I shall not hate
A journey of hope and peace
By Fr. Ron MacDonell, S.F.M.
Several years ago, Scarboro Missions created an endowment fund at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo to sponsor a speaker in the “Lectures in Catholic Experience” series. Each year we invite someone to share about interfaith dialogue and about mission. The speaker delivers the Scarboro Lecture at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo and then repeats the talk at our Mission Centre in Scarborough.
This year Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian medical doctor who was born and raised in the Jabaliah Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip, gave an impassioned plea for all to work for peace and to be people of compassion and hope. On January 16, 2009, Dr. Abuelaish lost three daughters, Bessan, Mayar, and Aya; and a niece, Nur, to shelling from Israeli tanks in Gaza. “Just last Thursday was the fifth anniversary of the killing of my daughters,” he said. “Their heart-wrenching cries of pain and hope never leave me.” He speaks of them like a prophet of old: “You were my companions and comrades in my loneliness, my friends in my calamity, and my daughters in loving me…Your names do not leave my side…We will not despair of God’s mercy, nor will despair find us. And we shall meet one day.”
He told us that at the moment of their death, “I directed my face to the One who is awake at a time when others are sleeping, to the One who listens when others are deaf. I directed my face to God.” And he prayed so as not to be filled with anger and hate. During this time, he was interviewed by Israeli TV and broadcast live, which he believes helped to open the eyes of the international community about what was happening. Two days later a unilateral ceasefire was announced.
Instead of responding in hatred, Dr. Abuelaish chose to forgive. “I Shall Not Hate” became his mantra and the title of his book recounting those traumatic events. Drawing on his medical experience, he describes violence and hatred as contagious diseases that must be eliminated from our lives. As diseases, they can be transmitted; they can cross borders. Our world is small. Events that happen far away can and will impact us here in Canada.
When we see terrible news on TV and read about situations in the media, Dr. Abuelaish said, we need to feel angry, but in a way that energizes us to do what we can to prevent the injustice from happening again. “How long are we going to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the suffering in our world?” he asked. It is time for us to act.
“Our enemies in this world are our ignorance, our arrogance, our fears, our greed...God created us and we became nations so as to know each other—to know by showing compassion, respect, understanding.”
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish
Dr. Abuelaish believes that the disease of hatred is the result of exposure to harm. In diagnosing disease, he said, a doctor must first look at the patient’s history and try to find out why the patient is not healthy. So, too, we must begin to ask and try to understand why a person hates, why a person practices violence.
“We cannot meet violence with violence, hatred with hatred, and judge in a superficial way,” he said. To overcome hatred we must learn to connect with each other, not to blame people for their hatred and violence, but to understand, to dig deeper, to ask questions. We need to have the courage to change our way of being and of understanding others.
“We need to look at and change the environment and the context in which people are suffering,” he said. If we want children to be healthy we need to change the environment in which they live: the housing, the water, the food, the schools, the surroundings. This is the sustainable and most effective way to create a healthy community, where health equals peace. When a person is healthy, he or she has peace and the community has peace, because each individual represents the community and the community represents the individual. As long as others are not free, no one is free. By saving one life, we save the world, by killing one life, we kill the world.
“Our enemies in this world are our ignorance, our arrogance, our fears, our greed...God created us and we became nations so as to know each other—to know by showing compassion, respect, understanding. The more we connect with each other and open our hearts to one another, the better the world will be for all.” We all wear the same robe—the robe of humanity. God values humanity and the human being. All religions value humanity.
Dr. Abuelaish warns that on judgment day, God will ask each of us what we did with three things. First, our knowledge and education: did we share it with others? Second, our time: did we spend it helping others? Third, our money: where did we get it, and what did we do with it? It is in sharing and helping others that we will receive happiness. Happiness is a reflection of our actions. Happiness is our reward for our service and kindness to others.
The intensity and passion of Dr. Abuelaish’s plea for all to overcome hatred by forgiveness and to embrace hope left many in the audience in quiet tears. “I lost my daughters,” he said, “but I will never lose hope because hope is life…I believe that my daughters are alive and I talk to them: ‘The promise that I have taken upon myself, since day one, is to keep your names and spirit alive, not to forget you, so long as there is life on this earth.’”
In fulfilling this promise, Dr. Abuelaish established the “Daughters for Life Foundation” (www.daughters-forlife.com), a charitable organization providing aid for the education of girls and women from the Middle East, especially those who do not have support or who suffer hardship. “If you ask about development in another country,” he said, “don’t ask about the income or the GDP…ask about the level of women’s education, women’s role, and women’s opportunity.”
Dr. Abuelaish spoke of his debt to his mother, his wife, and his daughters. He believes that women are the strongest people in the community, its main pillars: “Women are the hope of the world to rise and reach the greatness that all humans are capable of achieving, not just imagining.” Dr. Abuelaish, believes that we must all come together to make the 21st century “…the century of humanity…where we can all live in harmony, free, connected with each other, so as to inherit and pass on a human legacy to our children, to whom we are accountable.”