The Secrets of Gaza

Izzeldin Abuelaish
I Shall Not Hate
(Walker & Company, 2011)

Aiming to “reveal the secrets of Gaza,” Izzeldin Abuelaish’s I Shall Not Hate is a supremely moving memoir of a doctor-turned peace activist’s harsh life. It is widely known that life in Gaza is hard, but Abuelaish’s story makes it seem like Job had it easy. Besides the daily humiliations of being hassled at checkpoints and the deprivation of basic human necessities all Gazans share, Abuelaish loses his wife to Leukemia and then three of his eight children in the Israeli siege of Gaza of December 2008/January 2009. After a lifetime spent dedicated to helping others and trying to bridge the divide between Israel and Palestine, he demands answers from the Israeli government as to why his house was targeted, but he does not allow himself to succumb to the “disease of hate.” He has experienced heartbreaking tragedies, but keeps a positive, balanced outlook on life, always seeing “the good chapter of the bad story.” His benevolent philosophy has been earned piece by piece from his life experiences, which he shares in candid detail.

From a literary standpoint, the book descends too often into sentimentality and repetitive preaching, which dilutes Abuelaish’s noble message. Even so, his story is powerful enough. His grandfather voluntarily leaves their family home when Israel is declared a state in 1948. Abuelaish was born in the Jabaila refugee camp, where, like many Gazans, he is taught from birth that Israelis are monsters. Advised that education is the only escape from dire poverty, he becomes a diligent student, studying at night by kerosene lamp after a full day of work and school. One of his first jobs is on a farm for an Israeli family who treat him kindly, overturning his previous bias. A week after this job is over, Israeli tanks bulldoze Abuelaish’s house, along with thousands of others in Gaza. How does he reconcile these two experiences? He does not blame Israeli citizens for the latter oppression, but he does blame Israel for causing the “disenfranchised, dismissed, marginalized, and suffering” state of Gazans. His memoir shows that the Palestinians’ enemies are not the Israelis, but rather a military-bureaucracy motivated by mistrust, and in some cases, the Palestinians’ own irrational behavior.

While Abuelaish’s own example destroys the stereotype of a fanatical Palestinian, much of his memoir criticizes his own side. He evenly relates that during the first intifada, as many Palestinians were killed “by their brothers” as were killed by Israelis (about 1,000), and how Gaza exploded into a violent civil war between Fatah and Hamas during the 2007 elections, in which his nephew was almost fatally shot. Later, Abuelaish narrates the story about a Gazan woman who has been severely burned. Despite the border restrictions, she is given a special permit to be treated in an Israeli hospital. She is stopped at the border and found to have dynamite strapped to her chest, with the intention of killing as many Jewish doctors, nurses, and patients as possible. After his great efforts at reconciliation, Abuelaish sees incidents like these as “acts of evil.” He criticizes Palestinians, as well as the governments of other Arab nations, because he knows that if he does not try to see all perspectives no one will listen to him. He understands frustration. He feels anger. He simply chooses not to act from anger.

The solutions Abuelaish offers for a complex problem are simple. He aims for co-existence through open dialogue and mutual respect. He believes this is not accomplished through councils and panels, but by getting to know one another on a personal level, seeing the similarities that Israelis and Palestinians share, such as the boisterous way they socialize and the way they embrace ancient traditions with a sense of honor. His doesn’t want to talk about peace and forgiveness, but rather “trust, dignity, and our shared humanity.” In addition, Abuelaish believes that the solution lies in the empowerment of Palestinian women, who are often denied education and barred from political involvement. In setting up Daughters For Life, a foundation to liberate women from traditional Islamic oppression, he is not only risking opposition for trying to bridge the divide between Israelis and Palestinians he is also challenging his own culture’s entrenched customs.

A major aim of Abuelaish’s book is to rectify prejudices—even his own. It was only while getting a master’s at Harvard that he realized not all Americans are arrogant, and that a people should not be judged by the foolishness of their government. At one point in his life, Abuelaish moves toward politics. He is recruited by Fatah, but ran, and lost, as an independent after seeing the “dirty games” played by political parties. Anyone who desires a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian situation can only hope that Abuelaish attempts to run again, and that others with his balanced vision and impartial wisdom become the decision-makers of the world.

Contributor

Randy Rosenthal

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