“Hate is a chronic disease, and we need to heal ourselves of it and work towards a world in which we eradicate poverty and suffering. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich from hating one another.
We all need to search for the causes of our failure in the human journey to peace and discover why we are not happy, satisfied and secure. The cause is inside us, not outside us – in our own hearts and minds.” – Izzeldin Abduelaish, Palestinian physician from Gaza
Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish was born and grew up in the Jebalia refugee camp in the Gaza strip. He did his medical studies in Cairo and came back to work as a physician in Gaza. He later obtained a diploma from the University of London’s Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, completed a six-year residency programme in the same discipline at the Soroka Medical Centre, Beersheba in Israel and became an expert in the treatment of infertility. In December 2008, his wife Nadia died from acute leukaemia. Barely five weeks later, as a result of indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza by the Israeli Defence forces, three of his older daughters were killed by a shell as they slept in their home. This remarkable story of a Palestinian, a doctor who was constantly crossing the lines that divide the Israelis and Palestinians to treat patients on both sides and, above all, a humanitarian crusader for justice and peace was written in book form and was published by Random House Canada. Another edition was published two years ago by Bloomsbury London.
Abuelaish’s book is aptly titled ‘I Shall Not Hate’. Dr Marek Glezerman, the former Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Soroka Medical Centre where Abuelaish did his residency programme, has written a Foreword to the book. In his Foreword, Glezeman says he found the way Abuelaish looked at life and the world at large to be quite remarkable. ‘Making the trip from Gaza to Soroka hospital isn’t easy. You never know whether the border will be closed and if you will be able to get back again. Given that he and his fellow Gazans experience these frustrations on a daily basis, I found it extraordinary that Izzeldin never generalized his complaints. I never heard him condemn the injustices he suffered in general but only in specific, very focused ways….Izzeldin has every reason to be frustrated, disappointed and offended by the environment he’s lived in, but he is not. Despite everything has seen and gone through, his belief in co-existence and in the peace process between the Palestinians and Jews remains unshaken. He doesn’t view Israel as a monolithic entity where everyone is the same. He knows many Israelis; some have become his friends. He knows many Israelis who don’t dismiss all Palestinians as terrorists, and he knows many Palestinians who likewise do not look at all Israelis as right-wing occupiers. He believes that we are two people who want to live in peace and are fed up with war and bloodshed.’
In the book, Abuelaish quite rightly refers to the Palestinians being in a catch-22 situation. If they accept the occupation of their lands by the Israelis, they accept the taking away of the lands that belonged to them, lands for them to live in, to grow food and support themselves. If they do not accept the occupation, they will continue to experience indignities and humiliation. Palestinians, he says are waiting for something miraculous to happen. ‘Palestinians are physically alive, but our spirits are exhausted, our patience is wearing thin, and we feel that we are not being included in this human family, that this human family doesn’t care; so don’t blame us if we don’t listen and don’t behave rationally.’
Minorities in a catch-22 situation
The minorities who are now under attack from extremist elements also, like the Palestinians, face a catch-22 situation. If the owners of the business establishments that were subject to violence and arson did not go along with the demand for a mitigation of the case, they would no doubt have faced further violence and harassment. But by agreeing to mitigate the case, they have suffered considerable material and financial loss. But the loss will likely to be more than the material loss suffered by this clothing store and affiliated business. The extremist elements have now tasted blood. They know that they have the backing of powerful personalities in the political establishment. They know that the law enforcement authorities will follow the dictates of their political masters. So we can be sure of more sabre-rattling, more rabble-rousing hatred from these extremist hooligans.
According to a Police spokesperson, the several-hundred strong hooligans, disgracefully led by men in religious robes, who engaged in mob violence and arson on two business establishments were doing so to show their disapproval at an employee of one of the businesses having a love affair with a 15 year-old girl. Now the hooligans and arsonists have been warned and discharged and the young man, who happens to belong to a minority community, is to be charged for abuse of an under-aged girl, who happens to belong to the majority community. The fact that this ludicrous statement is made by a senior law-enforcement officer in all seriousness shows the extent of the levels to which the once prestigious Police Service has sunk.
An example of religious amity
The extremists and their political and nationalist backers need to be told of the actions of an Anglican Church in Britain in furtherance of religious harmony. A BBC report this week refers to this Church in Aberdeen being almost next door to a small Muslim mosque in the city. The Vicar of the Church, who happens to be of South Indian origin, had noticed that on Fridays, during the prayer time, the Mosque was too small to hold everyone who gathered for prayers. Many were standing outside in the bitter wintery cold. So, on the initiative of the Vicar, the Church Committee had offered the Church for the Muslims to hold their Friday prayers. The offer was gratefully accepted and, on Fridays, the Jumah prayers and the khutbah or sermon are held in the Anglican Church. It wss heart-warming to see the pictures in the BBC report with pictures of the Muslim men at prayer with the stained glass Christian images in the background. It is an initiative for religious co-existence that apparently has the support of the religious and political establishments in Britain. What a contrast to the stand taken by the political establishment in Sri Lanka.
Attacks in Kilinochchi
There can be no peace in Sri Lanka unless there is strong action taken against extremist elements who sow hatred against communities, ethnic and religious. Most people feel that the law-enforcement authorities, if freed from political manipulation, will enforce the law without favouring any one community. Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen police inaction in the political sphere too. Reports from Kilinochchi indicate that ‘unidentified’ thugs attacked a political meeting of the TNA and also attacked the offices of the Udhayan newspaper which is reportedly owned by a TNA parliamentarian. This is not the first time TNA’s political activities in the North have been subject to violence by the so-called ‘unidentified’ persons. The police are unable to identify the miscreants but the good people of Jaffna appear to have no doubt as the identity of the attackers. TNA parliamentarian and Attorney-at-Law Sumanthiran has openly hinted at the involvement of the military in these attacks. Sumanthiran is not known to take irresponsible positions and many will no doubt share his suspicions.
The Government is fast losing its credibility as a democratic force that is willing to meet its political opponents on equal terms. It has been accused to employing every dirty trick in the trade and beyond it to harass, intimidate and suppress opponents. It has failed to deliver on the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation. The only encouraging sign is that more and more people, including senior figures in the ruling coalition, are getting fed up with the way politics has degenerated in the country. But more and more people must speak up when they see injustice. Perhaps the way Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was treated and still being hounded has been a turning point, We cannot afford to be silent spectators when freedom and justice are threatened and democratic institutions are being dismantled.
Perhaps the political establishment also realizes that they are fast losing the mass support that they once enjoyed. That is why the extremist hooligans, in an ethno-religious garb, are being encouraged and protected. Raising ethno-religious temperatures is often the last dice to play by a losing political gambler. People are getting tired of being told that all our misfortunes are caused by the LTTE ‘rump’. It was sound military strategy (with Sarath Fonseka as Army Commander but with a full support of the political establishment) that destroyed the LTTE and its leadership. But that was nearly four years ago. Today, the threat to peace and individual liberties comes from within. History has shown time and again that promoting hatred against the other communities is often the diversionary tactic to hide political bankruptcy.
Making a difference
Martin Luther King once said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the rhings that matter. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.’ Izzeldin Abuelaish, the Palestinian physician, says in his book, ‘We al;l need to search for the causes of of our failure in the human journey to peace … The cause is inside us, not outside us – in our own hearts and minds.’ To the question as to what one individual can do by him or herself, Abuelaish relates a story. A man is walking along a seashore where the tide has ebbed leaving s multitude of stranded starfish. Soon he come upon a little girl who is picking up the starfish one by one and returning them to the sea. So he asks the girl, ‘What are you doing?’. And she replies, ‘They will die if I don’t get them back into the water.’ The man says, ‘But there are so many of them. How can anything you do make a difference?’ Then the girl picks up another starfish and carries it to the sea and says, It will make a difference to this one!’.