How do you not hate, even after three of your precious daughters have been murdered?
This is the burning question at the heart of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish’s powerful book I Shall Not Hate. Dr. Izzeldin is a Palestinian doctor who was born and raised in Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp after his family fled from Israel in 1948. He tirelessly served between the Gaza Strip and Israel as the first Palestinian doctor to work in an Israeli hospital, overcoming extraordinary challenges and humiliations.
Then in December 2008, Israel unleashed a devastating 23-day military campaign on the Gaza Strip. Dr. Izzeldin writes, “I felt a colossal, choking fear for my children, a level of terror I had never experienced before” (169). And then it happened: his daughters Bessan (20), Mayar (15), and Aya (14) were killed when an Israeli tank fired into their bedroom in the Jabalia refugee camp.
How was Dr. Izzeldin not consumed with hate and a desire for revenge? How has he pressed on as a giver of life and advocate for reconciliation? Here are the twelve key lessons I gleaned from his moving book.
- Make a vow not to hate.
The title of Dr. Izzeldin’s book declares his courageous personal covenant: “I shall not hate.” He insists that hating or not hating is a choice (196). And he writes, “When it is your children who have become ‘collateral damage’ in a seemingly endless conflict, when you have seen their bodies literally torn apart and beheaded, their young lives obliterated, how do you not hate? How do you avoid rage? I vowed not to hate and avoided rage because of my strong faith as a Muslim” (227).
2. Take your faith’s teaching seriously.
Dr. Izzeldin’s strong faith taught him to see humanity as one family created by God with sacred value (168, 189, 198, 227-228). He repeatedly refers to the way we “see” others and emphasizes how this vision defines our relationships, for better or for worse (54, 59, 61, 73, 86, 94, 95, 96, 99, 121, 133, 173, 198, 204, 233).
When we see others as created by God, first before anything else, Dr. Izzeldin witnesses that we can embrace our faith’s call to patient suffering and forgiveness, and refuse to demonize others (227-228). But when we see people as no longer “sacred,” hate and violence explode (6). Dr. Izzeldin writes, “Everyone is part of the human family. If we think collectively instead of individually, we will live as one family where we take care of one another” (212-213).
3. Meditate on the dignity of others.
In some of the most painful sections of his book, Dr. Izzeldin writes about how his mind was meditating on how he could serve suffering Palestinian women and build bridges with Israelis (166, 173). Soon before his daughters were murdered, when their neighborhood was being shelled by Israeli tanks, he urged his children to see the Israeli Prime Minister not as a monster but as a person (173).
What we meditate on matters and shapes our minds. Dr. Izzeldin has practiced meditating on the dignity of others for decades, including in the hardest moments of his life, and this practice has enabled him to uproot hate.
4. Cultivate compassion for the suffering of others.
Dr. Izzeldin urges us to get to know the other’s situation and refuse to generalize about them (106). What are they going through? Why are they angry and desperate? What factors drive their decisions and behavior?
Dr. Izzeldin’s book is an invitation to move past stereotypes and to face the lived reality of suffering people, including Palestinians: “Imagine yourself in this position. What would you do?” (29).
5. Cross boundaries to build personal relationships with the people you are most tempted to hate.
This is perhaps the most repeated and powerful point in Dr. Izzeldin’s book. He writes, “crossings have shaped my life” (17). Throughout these pages, he urges us to spend time with the people we’re tempted to hate and to develop a sense of shared value with them. Our real enemy is not people but ignorance of one another, and this ignorance can be overcome by asking one another simple questions and listening to one another (229).
Dr. Izzeldin writes about how he worked on an Israeli family’s farm as a fifteen-year-old boy and discovered, “they were as human as I was” (17, 58, 62). This experience influenced him so profoundly that, years later, he intentionally traveled back to the Madmoony’s farm to thank them for treating him as a human being. They responded by hugging and kissing him, and he writes, “it had proved to me that Jews and Palestinians could behave as one family… I wanted to show them the affection, even love, I had for them” (87-88).
This personal, human experience proved utterly essential in the face of his daughters’ killing. Soon after their deaths, when his Palestinian neighbors asked, “Don’t you hate the Israelis?” Dr. Izzeldin replied, “Which Israelis am I supposed to hate? The doctors and nurses I work with? The ones who are trying to save Ghaida’s life and Shatha’s eyesight? The babies I have delivered? Families like the Madmoonys who gave me work and shelter when I was a kid?” (188). He couldn’t generalize and hate Israelis because he considered them affectionate friends and admired colleagues.
Dr. Izzeldin emphasizes the importance of personal encounters in places like intercultural peace camps where children “discover the ties that may bind and heal our mutual wounds” (16). He writes about his daughter’s experience: “Shatha commented that before they went to the peace camp, they thought of Israelis as the enemy, but that spending time together and engaging in dialogue made any stereotypes quickly disappear. The girls they met were not different from them, and they all wanted to work together to find a solution to any conflict that exists” (209).
Despite three of his daughters being murdered by Israeli soldiers, Dr. Izzeldin was able to make this extraordinary statement: “The Israelis are our friends and we should love them as we love one another” (210). This foundation of personal relationship enables real dialogue where grievances can be aired, the truth can be discussed, and ways forward can be discovered (123, 134, 217).
- Face your own bias.
Dr. Izzeldin tells a story about how he was convinced that an Israeli professor at Harvard was discriminating against him because he was Palestinian. But after meeting the professor one-on-one, “I realized [my concerns] were petty and insignificant” (106). Rather than letting his assumption fester, he confronted it.
Something I greatly respect about this man is that he refuses to see himself only as a victim or as totally innocent of the discrimination he opposes. He writes, “The Israelis were the enemy, but now we [Palestinians] had become enemies inside our own house too” (121). He challenges hate by confronting the conflict and bias in himself and his own community.
- Acknowledge the poisonous futility of hate.
Dr. Izzeldin has several powerful statements that articulate this point:
“I maintain that revenge and counter-revenge are suicidal, that mutual respect, equality, and coexistence are the only reasonable way forward” (7-8).
“Hatred eats at your soul and takes opportunities away from you. It’s like consuming poison” (122).
“We use hatred and blame to avoid the reality that eventually we need to come together. As for the solder who shelled my house, I believe that in his conscience he has already punished himself, that he is asking himself, ‘What have I done?’ Even if he doesn’t think that now, tomorrow he will be a father. He will suffer for his actions when he sees how precious is the life of his child. 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” (188).
“I understand down to my bones that violence is futile. It is a waste of time, lives, and resources, and has been proven only to beget more violence. It does not work. It just perpetuates a vicious cycle… Instead of wasting energy on hatred, use it to open your eyes and see what’s really going on. Surely, if we can see the truth, we can live side by side… I am arguing that we need an immunization program, one that injects people with respect, dignity, and equality, one that inoculates them against hatred” (196-197).
His point here is as principled as it is pragmatic: hate doesn’t work. Love is the only way forward, whether we like it or not (204, 229).
8. Respect differences and recognize how similar we are.
Dr. Izzeldin comes back to this point repeatedly (87, 92, 94, 100, 121, 124, 132, 203, 204, 229). Amazingly, the word that he uses most frequently in his book is “together,” which is rooted in his faith that God has created one human family. He calls us to recognize and celebrate the similarity and diversity of others as a reflection of God’s design. This is his mantra: “I am the same as you” (70). Later he writes, “I talk to my patients, to my neighbors and colleagues — Jews, Arabs — and I find out they feel as I do: we are more similar than we are different, and we are all fed up with the violence” (101).
Dr. Izzeldin emphasizes how most Israeli and Palestinian people share similar moral values, a similar commitment to family, similar styles of storytelling, a commitment to religious faith, and the desire for security and happiness (229). He writes, “The Israeli patients I treat don’t care that I’m a Palestinian doctor; they care about having someone to help them with their medical problem” (134).
Refuse to see the stranger (the one you don’t know) as an enemy. Centralize the common values of “ours, us, we,” especially truth, freedom, justice, and service. The majority of people actually hold similar values and want the same things (212).
9. Recognize that the cause of our conflict is inside not outside us.
Dr. Izzeldin writes, “The cause [of conflict] is inside us, not outside us — in our own hearts and minds. Hate is a chronic disease, and we need to heal ourselves of it and work toward a world in which we eradicate poverty and suffering” (230). Here Dr. Izzeldin resists the temptation to externalize all evil and blame on the other, and actively looks inward. The solution to conflict is not to eliminate others but the hostility inside ourselves. This points back to his practice of examining his own bias.
10. Dismantle mental and physical barriers between us.
Reestablishing human connection requires the introspective and societal work of identifying the barriers between us and working on building bridges in their place (89, 159, 230). Dr. Izzeldin tells the moving story of how his new neighbors in Canada took down their fence in their backyard so his kids could play without barriers. He writes, “That simple act gave me a lot to think about. How prophetic that I witnessed what I had been dreaming about for years for our two neighbors, Israel and Palestine. Here was the manifestation of the smashing of barriers, a living example right here in my own new backyard” (208).
11. Celebrate what is good; don’t allow evil to dominate the story you tell.
Dr. Izzeldin writes very openly and painfully about the terrible evil he, his family, and the Palestinian people have suffered. He doesn’t sugar-coat or avoid hard facts. But his dominant message is about the beauty of his daughters and what is possible when we honor one another’s precious dignity (228).
He repeatedly emphasizes the need to not live in the past but to move forward into the future (38, 45, 69, 123, 174, 183, 193, 198). He writes, “It’s all about the will to solve the problem rather than the determination to keep the anger front and center. Arguing over who did what and who suffered more is not getting us anywhere. We have to move on; we have to build trust and mutual respect between the peoples. You can’t respect someone your don’t know. So let’s get to know one another by listening and opening our eyes to the other side. We need to encourage kavod (respect) and shivyon (equality)” (123). Rather than fighting over the past, he urges us to learn from it and move on (198).
He also emphasizes that the narratives we tell can either heal or destroy. He asks, “Who is telling [children] these things that turn them into enemies rather than friends?” (97). In a lecture given at at Jewish synagogue in Toronto, someone asked him, “What have you personally taught your children about Jews and the Jewish people in Israel?” Rather than answering, Dr. Izzeldin invited his daughter Raffah to the podium and asked her what he had taught her during the war. She answered, “I love you” in Hebrew (210).
Emphasizing narratives of dignity goes back to his practice of telling his children that the Israeli Prime Minister was a person not a monster, even as Israeli tanks shelled their neighborhood and would soon kill his three daughters.
12. Mentor youth.
Dr. Izzeldin writes movingly of his early teachers who convinced him to stay in school despite the financial desperation of his family. Their mentorship gave him a hope that was stronger than hate. It was this educational foundation that enabled him to feel a sense of agency, focus on the future, and prioritize dignity over narratives of dehumanization and revenge. He repeatedly emphasizes the importance of educating and empowering girls and women in order to overcome hate, conflict, and poverty (135-137).
I am inspired and challenged by Dr. Izzeldin’s extraordinary strength and refusal to hate. Please join me today in making his powerful vow: I shall not hate!
Also consider signing the Neighbor-Love Covenant to embody love in the face of polarization and hate.