I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey On The Road To Peace And Human Dignity
I found myself in a fairly difficult situation when I initially encountered this book. That staunch determinism in the face of such horrendous circumstances came to me as being both admirable and inspirational in as much as it was frustrating and almost agitating. Could there possibly be any logic or reason that could make a man who experienced continuous mistreatment under Israeli occupation, who lost several of his daughters to indiscriminate bombings by the Israeli army and yet who remained dedicated to the concept of peaceful relations between the Palestinian and Israeli people? Surely something is wrong with him, something that has deluded him into occupying a mindset that makes no sense, that his idealism and optimism is an exposure of a failing psychological condition?
That is what common sense would say of idealism. Whatever is known to exist is indeed mental or derived by our own subjective mental state that how we perceive the world is spiritual or dependent on this state of mind. However, if we remove the presupposition that our thoughts or perceptions is a condition that enables the existence of objects external to us, and instead accept that the content of our conscious experience is decisive, epistemological, an action that our mind apprehends or experiences rather than ‘creates’ it, you come to realise that Izzledin’ idealism is in fact very logical. A logic that Dr. Marek Glezerman iterated in the foreword: “Izzledin is realistic. He know’s its no rose garden we live in. But he strongly believes that medicine can bridge the divide between our peoples.” [xii] This foreword was essential in gaining an understanding of the great difficulties faced by Izzledin as he tried to complete additional work and studies both in Israel and internationally and yet, despite those difficulties, remained steadfast in his commitments and refused to generalise the entire Israeli population based on some negative experiences with the terrible few. His approach was reasonable and rational, where medicine was symbolic of his desire to save lives, to improve the terrible conditions, to heal. Science and medicine epitomised his unrelenting attack toward death, the belief in human life that does not discriminate.
The first chapter is an introduction into the man prior to the death of his daughters and niece, yet it followed the tragedy of his wife’ passing just before his big decision to move with his whole family to Canada. He explained a small pocket of land he had purchased and where he took his grieving family to visit for a day, the gardens forming a sense of nostalgia and togetherness enclosed and away from the grief of the city. He speaks of his daughters with a paternal love, conditional that showcases each of their capacity for their studies and future education and it becomes very obvious that he is proud of their kind quiet intelligence, but also of his sadness during this grieving process particularly for his elder daughters. This same helplessness for his people is also clear: “At first glance, you may think everyone is in a hurry, head’s down, no eye contact as people move from place to place – but these are the gestures of angry people who have been coerced, neglected and oppressed.”  The well-written chapter showed several things; the importance of education and family to Palestinian culture, their love for their land and this deep connection to it, and the vicious cycle of violence emblematic of oppression and isolation.
He wanted to see through the chaos, the hope once the dust had settled that they stood a chance, to truly understand that violence only begets violence. The humiliation and grief is tormenting, extremely difficult to overcome and to be denied basic rights is unfair and unacceptable. Yet, he still sent his daughters to a peace camp in the United States where in 2005, his daughter Bessan was involved in a documentary Dear Mr. President with Israeli women that showed this friendship and hope through numerous activities during a road trip. “A problems can be solved by forgiving the past and looking toward the future, but for this problem its hard to forget the past.” A comment given by his daughter that he reiterates in this important chapter that contextualises how hard they are working through all the grief and difficulty to promote a sense of unity and peace. It is this realistic challenge of working through all the hatred and violence that symbolises the powerful strength – rather than naivety – of his idealism, that he desires a future for his children brimming with opportunities to use their skills and talent, for them to have the capacity and opportunity to create through own future through a self-determination without being confined and restricted into the terrible situation most people in Gaza are facing. To see that the Israelis on the other end of the battle were human and to accept that most of them want the same peace.
His decision to move to Canada for further medical training and with his whole family was discussed and shaped with his children and he landscape of this discussion was the silhouette of a future hope. This was followed by the deaths of his daughters Bessan, Aya and Mayer and his niece Noor who were all killed by an Israeli tank shell that blasted into home twice. It is indicative of the person he is when, rather than talking about the pain he felt or the loss and shock, he instead wrote about his swift action to expose the situation by contacting Shlomi Elder, an anchorman that he was regularly interviewed by to expose what was happening on the ground in Gaza – given that the Israeli army regularly refuses access to journalists – to expose what had actually happened. He wrote how for the majority of the Israeli people who were blind to the affairs in Gaza, his pain helped them see that they were not this “enormous dark demon” but that this tragedy was filled with innocent people. The ending of this powerful chapter is indicative of the person that he is, of his need to remind the reader that the Israeli people are not to blame given that a vast majority are mostly unaware and desire to know, who feel the same pain for this tragic situation the Palestinians feel. It could have ended very differently.
The book continues to describe the experiences that made him person that he is, his history growing up and his experiences working in Israel. He is not averse to explaining all the difficulties, the border crossings and issues he finds himself in on a regular basis that is indicative of the oppression the Palestinians regularly face. It is educated and understood, describing political divisions, the Balfour Declaration and the many wars following that perpetuated a clear division between the two people, as well as his experience as a refugee in Jabalia Camp and even UNRWA, his family and Gaza as a place. Sometimes this oppression is extremely humiliating, a culture where age and profession as well as education demands respect, but where he remains just a Palestinian, the Other and usually by younger, arrogant border control personnel and the twenty different checks that one would need to go through to cross the border, but also is not averse to show the problems of his own, the Hamas guards who are as careless as the Israeli border control staff. The subtle indication of the scarcity of goods in Gaza and of his privilege to cross the border – as well as the innocent and perhaps even desperate curiosity of other Palestinians – gives one a clearer picture of the person and the experiences he has had. But the connection to the land is expressed with nostalgia through the cacti he sees, their immoveable place in the landscape now occupied by Israel that is indicative of the Palestinian will, harsh and prickly on the outside that bears sweet delicious fruit. The tough exterior of a Palestinian is filled with a sweet, kind heart that endures through the harsh landscape.
Growing up in a refugee camp, he was filled with stories of his family’ home near Sderot, the village once called Huog and that promises of a return would occur, a promise never fulfilled. The tension was so obvious that his paternal grandfather thought the best and safest decision would be to leave and avoiding the upcoming violence and massacres that some found themselves in during the Nakba (“the Catastrophe”) of 1948 when the division occurred. He speaks of his own hardships of poverty and of being a child of a second wife, his mother Dalal a widow that his father had fallen in love with and who left his first wife to marry. However, his descriptions of homes being bulldozed and his experience as a twelve year old during the six-day war was powerful, particularly how some parents fled leaving their own children behind given the extreme fear and horror that was experienced in such a short time and something he witnessed. “Parents were fleeing, some leaving their children behind. There was chaos, noise and panic.”  The turmoil and desperation made it difficult for him at school with the now occupied Gaza, the curfew and fear-mongering by the Israeli army until his encounter with inspirational teachers that made him see the importance of education. His experience working at a farm owned by Sephardic Jews exposed him to a new world, a world bigger than his own that planted the seeds of doubt in him whenever the opportunity to hate ever arose; the Jews were nice to him, they can’t all be bad. These experiences growing up helped shaped in him a sense of pride but particularly of equality, that despite the display of power and aggression, despite all the hardships growing up at a refugee camp, he could say that he was the same as the Israeli people.
Given the limitations of this blogpost, I will not continue to describe the entire book but will confirm that it is an excellent and important read. The following chapters begin to describe his experience as a medical student in Cairo and working to support his family and himself, his self-respect and determination even for himself where he abstained from the pleasures of women and alcohol, never losing sight of what he wanted to achieve. He felt a certain responsibility between the ‘outside’ world and the Palestinian world as though he himself were that bridge that could bring life to a place wrought by devastation. His marriage to Nadia, his brother now missing after spending some time in an Israeli prison, living in Saudi Arabia and yearning for home, travelling to London to further develop his skills: the pictures of his daughters and niece are very moving and heartbreaking; I certainly found it very emotional and descriptions of the experience of this loss and the grief that followed. The overall intention is almost a necessity to explain the person that he is, why he thinks and believes in what he does as though attempting to affirm that he is not a simple-minded idealist and that he understands hardships and difficulties faced for himself, his loved-ones and the broader Palestinian population particularly in Gaza. He is turning his hardships and his grief into a source of power to create change and to be that conduit between Israel and Palestine to show that despite it all, forgiveness is still possible. His desire to empower women through education and medicine is indicative of using this power for the right reasons. He honours his daughters and gives us an understanding of why he is the way he is and the pointless tragedy such violence perpetuates.
In essence, when you believe in something such as tolerance, peace and love, that unshaken determination to maintain solidity in this belief despite the violence and hatred requires something more than our emotional attachments. They are principles beyond us, beyond our experiences as something as almost divine. As he stated himself, “If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I could accept it.” Despite the result inevitably being peace, it is so very unfortunate that so much unnecessary death and destruction has taken place. It is up to us to use this pain to conquer the grief and anger toward forgiveness and stability.