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Robert Kopstein

Dr.Izzeldin Abuelaish
photo by Bob Talbot


March 10, 2013


[Editor's Note: I want to take a moment to remember Robert Kopstein who contributed several articles to the Winnipeg  Jewish Review, and had intended on contributing many more had his health allowed.

Bob was  thoughtful and analyical reader and often sent me notes and suggested articles. He had a keen  and fierce intellect, one which I appreciated and repected.Even if we saw different sides to an issue, I always wanted to hear and  understand what he had to say.  He enjoyed articles where  I would debate Elliot Leven or others-  I think it was the  judge in him that  enjoyed a good debate. And he  would let me know if he thought I had missed anything.  His feedback was always worth hearing and I will miss not greceiving it. At one point in early 2013, when I anticipated being in Israel for a more extended stay, I told him he could be the Editor-- I'd give him access to the website and he could go ahead and write away.  He wanted some guidelines before he took the job. I answered that he could come up with the guidelines and send them to me ! We both laughed. The truth was, as I told him, I thought he was a  great writer, more well read than I, and that I trusted him implicitly to find interesting material to post.  He then asked me seriously to tell him what I  thought he could contribute to this publication and  I suggested book reviews since I rarely  find time to read a half a book let alone a full one. Bob liked that idea and sent me this book review  of  " I Shall Not Hate" by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish which I am reprinting below. Bob ended this review below by concluding that "This book is well worth the time." Those are my sentiments exactly with regard to Bob-hearing from him was well worth the time. .

I want to offer my sincere condolences to all of Bob's family--may his memory be a blessing.

To read a full obituary, please see the obituary section of the Winnipeg Jewish Review  ]


Book Reviewed: I Shall Not Hate by Dr.Izzeldin Abuelaish, Pub. Random House, Canada, 2010

by Robert Kopstein, Dec 12, 2012

I Shall Not Hate, is the story and autobiography of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish who grew up amidst the harsh realities, firstly, of the occupation of the Gaza Strip, and then, following the Israeli departure from Gaza, in 2005, by the stark, often heartless, mean and frustrating limitations on the lives of the innocent residents of Gaza, particularly following their election of Hamas as their government. The book is replete with Abuelaish’s personal glimpses and reflections through which he tried to make sense of the unrelenting conditions surrounding him in Gaza as he moved from childhood to a morally conscious adult medical professional.                                                                   

Until 1948 his family had lived in Houg, a village near Sderot, for generations. In 1947, however, the future of the region became uncertain. On November 29th the U.N. General Assembly adopted its Resolution 181(II), providing for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. The resolution led to major unrest. The Arab authorities rejected the resolution outright.  In 1948, though Dr. Abuelaish makes no suggestion that the family was directly harassed by the Israelis, his great grandfather decided that the family should move to Gaza until matters settled down in their ancestral village. The plan was that they would then return to their village.
 Izzeldin was born in Gaza some 7 years later, in 1955, where his family, now poor and dispossessed, lived in a refugee camp at Jabalia. While the move to Jabalia had been understood by his family, a temporary displacement, the reality of its permanence grew over the years. His mother, however, though harsh in her treatment of the author, was a strong, dedicated and caring parent.
She motivated, (or perhaps, “required” would be a better word), Izzeldin, who was the eldest of his some seven siblings, to work and to study. He excelled as a student, while working, as well, throughout his childhood, to earn needed money. It is clear he was remarkably gifted, academically, and intensely reflective of the situation of life in Gaza. He came to the early realization that the only way out of the cramped, harsh and unyielding poverty of his life was education.
His dream was to become a physician. The dream began to take shape with his visit to a hospital for treatment during his teens, because he suffered from disabling arthritic pain in his legs. It was the Al Shifra Hospital, a U.N. Health Centre in Gaza City, a Palestinian facility.  In the treatment accorded to him, he learned that aspirin could relieve his pain. He also observed, incidentally the working relationships between men and women that would not have occurred or been tolerated in his community. At the hospital he saw the difference in apparent wealth between the Palestinians who were not refugees, by comparison to those like his family, who were.
At fifteen years of age, he worked during the summer- for 40 days - for an Israeli Sephardic family, on a moshav near Ashqelon. Lonesome, because this  was the first time he had been away from home for more than a day or two, he noticed and was impressed by the family’s kindness toward him;  surprised that they would hire him, treat him fairly and show him kindness. Their treatment of him was contrary to his impression of Israelis that was etched in his consciousness.
He returned home, however, when his summer employment ended, to witness, upon only a few hours of notice, the houses on his street, including his house being bulldozed by Israeli heavy machinery, to make way for a road the Israelis intended to build. The contradictory facts and impressions between the kindness he had been shown by the family for whom he worked during the summer, and the inhuman, “brute force” visited upon their existence by the destruction of their homes, perplexed him, but, it seems, did not inspire feelings of anger or the wish for vengeance. Instead, it made him feel that he must find a peaceful bridge between the two entities. He asserts often that he did not feel hate. He felt that education was an answer. That feelings of anger and revenge did not dominate his mind is noteworthy.
At high school he was a serious student and read a great deal. In the years following the Six Day War in 1967 he studied with serious determination and earned a scholarship to attend for pre-medical and medical school in Egypt. That was the beginning of a life dedicated to the study of medicine, with outstanding success and valuable contribution in specialties related to obstetrics, fertility, and public health medicine. He was received and embraced by medical institutions and doctors, among others, in several countries, including Israel, England, and the United States, as well as, later, in Canada. He was one of a very few individuals who was permitted to enter Israel through the Erez Crossing on a regular basis to work in Israeli hospitals, one of which was the Soroka Hospital in Tel Aviv. But even that privilege was tempered by frequent delays and indignities at the hands of Israeli border guards.  
 His medical training and work, continued before, during and after the wars and Intifadas that plagued the Middle East throughout the years from 1967 until the winter of 2008. Despite his pain at the treatment of his people, he maintained that peaceful resolution was possible, that peace required education and contact between the two peoples and that through medicine itself the two peoples could come together. He deplored each suicide bombing and acts of violence against Israeli citizens.
In the winter of 2008 and 2009, in Operation Cast Lead, Israel launched a massive air and ground attack upon Gaza. In that attack which lasted for some three weeks, three of Izzeldin’s daughters and a niece who was visiting their home at the time, were killed in one of the bedrooms of their home by Israeli fire apparently directed at that room. The incident was labeled, “collateral damage”.  
[A week before beginning to write this review, Israel, for a second time, launched an aerial attack upon Gaza to stop the renewed incessant bombings of populated areas in the south of the country, from Gaza: Operation Pillar of Defence. At the time of this writing, on November 21st a ceasefire has just (a few hours ago) been agreed upon.]
The story recorded and told by Izzeldin Abuelaish, is heartbreaking in the details it reveals of the mean, unjust hardships, and indignities he and others, among the Palestinian refugees suffered at the hands if the Israelis. The carnage resulting from Operation Cast Lead, is gut wrenching. On the death of three of his daughters, following a loud explosion in their bedroom, he went and found their body parts strewn across the bombed out room. Following that awful day, among numerous bitter feelings, he questions the failure of humanity among those who perpetrated the act.
What must be said about the author is that notwithstanding his own personal tragedy he maintains the belief and conviction that peace between the two sides can be accomplished. Following those bitter losses he gathered the remaining members of his family to build life, once again.
Finally, the book is carefully written and easy to read. It can be criticized as an historical document for its failure to present an objective or balanced picture of the Israeli treatment of the refugees. Never does there appear, for instance, any reference to the rockets sent from Gaza to harass and kill Israelis. It must be remembered, however, that the author’s recitation of the hardships the Palestinian refugees endured at the hands of the Israeli was founded in his experience and from his perspective. Put differently, his book is not an objective historical treatise, but a record, rather, of what he and others suffered.
He may also be criticized for relying on impressions that are not verified. For instance, at one point he relies upon the opinion of the International Committee of the Red Cross, as an unimpeachable authority. His argument is weakened, however, when we remember that the I.C.R.C denied Magim David Adom membership in its organization, while admitting the Red Crescent. 
Overall, however, the book is well worth the time.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.