What is amazing about this memoir is the fact that Dr. Abuelaish, a Palestinian Muslim working in Israel, lost three of his daughters and one niece to the shelling of his house on January 16, 2009, and he has come through those events without hatred for the Israelis who murdered his family members, and without hatred for any Israeli. His daughters, Bessam, 21; Mayar, 15; Aya, 14; and his niece, Noor, 17 were innocent victims in a situation that is ongoing today, as I write this review.
Dr. Abuelaish has left no stone unturned, no detail, no matter how minute is left out in describing the life of hardship he and his family led, and the events that led up to the shelling of his house. The story is not just about his family and their tragic suffering, but also about life as a Palestinian in general, living in in a refugee camp on the Gaza Strip. He tells of the extreme difficulties finding work in Israel, and of the tremendous hardships one faced crossing the border to both enter Israel and leave. One never knew if they would be able to return home on any given day. A person often waited for hours to cross, even if the guards knew you, and the forms of harassment inflicted on the Palestinians were demeaning and dehumanizing.
Working in hospitals in Israel afforded him the opportunity to treat and help Israelis, medically speaking. It was not always easy, but once the patient understood that Dr. Abuelaish was honest, ethical and would give the best of care he could, the patient began to trust him, and hate and fear slowly subsided. He believes the medical community can break through barriers on the road to peace and coexistence. He feels that the sensitivity and compassion shown by doctors, nurses, etc., affords a sense of peace within a tumultuous environment. In his eyes, the medical community knows no boundaries, and treats each person as an individual, regardless of their ethnicity.
Food was difficult to come by (it still is), and the bare essentials are often non-existent, or extremely hard to find. Life was filled with poverty, and family members barely eked out enough money to survive. Times haven’t changed much over the years, and that is one of the major themes in I Shall Not Hate.
Most citizens in Israel know his story, as he told it live on air, during the evening news, while it was happening. He had called his friend (who worked at the station), who saw Abuelaish’s name come up on his mobile phone, so he answered the call, and played the conversation, interrupting other news. The pain and struggles over the deaths of his children were broadcast live, and his emotions resounded throughout the airwaves. The panic and horror reverberated within every crevice in Israel. People still speak about it, today. I can’t even begin to imagine.
I Shall Not Hate is filled with vivid details (bombs and jets whizzing by and so much more in depth scenarios), some so vivid they are difficult to read, and after reading them, more difficult to comprehend and contemplate. The inhumanity and insensitivity of man is beyond words, beyond the mind assimilating the tragedies that rained brutality and horror on innocent individuals. Dr. Abuelaish’s story is one of haunting imagery, one of courage and passion, one of incredible determination to bring forth truth and reconciliation between two lands. My words seem inadequate in describing this book.
His story is the story of his children and niece, and a tribute to their lives, lives lived under extreme duress, lives lost for no apparent reason. The book is compelling, and a page turner in the sense that I wanted to learn more about his family, their lives and their experiences. Although often painful to read (tears were often shed while reading the book), I have become educated on the dynamics that occurred and seem to be continuous, today.
Abuelaish’s ideals and ethics are those of a true humanitarian, and within his mind and heart lies a man who reaches out to others for humanity’s sake. Anger is not a part of his being, and he believes that medicine and science can bridge the gap towards peace between Palestine and Israel. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish has moved mountains in trying to call for peace and understanding, no matter the diversity of individuals. His remarkable book, I shall Not Hate is an example of that, and a story that will stay with me throughout the years.
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