Three years after his three daughters were killed by Israeli tank fire in the Gaza War, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish refuses to hate.
I SHALL NOT HATE..
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish speaks to a capacity crowd at the Rene Caisse Theatre about losing his three daughters in the Gaza War and the determination to move forward with life on Friday, October 19. (Photo by Louis Tam)
Instead, the Palestinian doctor spoke to a capacity crowd at the Rene Caisse Theatre on Friday, Oct. 19 about how he and his family moved forward in the face of crushing tragedy.
He described in detail the shock he felt when he came upon the bodies of his three daughters Bisan, 20, Mayar, 15 and Aya, 13, along with that of his 14-year-old niece Nour.
“Seconds after I left my daughters’ room, less than five seconds, the first bomb came and those beautiful, lovely girls became parts, drowning in their blood,” he said. “I went to see where is Mayar, where’s Bisan, where’s Aya? As a father I know they were killed, but at least I wanted to satisfy my eye to say I saw them in their last minutes.”
Those around him expected him to be resentful and hateful in the immediate aftermath of their deaths.
“We may have the right to do that, but at the same time we are human and we have choices,” he said. “You want to challenge the perpetrator, not to hate.”
Speaking with a medical background, he told his Bracebridge audience that hate is like a disease that won’t be cured unless an “accurate diagnosis” of its root causes is discovered. People, he explained, aren’t born hateful, but contract it from others in their environment, like an infectious disease.
“Hatred and violence are diseases; they are the result of exposure. They are made, manufactured,” he said. “I can’t teach someone to hate or to become sick, there are causes, and we need to ask at least five times why, what made this child or a student, son or daughter, or friend to become violent?”
To that end, he spoke of breaking the cycle of hatred, challenging a perpetrator instead by surviving and thriving after tragedy.
“The antidote of hate and revenge is success. When you survive and not accept (being) a victim, you change the perpetrator from being a perpetrator to a victim.”
He pointed to his daughter Shada, who was severely wounded in the same attack, as an example of how best to apply that antidote. Wounded while studying by candlelight during the war, she was hospitalized for four months after the incident that killed her sisters.
“She was severely wounded and spent four months in the hospital. She lost the sight in one eye and two fingers from her right hand, but she was determined and she didn’t lose direction,” said Abuelaish. “And what is she doing now? She is third year studying electrical and computer engineering at U of T. That’s the challenge. And that’s the success. The determination. And that’s what we want to learn from our children.”
Abuelaish himself has also moved forward in life and is now working as an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. In addition to penning I Shall Not Hate — a book about his experiences — he also founded Daughters for Life Foundation, a charity that works to improve educational opportunities for girls in the Middle East.
Abuelaish’s speech was organized by Bracebridge United Church, and was sponsored and supported by a number of area residents and organizations, including BDO Chartered Accountants and Advisors, Scott’s of Muskoka, Muskoka Highlands Golf Links and The Corner Cabinet.
Bracebridge United Church Rev. Nancy Knox said the church’s members were inspired to bring Abuelaish to Bracebridge during a casual conversation over a cup of coffee.
“Several of us have read his book I Shall Not Hate, and we were actually just sitting one night in a coffee shop chatting and it came up,” she said. “Someone said wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get him to come and speak in Bracebridge?”
She said she hopes the lessons left behind by Abuelaish will inspire people throughout Muskoka to live their lives in a more positive and enlightened way.
“He is a person who has a deep longing for peace in the Middle East and (who) promotes peace through reconciliation and communication and education, rather than vengeance,” she said. “I hope that we’ll get an insight into what life is like living in Gaza. I hope we’ll get a bigger picture of the way to build for the future, (and) I hope we’ll get inspiration and encouragement from a man who speaks from the heart about complex situations and a place of personal tragedy, but gives us a vision of a better day.”