The other day I was browsing in a bookshop and happened upon a book I Shall Not Hate by Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish. Dr Abuelaish became known worldwide in 2009 as the Gazan doctor whose three daughters and a niece were killed when an Israeli missile hit and destroyed his house. The absolute horror of his experience had an immediacy for Israelis because through his work, Dr Abuelaish was a familiar voice in Israel, and his tragic personal account was transmitted live by telephone through a choked Israeli news presenter.
But Dr Abuelaish is a giant amongst humanity. He is one of a not insignificant number of bereaved on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict who refuse to cease believing in mankind and refuse to stop talking and seeking to understand the ‘other’ side.
Later that same day, I happened upon a film, Precious Life, a documentary by Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar about a Palestinian family from Gaza with a seriously ill baby needing a bone marrow transplant. The medical treatment can only be given in Israel, and only after a public appeal for funds to the Israeli public, resulting in a single large financial anonymous donation from an Israeli whose son was killed in the conflict. The film goes on to document the struggle to find a bone marrow match in the face of bureaucratic and security frontier issues, and the heroic efforts of the medical staff and bravery of the family.
But nothing is simple, and in a series of moving and traumatic encounters, both the journalist and the parents are forced to examine their own beliefs and assumptions about what life means to people in different circumstances. The mother fights for the life of her baby, but then inexplicably, and to the absolute horror of the journalist, declares she would be happy for her baby son to die as a martyr. Only later is it revealed that she fears to say otherwise in case she is seen as a traitor, a collaborator. In a surreal crossing of paths, she meets Dr Abuelaish in a hospital corridor, and appears unable to say anything in response to him gently explaining the loss of his family. She shrugs in apparent indifference, but by now we understand the pain and the pressure she is under. Nothing is simple. The mother cannot understand the kindness of the doctors and the anonymous donor who has lost a child. It is just not her understanding of who and what Israelis are.
Yet through it all, humanity prevails. After the baby and his family have returned to Gaza, the war breaks out. After it’s all over, the mother is filmed on a visit to hospital in Israel. She says she was never scared during the attacks. After her experiences, she simply refused to believe the Jews would hurt her and her family.
Stereotypes. Assumptions. Labels. How would the world be if we could rid ourselves of these?