He Lost Three Daughters. He Wants Peace.

Nov 6, 2014

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish has suffered, in the most intimate way, from the violence of the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

He says that violence affects us all, even here, a world away, and as WMRA’s Andrew Jenner reports, he brought that message to Harrisonburg this week.

Abuelaish, a Palestinian physician from Gaza, visited Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg for two days this week to share a vision for peace and justice in his homeland and throughout the world. He drew repeated ties between medicine and peacebuilding.

ABUELAISH:  As in medicine, we learn the history in order to reach accurate diagnosis, which helps us to set up the right treatment. Hatred for me is a disease. I can’t teach someone to be violent, but I can expose someone to intimidation, to humiliation, to trigger hatred and violence. It’s a product of exposure to intimidation, to harm in life.

The most arresting aspect of Abuelaish’s message involves his own exposure to harm. In January 2009, during a three-week war in Gaza, three of his daughters and a niece were killed when Israeli tank shells hit his home. The book he published the following year, about his life and his loss, bore a determined title: I Shall Not Hate.

DARYL BYLER: It’s a compelling story, especially in a world where all the news out of the Middle East seems to be about violence and death, here’s a story about hope and resilience.

Daryl Byler directs Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.

BYLER: And if we don’t have those stories of hope in our library of memories, it’s easy for us to form an image that this conflict is intractable. And I think it’s not. I think there’s a way forward and Dr. Abuelaish’s story is one reason to continue to be hopeful about the future.

Now a professor of public health at the University of Toronto, Abuelaish is a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee. He also runs the Daughters for Life Foundation, established in memory of his daughters. It provides scholarships to Middle Eastern women, whose empowerment and leadership, he says, is crucial to a better future for the region.

ABUELAISH: We need to understand that military means and violence will never put an end to this conflict. Insanity is to be doing the same thing and to expect different results. The different results is only just the numbers of innocent people who are killed. More bloodshed, more animosity, more hatred, more suffering.

MAVIS BRITWUM: The biggest thing, I think, is definitely the impact of him being a doctor. I’m in pursuit of being a doctor as well, so being inspired by someone who invokes social change and is also practicing medicine is very inspiring for someone like me.

Mavis Britwum is a graduate biomedicine student at Eastern Mennonite Univeristy who heard Abuelaish speak on Wednesday afternoon. His message to her and everyone else here, seemingly far removed from the suffering caused by conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, is that we’re all the cells in the same human body; none of us are well, he says, when any of us is hurting.

ABUELAISH:  First of all, it’s not far. It’s far mentally, physically, psychologically, but in reality, we are close. Start by making a change inside your local community. So we can join organizations. We can learn to engage, to volunteer, to help, to write, to speak out. There are many things you can do to make a change. And not to underestimate your action. It can be small. But everything starts small. Start doing it. Others will follow you. Don’t wait for others. You need to start for yourself.