Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish is one of the many residents of the Middle East who have lost loved ones to the conflict there. This medical doctor’s house was shelled and in one terrible blow, three of his daughters and a niece were killed. He has suffered and has every reason to hate and seek revenge but he doesn’t, believing that will not change anything.
His unique perspective on peace and how to achieve it comes out of his medical profession. Born in a Palestinian refugee camp, people were often surprised or even shocked to learn that for many years he worked in a hospital in Israel, treating Jewish patients, but for him this illustrated his point about peace. In order to keep hate in check, he chose to focus on one person at a time, rather than make sweeping generalizations. If an Israeli checkpoint soldier was rude to him, he would be angry and frustrated at that particular person, not at all border crossing officials. Hate the actions of others, not hate the others.
As a doctor, he was a helper and healer for every person he treated, no matter who they were. People were treated according to their medical condition, not their origin. This bridges a gap. His advice is for people on each side of the divide to get to know one another and gain empathy and respect for the other’s situation. When you get to know the enemy and fear each other less and see individuals, it helps fight tribalism and hatred of the other. Don’t judge people by the frustrations you may have about their government. He says, “not all Americans are arrogant, not all Palestinians are troublemakers, not all Israelis are occupiers.”
Of course the Middle East situation is complex and there are no easy answers. Many have tried and failed to find solutions. But revenge and counter revenge is obviously not working–something must change. He promotes building bridges, not walls and also says empowering women in the peace process would help, suspecting that men are more likely to favour war. Avoid segregation and mix people up so they can get to know each other. This is a simple message of radical love, respect, and equality presented in story, and stories matter. Dr. Abuelaish now lives in Canada and teaches public health at the University of Toronto.