I Shall Not Hate

by (Dr.) Izzeldin Abuelaish
Walker & Company, New York
c. 2010
ISBN 978-0-8027-7949-6 (paperback)

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish is from Gaza. During his early and later years, he had some very positive experiences with Israelis, which moved his thinking towards the need for the two peoples to live together in peace.

He movingly describes the details of growing up in a Muslim family in Gaza. In the heated, “all-or-nothing” rhetoric that often characterizes public debate on “the Middle East” today, his descriptions remind us that such talk can have its worst repercussions on the daily lives of ordinary people.

Even in America, the words “Islam” and “Muslim” have acquired negative connotations, largely as a result of terrorist acts in their name. If many of these acts – especially since the days of Yasser Arafat – have been committed specifically to attract media attention, such attention can have a downside, causing us to forget that many, perhaps most, Muslims are ordinary people living in difficult conditions.

One benefit of this book, then, is that it reawakens us as to who the “enemy” really is.

It’s impossible to read of their poverty and struggles without feeling compassion. We should feel that. Jewish tradition teaches us to do so.

Then, without warning, Dr. Abuelaish’s house is bombed in January of 2009, killing his three young daughters.

It would have been easy for him to abandon his principles of reconciliation and peaceful co-existence with Israel, in favor of demanding revenge. Yet, not without great inner struggle, he commits to peace all the more: “Tragedy cannot be the end of our lives. We cannot allow it to control and defeat us. My vision for the Middle East is of a peaceful, secure, cooperative, and united place. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I too have a dream. My dream is that my children – all Palestinians and their children and our cousins, the Israelis and their children – will be safe, secure and well fed…”

Whatever other concerns we have, then, we must take this book as the story of one human being who fights against the inner and outer pressures on him to hate. “Who is mighty?” Pirkei Avot asks. “One who controls him/herself.” Dr. Abuelaish is an example for the world of what one person can do within themselves. His struggle with his own feelings is very related to the whole theme of “Teshuvah” that’s so prevalent for we Jews at this time of year.

Yet, we must also remember that Dr. Abuelaish’s voice is not necessarily that of the majority. Just recently, I read an article in which Pres. Mahamoud Abbas denied the historical existence of the Temple (see: http://palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=157&doc_id=6854), effectively denying any Jewish historical claim to Jerusalem or the land of Israel at all. We have to assume that Pres. Abbas wouldn’t make such statements if he didn’t feel that it was of popular and political benefit for him to do so. Unfortunately, it’s Pres. Abbas, not Dr. Abuelaish, with whom Israel must negotiate.

Early in his book, Dr. Abuelaish also writes: “…we mark the Feast of the Sacrifice…It recalls Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to G-d…(p. 8).” He refers, of course, to the story familiar from Bereishith/Genesis 22. But – for him as a Muslim, Abraham’s “son” is Ishmael, not Isaac; the “sacrifice” took place in Mecca, not Jerusalem (as in Jewish tradition). In fact, the whole program of a penitential month (like Elul or Ramadan) preceding a “New Year” that’s associated with and characterized by Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to signify his  obedience to the Divine, is of rabbinic origin.

I once spoke to an imam at a mosque, and innocently mentioned “the Jewish roots of Islam.” He exploded in anger, denying that there were any “Jewish roots of Islam” at all.

Small as these details might seem, they are large matters that separate us. Dr. Abuelaish has struggled mightily with the individual feelings that can lead to war – as we all should do.

But there are still underlying issues that, until resolved, will always be sources of strife.

I highly recommend this well-written book, important in many ways and for many reasons.