Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Review: I Shall not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish

I finished I Shall not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish in one evening.

As biography of a person involved in a conflict, it is not heavy on historical details and analysis. But its moral challenge is in the title. "I shall not hate." Add to that, "I shall be thankful. I shall continue working. I shall hope. I shall treat the survivors. I shall act for justice."

Reading the book produced in me shame for my not adopting these attitudes when I have encountered much, much, much smaller challenges.

That said, the book is not solely or primarily self-help or motivational.

I consider myself a pro-Palestinian activist, and I have to evaluate this book from that perspective as well. I would certainly think Dr. Izzeldin would consider this book to have political implications.

Dr. Izzeldin has a secular view of Palestinian liberation, as reflected by his recollections of material conditions at different points in his life. He was born in Gaza to a refugee family in 1955, and they had no running water. Fifty years later, they had limited, intermittent running water which had risks of contamination. He lists in some detail the material conditions in which Gazans lived in the period between the Israeli "withdrawal" and the Gaza War of 2009. He describes, effectively, in sprit-crushing detail, the process the Israelis forced on Gazans to cross into Israel and return home. For Dr. Izzeldin, liberation entails improvement in these living conditions, and, to the extent that Palestinians can achieve these despite their expulsion from their homes and Israeli occupation, they must strive to do so. In the words of the Arabic proverb,

ما لا يدرك كله لا يترك كله

That which cannot be achieved in its entirety should not be abandoned in its entirety.

The secular liberation may not achieve an ideal justice, but it is something positive that we can do now, and all other alternatives are worse.

Dr. Izzeldin believes co-existence of Jews and Palestinians is possible. He does not take a particular stand on what the political solution would look like, but he bases this belief on his positive interactions with individual Israeli Jews who have treated him fairly. Now I have all kinds of academic reasons why his belief is erroneous. Terms such as "systemic," "Jim Crow," "apartheid," "colonialism" and "ethnic cleansing" could be spewing from my keyboard now along with links to quotes from Israeli Jews, maps of Israeli colonies in Jerusalem and the West Bank and statistics of incarceration, torture and killing to disprove his belief.

But what would my realism/pessimism accomplish? Let's understand one thing. We on the outside, who claim to support the Palestinians, before we support their rights, must support their autonomy, their right to choose their course of action.

Finally, in the last decade of my life, I've come to believe more and more in non-violence, for a variety of personal and intellectual and religious reasons. Dr. Izzeldin does quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. He writes:
I understood down to my bones that violence is futile, a waste of time, lives and resources, and has been proven to beget more violence. It does not work, just perpetuates a vicious circle.
If he were to talk about non-violence or if he were to publish a book on the topic, I believe he would be an effective and profound advocate of non-violence.

The final chapter, "Aftermath," lays out his ideas for the path to peace. The first step is to tell the truth. We cannot pretend that Israel is not built on the property of the 1947-8 Palestinians. We cannot deny that Israel is oppressing non-Jews throughout Palestine.

Both sides must abandon "rhetoric which trumps the facts on the ground." Women must have a greater say in decisions of war and peace, which means their roles in society must change, a primary goal of the Dr. Izzeldin's Daughters for Life Foundation.

Dr.Izzeldin does not put much stock in negotiations. Rather, the road to peace is in the hands of millions of individual Jews and Palestinians:
... [C]oexistence and co-operation, partnership and sharing at the grassroots level, is the only way forward for Palestinians and Israelis. Rather than talking about peace or forgiveness, let's talk about trust, dignity, our shared humanity, and the one hundred thousand other steps it takes to finally achieve peace and forgiveness. ... [T]here is no "magic" square metre, or hilltop, or valley, that if ceded by one side to the other will bring about peace in the Middle East. Peace can only come bout after an internal shift -- on both sides. What we need is respect, and the inner strength to refuse to hate. Then we will achieve peace.
I do want to ask Dr. Izzeldin what he thinks about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, most particularly its academic and cultural components.

Worthy of note is Dr. Izzeldin's emphasis on medicine and public health as uniquely capable of building trust, since these fields force their practitioners and their beneficiaries to view people as humans first, not as members of a different ethnic or religious group.

Most readers will come to this book because of Dr. Izzeldin's tremendous personal tragedy, which I have not discussed in this review because I feel that my words would profane it and his words are readily available.

May Allah jalla jalaalu grant forgiveness to the killed, admit them to Paradise as martyrs, heal the injured, grant patience to the survivors to endure their loss, and forgive me and the rest of the Muslims for our continued betrayal of the Palestinians and other suffering peoples.