‘I shall not hate’: Izzeldin Abuelaish
By Robert Sass
SASKATOON — During the afternoon of Sept. 22, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian obstetrician and gynecologist from Gaza, spoke to a Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Hindu audience at the Jewish Community Centre of the deaths of his three daughters, niece and a severely wounded brother by an Israeli tank shelling of his home in 2009. This type of killing has become known as “collateral damage.”
Collateral damage is a term used where the victims of war are disposable because they stand in the way of bombers or tanks or are in the vicinity of professional armies. It is an example of the military tactics of striking and killing at a distance.
Civilian casualties of war are rarely counted. They are a side effect, as are shattered villages, as are crops and workshops burnt, and millions of people who become refugees. Meanwhile, soldiers merely go about doing their job in the most professional manner. Thus, one partakes in killing but doesn’t feel like a killer.
Speaking at the synagogue, St. Thomas More College, and at Word on the Street, Abuelaish said his mission is to unmask and tame the “wild beast” threatening humanity. Society no longer pretends to be a shield against the chaos of the modern state and the language of the battlefield. The existing “floating responsibility” and ethical and moral de-skilling where no one is responsible for their actions transforms flesh and blood human beings into nobodies. His repeated emphasis on “responsibility” is to chase away contingency in an irrational world where security has gone haywire and is responsible for his unbearable grief.
His message is that responsibility is what individuals must take seriously for their own sakes and for the sake of others. This is what is required to live the good life. Abuelaish is making a statement about ethical tranquilization and “modernity.” When the 20th century Jewish philosopher Derrida was asked to define “modernity,” he simply said: “Auschwitz.”
Abuelaish was born in Jabalia refugee camp, one of nine children. In 1991 he became the first Palestinian doctor to practice in an Israeli hospital. After receiving his medical certificate from Cairo University (1981), he went on to study at the University of London and then complete a masters in public health from Harvard University.
After the deaths of his daughters and niece, he completed his book, I Shall Not Hate. He rejected living a life of hating, but chose to give meaning to the inexplicable, unimaginable, terrifying images that will always haunt him. He was called by his deep Muslim faith in God to create a foundation to provide young women with higher education to enable them to play an influential role in enriching the quality of life for all throughout the Middle East. This inspiring action was to keep alive the memory of his daughters. He created Daughters of Life Foundation (www.daughtersforlife.com). For him, it is what God planned and his way of saying to his daughters: “Rest in peace!”
The playwright Ionesco stated: “I feel that every message of despair is the statement of a situation from which everyone must really try to find a way out.”
Abuelaish’s “way out” was to disavow Job’s comforters “demanding revenge.” Our professed “tolerance” does not include the acceptance of “respect” which Dr. Abuelaish continuously refers to, but reaffirms the other’s inferiority. The Lutheran theologian Paul Ricoeur reminds us that the temptation to unify the true by violence has come not only from the political sphere but the clerical as well. Jews cannot erase the memory of the Inquisition and the Holocaust perhaps still for another thousand years.
Abuelaish embraces the prophetic tradition as he travels around the world on behalf of his foundation. The prophetic tradition is a tradition of peacemakers beginning with Amos in his opposition to slavery, Jeremiah, Jesus, Pope John XXIII, Eugene V. Debs, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela. Their message reveals the hidden hypocrisies of both the political and religious spheres, as well as the hypocrisy of today’s intellectuals who have become tail-gaters of the rich and powerful. Abuelaish pleads for us to act for the sake of humanity now and for the survival of the natural and social world.
The sponsors for Abuelaish’s visit to Saskatoon included Congregation Agudas Israel, the Fellowship for Reconciliation and Peace (FRAP), the Saskatoon Peace Coalition (SPC), the Saskatchewan Council for International Co-operation (SCIC), the United Nations, Saskatoon Chapter (UN), and St. Thomas More College. More than$10,000 was raised and presented to Abuelaish for the Daughters for Life Foundation.
Sass is a founding member of the Fellowship for Reconciliation and Peace (FRAP)