A commitment to peace

2011-06-01 00:00

AT around 5 pm on January 16, 2009, Israeli TV’s Channel 10 journalist Shlomi Eldar was about to do a live interview with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni when a call came in on his cellphone from Gazan doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish. During the three-week long war in Gaza, from which media were barred, Abuelaish had regularly provided eye-witness reports for the news channel.

At first, Eldar ignored the call, but when Abuelaish persisted, the journalist made the risky decision to take the call live on air. The decision was momentous. Abuelaish’s home had just been shelled by Israeli tanks and three of his daughters and his niece had been killed in their bedroom. The father’s at-the-scene anguish was broadcast live on Israeli TV’s Channel 10.

The attack, which took place in the closing hours of the war, provides the dramatic climax for Abuelaish’s memoir I Shall Not Hate, but the trauma and violence that accompanied the incident are not the book’s primary focus. Abuelaish’s central message is one of peace, mutual understanding and co-existence.

Raised in a refugee camp, Abuelaish excelled academically and went on to become a gynaecologist and fertility specialist who worked in two hospitals in Israel, treating hundreds of Israeli patients. He succeeded, as few others have, in straddling the worlds of Palestine and Israel. At several points in his book, he emphasises his belief in the capacity of medicine to help Palestinians and Israelis see each other as humans beings.

Abuelaish is clearly an exceptional man. His commitment to a peaceful solution to the ­Israel-Palestine conflict has been recognised in many prestigious awards from around the world. But his is not a political solution, and prospective readers looking for an analytical approach might want to resist this expectation.

But his story is remarkable and one of the book’s greatest achievements is the insight it gives into the hardships of everyday life in the Palestine territories such as Gaza. Without being inflammatory, Abuelaish’s reflections on daily life — border crossings, poverty, under-resourced schools, inadequate medical care — give light to a broader picture of systematised injustice and a fundamentally unsustainable situation.

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