Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish speaks to an audience at Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium as part of International Education Week.

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish speaks to an audience at Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium as part of International Education Week.

Photographer: Jasmine Beaubien

After experiencing the impacts of conflict in multiple countries, Abuelaish is an opponent of wars and an advocate for peace.

After experiencing the impacts of conflict in multiple countries, Abuelaish is an opponent of wars and an advocate for peace.

Photographer: Jasmine Beaubien

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Palestinian medical doctor advocates for peace as part of International Education Week


“I shall not hate,” were the first four words spoken by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish as he walked onto the stage at Ohio University’s Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium on Wednesday, Nov. 19.

A Nobel Peace Prize nominee and internationally-acclaimed author, Abuelaish is a Palestinian medical doctor who was invited to OHIO as the keynote speaker for International Education Week. His speech also was held in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Center for International Studies and was part of the University’s Kennedy Lecture Series.

Abuelaish spoke about his life experiences overcoming personal hardships, including poverty, violence and the horrific deaths of his three daughters and niece, who were killed in an attack during the 2009 Gaza War.  

“In our life, we face hardships and tragedies, but we learn to challenge ourselves and find kindness in ourselves,” he said.

After experiencing the impacts of conflict in countries like Palestine, Egypt, Israel, Uganda, Yemen, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, Abuelaish is now an opponent of wars and an advocate for peace.

“What is war? War is genocide,” he said. “It’s propaganda. It must be prevented and we must speak out against it. Saving one, you save the world. By killing one, you kill the world.”

Abuelaish has been an important figure in Israeli-Palestinian relations for years, working in Israeli hospitals and treating Israeli and Palestinian patients with the full belief that health is an engine for a journey to peace.

He has delivered speeches at the Canadian House of Commons, the U.S. Congress, the Chilean Senate and Parliament, the European Parliament at Place Du Luxembourg in Brussels, Belgium, the State Department, and Forum 2000 in Prague.

Abuelaish travels and tells his story to others to encourage them to continue to live their lives, despite tragedies they may face. “Instead of injecting with hatred, let the pain energize you to make a difference,” he said.

Abuelaish’s three daughters and niece were killed in the Jan. 16, 2009 attack, while a fourth daughter and his brother were victims who survived.

His fourth daughter, who was 17-years-old at the time, lost her eyesight in one eye as a result of the attack. His daughter has since made her sisters’ deaths a reason to strive for success, he explained. As one of the top 10 students in her high school graduating class, she has since joined The University of Toronto in Canada and will graduate in May 2015.

Abuelaish said his daughter will avenge her sisters’ deaths by being successful and following in her father’s footsteps. “We need to learn to accept not to be a victim,” he said. “Do not play victim roles. You allow others to have power over you.”

Abuelaish told the crowd about his childhood, which included growing up in Jabalia Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip. He described his early beginnings, which included fighting to survive by finding food and water every day. He never had the chance to enjoy his childhood, he said, but as he grew, he realized his suffering was man-made.

“God does not allow man to suffer bad things, bad is man-made,” he said.

As a child, he dreamed of becoming a doctor who could make differences in people’s lives. He never let his meager beginnings determine what he did with his life, he told the audience.

"Life is what we make it,” Abuelaish said. “It’s in our hands. Don’t let others shape your life.”

OHIO first-year student Cristina Ortiz said Abuelaish’s speech was very touching. “History will explain how young lives can change the world for the better and how someone can make a difference.”

Abuelaish told the audience that education and humanity should unite to find solutions to problems. "Light is the truth, and education is the light, which leads us in darkness,” he expressed. He added that education connects people together and has a healthy, safe and secure impact on society.

The death of his daughters and niece caused Abuelaish to strongly advocate for education for the future generations of his family because those who died were not given the same opportunities, he said.  

"I do what I do for them because I owe it to them,” he said. “I am determined to keep my daughters alive in the minds, in the hearts, and in the souls of people like you. They will be kept alive as long as I’m living.”

First-year student Basel Al Saadi said Abuelaish’s story was inspiring. “I am more comfortable for the future, and his story encouraged me to keep going for the future,” he said.