A Palestinian born in the Jabalia refugee camp of the Gaza Strip, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish overcame tremendous odds to earn his MD. As an OBGYN he practiced in both Palestine and Israel, frequently commuting between the two countries. In January 2009, during a three-week long war, an Israeli tank fired two shells into the doctor’s home, killing three of his daughters and his niece. Dr. Abuelaish was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of his commitment to Israeli/Palestinian reconciliation. He is the founder of Daughters for Peace an organization that provides university scholarships as well as leadership programs on health and education to young women in the Middle East. On January 12 we sat down with Dr. Abuelaish after his public lecture about his new bestselling book, I Shall Not Hate, at the Los Angeles Public Library – a part of their ALOUD series. For further coverage of this conversation and Abuelaish’s bestselling book, you can access Ryan Bell’s piece in the Huffington Post.
Your book came out in Canada in the Spring. Has it been selling well? How has the reception been so far?
I didn’t expect the positive response of the book. It was released April 27th. It’s a best seller and was among the influential books in 2010 in Canada. The people who read the book—it made a difference in their life, in their attitude, in a positive way. And the people, as you see in today’s event, they said it’s full of hope. It inspired them. And when they read the book it finds a receptive ground. The people are thirsty. And I think there is hope in that. And also, it has been translated into about 15 languages: English (worldwide, by Bloomsbury United States and UK), French (worldwide), German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Turkish, Portuguese, Finnish, Arabic, Hebrew, and Indonesian.
I am satisfied that the message can reach the hands and the minds and hearts of people and that through that we can make a difference and create a momentum we can build on.
You tell this amazing story in the book about a Jewish lawyer named Stephen Flatow and how he tried to have you removed from a panel. Since then you’ve eaten in his home. Are you still in touch with him?
Yes. And this is the message: he judged me without knowing me, just on perception and stereotype. This strengthens my belief that our enemy is our ignorance. We don’t know each other. So we need to communicate in order to know each other. And not to know just the name or the faces, we need to know the deep elements of what we call the other—to engage.
It’s the personal stories, it seems, that break through.
Yes, to engage with your heart. In our lives when I say to you, I know this person, be careful. This means I know him deeply. Don’t tell me about him, I know him well. I know the way he thinks, the way he eats, the way he behaves. So that’s what we need to know each other.
You must have many experiences like the one you had with Stephen Flatow. Does that happen fairly often?
I can say to you, in Palestinian-Israeli relationships, there are many good stories. You can see Israelis who met with Palestinians and Palestinians who met with Israelis. I know a friend of mine who never met a Palestinian. He had stereotypes about Palestinians, but once he met a Palestinian he realized that this guy is similar to him.
What is it about you or about what you believe that makes you the kind of person that leaves the safety of what you know to go out and know someone else who is different from you? Because I know a lot of people who don’t want to leave their area, they don’t want to leave the people they know already?
I’m not preoccupied with this feeling. This morning when someone said to me, Izzeldin, you must be careful of Ryan. Why? I meet with you with open heart. I am confident in what I believe. I am honest with myself. I am coming to meet with you from goodwill, for the good cause. And it’s important for both of us to do that.
So there was a trust that was somehow planted in your heart early on—to trust someone who is different from you?
Always. Because if I want to be trusted I must trust others.
Your father was this way? Your mother?
This is the human feeling. If I started to meet with you and I was suspicious of you, how can you trust me? I want to meet with others and place my trust in them because if you want to be trusted you must trust others.