Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hate is easy

Herewith my second memoir in two months. Like the first, I read it for work.  I haven't changed my mind about them. It's a beautiful Sunday morning, so I'm trying to get my "chores" done before play, so I'm planning on keeping this brief. (However, I often find that brief occasionally will go on [and on]).  I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity is the story of Izzeldin Abuelaish. The author was born in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip in 1955; he grew up, was educated (before he headed abroad for medical school; it was sheer grit that got him there) and was raising his own family in Gaza when he was struck by terrible tragedy: In January 2009, his house in Gaza was shelled by Israeli artillery and three of his eight children -- daughters Bessan, Mayar and Aya -- were killed. A niece was also killed and another daughter was so seriously injured that she was airlifted to an Israeli hospital. Their deaths followed, by just a few months, the sudden illness and death of his wife from leukemia.

Before this ghastly event, Abeulaish had a successful medical career affiliated with a hospital in Israel and had advocated publicly about the importance of personal connections in promoting peace. He believed -- believes -- that generalizing all Israelis as the enemy (and vice versa) is antithetical to peace, but that knowing and understanding individuals -- as he has done -- will inevitably bring hostilities to an end. He managed to sustain his faith in humanity as he endured weekly humiliations every time he crossed the border from Gaza to Israel and while he attempted a ridiculously circuitous route home from abroad upon learning of his wife's condition. I believe someone from the Christian tradition might call him "saintly." I don't know the Jewish or Muslim equivalent.  After the deaths of his children, Izzeldin moved his family to Toronto where he practices and teaches medicine, and where he started a foundation in honor of his daughters, Daughters for Life.

The three girls are pictured on the cover of the book, in a photograph taken shortly before their deaths, described in the memoir's opening chapter. On this day, a few months after his wife died, Abuelaish took his children to the beach in Gaza and they all wrote their names in the sand. Poignant, and chilling in light of the following tragedy, and the best part of the whole book.

While I acknowledge the depth of this tragedy and applaud Abuelaish's continuing commitment to peace, his story didn't move me much. And I blame the false humility of the memoir format ... I have trouble actually seeing the humanity of the memoirist as s/he tells their story.  There's a reason -- usually extraordinary or interesting accomplishments -- a person writes a memoir, but there seems to be such a prohibition on extolling these accomplishments that it ends up seeming very inauthentic to this reader.

Also, I tend to focus on what Abuelaish isn't telling me -- why did he practice medicine in Israel (goodness knows there is need for his skills in Gaza), what did his friends and neighbors think of his working with the "enemy," why did he stay so long in Gaza when he had many offers to work elsewhere? In my cynical view, he seemed like someone who has turned to his oppressor for validation (I think there's a term for this), yet I got no sense of any conflict over this.

Patrick Lawlor reads the memoir in a straightforward nonfiction way -- with steady pacing and a neutral affect with a few emotional reactions (notably as he recreates Abuelaish's telephone call to a journalist friend in Israeli following the shelling of his house). He has a slightly hoarse delivery that gets a bit wearing. There's a lengthy introduction from an Israeli doctor colleague and this sounds exactly like Abuelaish's narrative. On the whole, pretty darn dull. For a much more compelling version of the events (but, of course, not one from Abuelaish's perspective), watch this video from Journeyman Pictures.

So, predisposed to not like coupled with an ordinary narration. It felt like work, and was -- for a book discussion group I've been hosting all year. The lecture and discussion that the group had about I Shall Not Hate was informative, very lively, and filled with strong opinions -- delivered occasionally by those who seemed to not have taken the message of the book to heart!

[A house in the Jabalia refugee camp (not Abuelaish's) destroyed at an unknown date. The date given is long after the events of the "Gaza War." It was taken by diario photográphico 'desde Palestina' and retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity by Izzeldin Abuelaish
Narrated by Patrick Lawlor
Tantor Media, 2011.  8:14

No comments: