On January 16, 2009, as the three-week-long Israeli Army assault on the Gaza Strip that was intended to stop Hamas rocket attacks was winding down, an explosion ripped through a bedroom in the apartment of Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish.
With his oldest daughter, Dr. Abuelaish rushed to the bedroom and discovered his 17-year-old daughter gravely wounded and his 15-year-old daughter decapitated. Moments later, as he ran to the street for help, another Israeli tank round slammed into the house, killing his oldest daughter, her 14-year-old sister and a cousin. The distraught doctor called an Israeli television reporter he knew, and their anguished conversation was broadcast live to the Israeli public.
This incident, retold in harrowing detail near the end of I Shall Not Hate, is the exclamation point in an eye-opening story of a remarkable person. Born in poverty in a Palestinian refugee camp after his family was forced from ancestral lands now owned by Ariel Sharon, Abuelaish seems to have been hard-working, ambitious and independent-minded almost from birth. At the age of 12, during the Six Day War in 1967, he discovered that “almost no one behaved the way I expected them to. . . . It made me more aware of what people say versus what they do.” At 15 years old, in the same year that he saw the Israeli army plow down his family’s modest home so their tanks could roll freely through the refugee camp, he worked on an Israeli farm where the family treated him fairly and showed him great kindness. Later, he became the first Palestinian doctor on staff at an Israeli hospital. “All of my adult life I have had one leg in Palestine and the other in Israel, an unusual stance in this region,” he writes.
All of this gives Abuelaish a truth-to-power authenticity in his depiction of the systematic humiliations visited upon residents of Gaza, even such a moderate and well-respected figure as the good doctor. Abuelaish can be repetitive and his prose is sometimes infelicitous, but oddly enough, the occasionally awkward writing often adds to the book’s power. Even more powerful, however, is Abuelaish’s persistent message of peace and his call for coexistence. Despite his unimaginable loss, he writes near the end of I Shall Not Hate, “To those who seek retaliation, I say, even if I got revenge on all the Israeli people, would it bring my daughters back? Hatred is an illness. It prevents healing and peace.”