Arab Today, arab today faith in mutual respect
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Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Faith in mutual respect

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Faith in mutual respect

Gaza - Arabstoday

What is said in this impressive book is less remarkable than who says it. Izzeldin Abuelaish calls on Israelis and Palestinians to show decency, respect and understanding towards each other and never to allow anger to spiral into hatred. Wise advice, delivered from a pulpit, maybe? No, Dr Abuelaish speaks from cruel ground level. Born and brought up in the dirt-poor squalor of a Palestinian refugee camp, he built a medical career that was helped along by Israeli colleagues but tormented by Israeli officials. Then, two years ago, he saw three of his daughters literally blown to bits by an Israeli tank that had aimed its shells at their bedroom. His grandfather was a prosperous farmer who evacuated the family to the safety of nearby Gaza during the 1948 violence. Like others, they thought the move would be temporary. But return was forbidden and their land went to Ariel Sharon, a former Israeli prime minister. Curiously, Sharon played a more direct hand when they lost their home a second time. As Gaza's military commander, he ordered bulldozers to widen the alleys in the camps, demolishing the little house the family had built. The eldest of nine, the author was expected to earn what he could from early childhood. But the United Nations ran schools and he held on to his books as tightly "as a mother cat would hold on to her newborn kittens". He won a scholarship to study medicine at Cairo University, then specialised in gynaecology, particularly infertility. An odd choice, perhaps, for someone from jam-packed Gaza, but high infertility, he explains, goes hand in hand with high fertility, and it is the woman who is routinely blamed: "the unproductive tree should be cut" is an ominous Arab expression. Out of the many countries and hospitals where he worked, it was across the border in Israel that he found the greatest professional fulfilment. As he happily treated Israeli women and made friends with fellow doctors, he saw medicine as a bridge between the two hostile people. But the Israeli state did what it could to block him. Most Gazans cannot travel at all. Dr Abuelaish's Israeli employers provided permits but his daily journeys still meant delays, rebuffs and humiliation. He hung on to the distinction: Don't blame the Israeli people for the actions of individual bullies. In December 2008 Israel responded to Gaza's suicidally foolish lobbing of rockets across the border with a ferocious three-week bombardment. Dr Abuelaish, his eight children and other family members hoped they would be safe huddling in the big house they had built on the outskirts of the refugee camp. But a tank targeted it and four girls were slaughtered: Bessan, who sweetly cared for her siblings after their mother died; clever Mayar, who meant to follow her father as a doctor; blonde Aya who wanted to be a journalist; and their beautiful cousin, Noor. Dr Abuelaish, frantic to get the wounded to a good hospital — the eye of another daughter, Shatha, was hanging on her cheek — telephoned an Israeli friend for help. Because the friend, Shlomi Eldar, a television anchorman, was live on air at the time, Israelis heard the anguished appeal. The shock effect is believed to have helped to end the assault. As he steadily refuses to allow his personal tragedy to shake his belief in tolerance, Dr Abuelaish, who now lives in Canada with his surviving children, has become well known. Anger is fine, he says, but we must all find the inner strength not to hate. He himself has done so quite magnificently.

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