For me, there was one bright light in last week's dismal omnipresent verbal trench warfare in the political sphere.
I attended his lecture at the University of Calgary. He was in the city to collect this year's Calgary Peace Prize, awarded by the university's Consortium for Peace Studies. His name is Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, though he is more commonly known now as "the Gaza doctor", whose life was shattered when the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) shelled his home during Operation Cast Lead in 2009, killing four family members. A Harvard trained gynaecologist who worked side by side with Israeli doctors in a Tel Aviv hospital, Abuelaish's response to this tragic and horrific loss has earned him worldwide respect and admiration.
He does not mince words about the plight of the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza. He was born and raised in the Jabalia refugee camp, and received a scholarship to study in Egypt, and London. Though he worked in Israel in 2009, he still lived in Gaza, and witnessed the grisly aftermath of two mortars hitting his house which left three of his daughters and one niece dead. One daughter was decapitated, and the limbs of another were in pieces around the room.
Yet he maintains a steadfast commitment not to hate, not to resort to revenge, not to retaliate, not to seek the destruction of "the enemy", indeed not to see Israel as the enemy. Though he is now a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, he maintains close contact with his Israeli colleagues in the hospital in Tel Aviv.
"The biggest weapon of mass destruction is hate," Abuelaish said that evening, emphasizing that it is the human heart consumed by hate which is the enemy of us all.
Abuelaish has made a remarkable commitment to work, live, and act for constructive peace, and not join the host of haters who perpetuate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most people in Abuelaish's shoes would be inclined to retaliate and seek to exact revenge on the perpetrators of their misery. But his response has been to establish The Daughters for Life Foundation, to fund higher education for young Middle Eastern women. In the wake of the destruction of his personal dreams for his academically successful daughters, his personal grief and loss is being channelled into the public good.
Now he is the Associate Professor of Medicine at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto. While he vigorously pursues justice and peace in the Middle East, his strategy is to be an ambassador of hope, not hate. Where hurt and injustice and tragedy normally coalesce into hatred, Abuelaish has somehow managed a new alchemy, to turn them into hope.
"Words are stronger than bullets," he said in the lecture. "I keep my daughters alive, and I will meet them one day with a big gift, the justice and freedom of others. The foundation is how my daughters are fulfilling their dreams. This is how I am pursuing hope and not hate."
Abuelaish's speech formed a perfect counterpoint to the stream of incivility this past week in current political circles in both Canada and the U.S. The bear pit issue of the day in Canada is of course the "Robo-name-calling" scandal where insults are being hurled around by all parties in the House of Commons.
It occurred to me that while the acrimony in Canadian and American politics now goes from the political and public to the personal in a very negative way, Abuelaish is going in the opposite direction. He has taken a very personal loss resulting from the evil of warfare and conflict and transformed it into public good. It is his hope that he can model something which ultimately affects the political sphere.
His example is a remarkable antidote to cynicism, apathy, and negativity. And it inspired hope.
Just what the doctor ordered.