is now punitively cutting US funding for. I could go on, but…
IF YOU WANT MORE, try these other resources (click on links):
- An extended 2011 interview (video, 37 min.) with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! gives additional context and background.
- Or, sample this excellent print interview , also from 2011, by The Guardian’s Rachel Cooke.
- A noteworthy ABC Australia production, “Gaza Doctor” (17 min.) which came out just a month or so after the shelling.
- Here is exactly what Israeli TV viewers saw and heard on the evening of the shelling, as Dr. Abuelaish’s phone call to his reporter friend went out live over the air. 4 minutes, unedited and quite chilling to listen to.
- Several Israelis disrupt Abuelaish’s press conference, hurling accusations and verbal abuse at the doctor (video, 1 min.).
RELATED: “Straight Talk on Gaza“, a post in which I highlight the cogent analysis of journalist Sandy Tolan. Written not long after Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza — the most horrendously destructive one to date — Tolan’s piece injects valuable perspective and historical context into the discussion.