Peace prize nominee preaches forgiveness

In the spirit of Remembrance Day, students, professors and community members gathered to hear the tragic but hopeful story of Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish.

In January 2009, his story became internationally affiliated with the Israel-Palestine conflict when his house in Palestine was bombed by an Israeli tank, fatally wounding his three daughters and niece minutes before he was to speak on an Israeli television program. Abuelaish’s heart-wrenching call for help was broadcast live on Israeli television and was soon heard worldwide.

“I am standing here because of hope,” he said. “As I am living and breathing, there is still hope.”

Unbelievably, Abuelaish has turned his tragic story into an inspiring message of change, success and healing.

Born a refugee in the Gaza Strip’s Jabalia refugee camp, Abuelaish overcame tremendous adversity to become a physician and fertility specialist living in Palestine but working at an Israeli hospital in the unstable and conflict-ridden Gaza Strip.

Now living in Toronto with his five remaining children and working as an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Abuelaish has committed his life to the fight for peace in Gaza.

He has written a bestselling book entitled I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey, which gives a more detailed account of his life and carries the same message of optimism that can be heard in many of his speeches.

Among the many themes of his lectures is the importance of the empowerment and education of women. All of his children, including his daughters, were given the opportunity to be educated. He spoke proudly of one daughter who, after being blinded in one eye during a particular bombing and hospitalized for months, went on to achieve 97 per cent in her final high school exams.

Abuelaish said he believes that “any country’s development, you want to measure it by its women’s education…. If we want to start the change, this is the vital core.” The Daughters for Life organization, which he created in the memory of his daughters that he lost, aims to promote the education of women and girls in the Middle East.

Addressing the issue of instituting change, which was an emphasized theme during his speech, Abuelaish’s words were a call to action for the audience, spurred forward by his belief that every individual is capable of facilitating change.

“If we want to change this world and want this world to endure, we need two things: justice and truth,” he said.

The key to this, he said, is that the action must come from within. In words that were reminiscent of Ghandi’s famous phrase, he added, “God will never change what is in people until they change what is in their hearts, souls and minds … Don’t ask others to start the change, you are the change.”

Abuelaish continued that this type of movement can begin with something as simple as tolerance or as vast as education.

A strong proponent of the idea that children are the future, Abuelaish left the audience with a message of possibility and strength.

“Nothing is impossible,” he reminded those present. “I urge of you to dream, to work hard, not to give up.”