Confronting the Man-Made Diseases of Violence, Fear and Hatred

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, acclaimed physician, author and humanitarian, will speak at UCLA on April 18 (see below). In advance of his visit, he shared his philosophy and goals with the Nazarian Center.

By Jared Schwalb.

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish is a man of rare conscience. Having lived in a world filled with violence, hatred and poverty, he is determined to realize a vision that includes hope as a key ingredient. He believes deeply in the power of medicine as a universal language to transcend the boundaries of politics and war. And he sees education as a path toward a more compassionate and brighter future.

Messages like his may sound idealistic. However, as an individual who was raised in the harsh reality of conflict, he realized that his viewpoint was absolutely necessary in order to counteract the man-made diseases plaguing our civilization. Violence, fear, and hatred: these are the elements fragmenting our community and threatening to keep us in a state of perpetual turmoil. 

Grasping that the world does not need another martyr or another angry victim, Dr. Abuelaish saw that what was required was an antidote. For the doctor, understanding and compassion is that antidote, and he believes that these qualities are best achieved through education. “Education is the most efficient and effective means of development in any country,” said Dr. Abuelaish. 

He has held true to these ideals even after experiencing the loss of his three daughters and niece from an errant Israeli shell during the fighting in Gaza in 2009. “Life is what we make of it... it's in our hands” said Dr. Abuelaish “Each of us can do that, not be a prisoner of a tragedy and stuck there. What we can do is move forward.”

He knew that his daughters weren't the first victims of conflict and they certainly would not be the last. In the memory of his daughters Mayar, Aya, and Bessan, Dr. Abuelaish now strives to promote the education of girls and young women in the Middle East through the work of his foundation, Daughters for Life. 

Connected with multiple programs in an array of countries around the globe, the foundation targets girls in need from Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, to encourage the growth of an educated, female population throughout the Middle East. "We're providing scholarships to girls to study at colleges in the United.States, United Kingdom and other countries, then return to their countries to make a difference -- to be leaders in their fields," he explained.

“Women do not need to be empowered, they need to be enabled” said Dr. Abuelaish. He holds that the women of the Middle East are ready -- they just need to be allowed the resources necessary to act upon their dreams as equals.

As a Palestinian physician living in Gaza and working in Israel, Dr. Abuelaish's personal experiences in Israeli hospitals convinced him that medicine has an enormous power to break down seemingly insurmountable barriers. 

"Patients are patients. When they are within the borders of the hospital all of them are equal," said Dr. Abuelaish emphatically. "When we speak with medicine, we speak one language, it's a human language."

Coming from a medical background, he has come see the world's problems of violence, hatred, fear and poverty as diseases to be cured.

"Health is not just what we call sickness and being in a hospital", he states. "Health is a way of life where people are safe, healthy, secure and free."

In his book, I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity, Dr. Abuelaish details his journey's numerous twists and turns, sharing his revelations while trying to convey a clear message: "To give hope [and] inspire people to look around, ask, learn and then act, [taking] responsibility for what is happening in this world. To [have them] ask one question: What world do we want for us and others?"

In terms of American engagement with the Israelis and Palestinians, Dr. Abuelaish saw President Obama's speech in Cairo during his first term as a hopeful start. Yet, he looks to his second term as a time for action, to impose and intervene, because even “when we have a patient, and ... the patient is not accepting the treatment, it's the right of the patient not to accept the treatment” said Dr. Abuelaish. “But we have a moral responsibility to convince and to prevent this patient from self-destructive decisions.”

Dr. Abuelaish believes the American president's conscience will spur him to such action. “I understand that he will leave after four years" said Dr. Abuelaish. "But [he can] leave a huge legacy [of which] he is proud of [and] that others didn't achieve, [he can] bring justice into this world and give freedom to the people who are in need of freedom.”

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish will speak at UCLA on April 18th, 6:30 - 7:30 PM in Broad Auditorium (2160E Broad Art Center). For more information and to RSVP, visit the event page or call (310) 825-9646.

Jared Schwalb is a UCLA alumnus and program assistant for the UCLA Nazarian Center for Israel Studies.

Published: Friday, April 05, 2013