Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish’s office at the University of Toronto overflows with books, from the Holy Qur’an to those on medicine and various subjects. The office walls are bulging with honors bestowed on him from around the world - the Order of Ontario, honorary citizenship of Argentina, The Mahatma Gandhi Peace Award, and others.
A picture of Mahatma Gandhi gazes at him with the admonition: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
A horrible tragedy - his wife died of cancer and six months later three of his daughters and a niece were killed and another daughter injured in their home by Israeli tanks - pushed Abuelaish into fighting against hate. He believes that Islam teaches forgiveness, citing the Holy Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet (peace be upon him). The God who inspires him is the God of compassion, love and mercy. As a physician he works to heal all patients, whoever they may be.
He says that hate generates violence and violence breeds hate. He calls hate a disease, a public health issue. He stresses that health and peace are interlinked and that wars kill innocent people and produce disaster for others.
Abuelaish was born in a refugee camp in Gaza and endured poverty and the brutality of a relentless occupation. Studying diligently he became the first Palestinian doctor at an Israeli hospital. In December 2008, Israel attacked Gaza. Tanks shelled Abuelaish’s house killing his daughters Bessan, 20, Mayar, 15, and Aya, 13, and a visiting niece Nour, 14. Another daughter, Shatha, then 16, lost sight in one eye. Another visiting cousin, Ghaida, then 14, was permanently disabled. In Ottawa, we saw him on television news, frantically phoning an Israeli friend at a news station and begging him to help stop the attacks. His friend called the defense ministry and the shelling ended.
In 2009, a friend helped Abuelaish get a job at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. He brought his family to live in peace and dignity. An associate professor, he teaches three courses: Health: An Engine for the Journey to Peace; Women’s Health in Countries of Conflict and International Perspectives on Health Services Management. He also does research and writes extensively.
Traumatized by the evils of violence, he took three steps to honor his slain daughters: He wrote a book “I Shall Not Hate” that narrates his story; he resolved to help Middle East women, irrespective of nationality, race or religion to acquire education to help society and he decided to campaign against hate. His book became a best seller and has been translated into 23 languages, and in October it will be staged as a play in Germany. Though devoid of hate, it bares the harshness of the occupation and the misery it inflicts on Gazans every day. His book has opened the eyes of millions to the horrors of Israel’s oppression. Abuelaish created the Daughters for Life Foundation in 2011. The Foundation has already provided scholarships to 140 girls. “My daughters were killed, but they are alive in a different sense and I want to keep them alive in the hearts of the people,” he asserts.
The Foundation has received more than 1.3 million dollars in scholarships or cash donations and partners with Asian University for Women (Bangladesh), New College of Florida, Tufts University, Oxford Brookes University, Emmanuel College, University of Toronto, Qatar Foundation, Humber College, Trent University, Victoria College, Wilfrid Laurier University, Boreal College and others.
Abuelaish’s saga has stirred the conscience of decent people. He is invited to speak in countries around the world. He preaches reconciliation and donates the money he gets to the Daughters for Life Foundation. He also asked Israel for an apology and compensation. Israel refused and Abuelaish has launched a suit through Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard. He says he will donate any money he gets to Daughters for Life.
Abuelaish has been invited to speak at the Canadian House of Commons, the US Congress, the Chilean Senate and Parliament, the European Parliament and at other institutions. He has received honorary degrees from the University of Manitoba, Queen’s University and the University of Western Ontario. He has received several awards and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
On June 16 he will become eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship. That will be memorable for his family, who love Canada.
Abuelaish hopes that his “I Shall Not Hate” message will become a global movement and that the Daughters for Life Foundation will be able one day to help women and men from all parts of the world to acquire education.
On the Day of Judgment, he says, people will be asked whether they acquired knowledge and used it productively, whether they acquired money lawfully and used it to help others and whether they utilized time effectively. He reads the Holy Qur’an every day for peace of mind. Obviously, the holy book also moves him to work tirelessly for the benefit of other people. To meet him is an inspiration.
— Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge.