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Grim tales from Gaza

It is difficult to read I Shall Not Hate, a remarkable book by Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, without your eyes welling up with tears.

books Updated: Mar 11, 2011 22:27 IST
Lalita Panicker

I Shall Not Hate
Izzeldin Abuelaish
Rs499 pp 237

It is difficult to read I Shall Not Hate, a remarkable book by Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, without your eyes welling up with tears. In the end, you can only ask whether a man like Abuelaish could have existed in a hellhole like Gaza, enduring blow after blow and still refusing to let anger or hatred get the better of him. The doctor’s journey from abject poverty in a refugee camp in Gaza to international stardom makes for riveting reading.

Abuelaish documents the many tragedies that affected his life, the worst being the death of three of his daughters in an Israeli attack on his home. The family’s first trials came when his grandfather lost his home in 1948 and in a cruel twist of fate, the new owner turned out to be former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Later, Sharon, in his role as military commander in Gaza, would oversee the destruction of the doctor’s home.

Despite a childhood of hard labour to supplement the family income, he never lost his zeal to study. Eventually, he won a scholarship to study medicine in Cairo, specialising in gynaecology and infertility. His desire to excel saw him go to Israel to hone his skills. There, he began to propagate the idea that medicine could bring the Palestinians and Israelis together.

It was no easy ride to go to work in Israel. Harrowing interrogations at check points and the Israeli securitymen’s penchant to heap insults on Palestinians would have deterred a lesser soul. Abuelaish, however, remains equally critical of the Hamas (whose strategy of firing rockets into Israel invited massive retribution) as he is of Israel’s absolute disregard for the human rights of a refugee population.

The most touching part of the book is his child-like description of his lost daughters. Bessan, the eldest, cared for her motherless siblings; Mayar wanted to be a doctor and Ala was hoping to become a journalist. Even in death, Israel’s policies meant the girls could not be buried next to their mother.

Abuelaish does not allow himself the luxury of victimhood, though he speaks of his not seeing his brother for over 20 years, the death of his parents who did not live to enjoy their son’s fame, and that despite his efforts, the cycle of violence goes on. But he has not lost heart. Clearly, the Gandhi of Gaza is cast in a different mould altogether.