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Palestinian Doctor shares story of peace on book tour in Grand Rapids

February 4, 2011

Last night, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian doctor who suffered tremendous family loss in the 2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, spoke to a crowd of over 100 people at the Schuler Books on 28th Street.

Dr. Izzeldin, who spoke in Grand Rapids last year, was invited to speak again by the local group Healing Children of Conflict (HCC). Dr. Izzeldin shared his personal story of family loss, first his wife in 2008 and then his 3 daughters in January of 2009 as Israeli bombs hit his home.

Dr. Abuelaish said that he was the first Palestinian doctor to practice medicine in an Israeli hospital. He says that this demonstrated to many Israelis that Palestinians are just as capable of serving as are Israelis.

His words were not overtly political, rather he emphasized the need for all of us to spend time with family and to love each other as much as possible, because we never know when our last chance will be to treat each other in a loving manner. He knows all too well, since his daughters were taken from him in an instant.

Dr. Abuelaish said that he had just come from his daughter’s room when the bomb hit their house. His daughters were killed instantly. When he entered the room his daughters’ bodies were almost unrecognizable, with their heads missing from their shredded bodies and blood everywhere in the room.

He tells the audience that what would happen if his son (who is still alive) would turn to violence and even take his own life as a suicide bomber? Dr. Izzeldin says that he cannot judge him if he turns to violence. Instead, he says that we all need to ask ourselves what have we all done and what are the factors that led someone down the road of violence? “If we do nothing to change the circumstances that led people to violence then we can not claim to love peace.”

As tears rolled down his face, he told the audience that what he wants to do is to honor his daughters by working towards peace and to make sure that no other children suffer the same fate. He says he is more determined to not hate, to not create more victims in order to bring justice for his daughters.

For Dr. Izzeldin hate is a poison, that once it enters your body you will be infected by it. The antidote of hate, he said, is to challenge the one you hate to see the world differently and to show them that you believe in the power of peace.

He said that one of his surviving daughters had been studying to go to college. She was wounded in the Israeli Gaza assault and lost sight in one eye, but when she was discharged from the hospital she did not lose sight of her goals. She is now going to college in Toronto and wants to keep the memory of her sisters alive by not giving up and giving in to violence.

He spoke about needing to bring prescriptions to those who are sick. When patients come to a hospital they are looking for a prescription to be healed. “We can’t just tell patients that we hope they get better.” He said in the same way we need to find the right prescription to make the world better. We cannot just want a better world we have to make a better world. He called on all of us to investigate what is going on and to see that we can do something to support those who are fighting to live.

Dr. Izzeldin told the audience that there is now a foundation established in memory of his wife and daughters, called Daughters for Life. Dr. Abuelaish said that Palestinian women are the ones who have pushed the hardest for education for children. He believes that it is time for Palestinian women to lead, to show us the way of the future. The foundation will give education awards to girls from the Middle East so that they will be able to study at the university level.

He concluded by reading a poem written by an Israeli/Jewish woman and an excerpt from his book I Shall Not Hate.

There was some time at the end for Q&A. One man asked him what he thought about a 1 or 2 state solution for Israel and Palestine. Dr. Abuelaish responded by say that as a doctor he doesn’t ask the woman who is in labor in the delivery room if she wants a boy or a girl. He knows she would tell him to just make sure the baby is healthy. He says that a 1 or 2 state solutions are theoretical questions and that what we must do is to take action right now to deal with the more immediate. He said that the Israeli settlements continue to be built, “we can’t even freeze them for 3 months and the US continues to give $3 billion a year.” Theoretical questions mean nothing, especially when we can’t even make progress towards justice.

Another person asked him what he thought about what was happening in Egypt. He said that all political leaders exist to serve their people, not to intimidate them. He hopes that peace and freedom will prevail in Egypt and that he is inspired by the courage that young people have in Egypt. He said we could all learn from them.

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