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Message of Hope for Middle East

Public health professor turns personal tragedy to quest for peace

Professor Izzeldin Abuelaish of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health has made Middle East peace a personal mission. (UTM photo)

A room full of students, staff, faculty and community members were captivated as Professor Izzeldin Abuelaish shared his tragic story and quest for peace in the Middle East during a public lecture at U of T Mississauga’s Instructional Centre last week.

On Jan. 16, 2009, Israeli shells hit Abuelaish’s family home in the Gaza Strip, killing three of his daughters and a niece. At the time, Abuelaish was working at the Gertner Institute, where he was the first Palestinian doctor to receive a staff position at an Israeli hospital. He had been an important figure in Israeli-Palestinian relations for years.

Astonishingly, this tragedy did not drive Abuelaish to seek revenge nor did it lessen his determination to act for humanity. He decided his daughters’ deaths would not be in vain. During the years since the shelling of his home, Abuelaish has travelled the world advocating for open communication, understanding and compassion between Israel and Palestine.

“Hate is a great burden to bear which injures the hater more than the hated,” Abuelaish said. “When we come together for the good of all people, the world as a whole will benefit.” His stance has won him humanitarian awards around the world, and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is now an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, and author of the best-seller I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey.

Emotions ran high in the room as Abuelaish talked about his deceased daughters. “My daughters, they are living among us,” he said. “As long as I am living, they will speak to me, and to others." In their honour, Abuelaish explained, he created Daughters for Life, a Canadian charity that provides scholarships to young women so they have the opportunity to develop a strong voice and improve the quality of life throughout the Middle East. “Education is the key indicator of development … we need to invest in women and their role in shaping and making decisions.”

Abuelaish concluded his talk by reinforcing his faith in the younger generation and their ability to drive change. “I believe that there is hope and I believe in you,” Abuelaish said. “Have hope and faith, but most importantly speak out and take action. Start within your communities; start within your university.”

Abuelaish’s lecture was sponsored by U of T Mississauga’s Snider Committee. The visiting Snider lecturership is awarded to a scholar whose work is of general cultural and intellectual significance.