Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish is a Palestinian Canadian physician, teacher and an internationally recognized human rights and inspirational peace activist devoted to advancing health and education opportunities for women and girls in the Middle East, through both his research and his charitable organization The Daughters for Life Foundation. He has dedicated his life to using health as a vehicle for peace, and, despite all odds, succeeded, aided by a great determination of spirit, strong faith, and a stalwart belief in hope and family.
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish was born andraised in Jabalia Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip. A four-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, he is known as the “Gaza Doctor” who has dedicated his life to using health as a vehicle for peace.
Dr. Abuelaish is the first Palestinian doctor to receive an appointment in Medicine at an Israeli hospital. Through his work, he has experienced the impacts of conflict in countries like Palestine, Egypt, Israel, Uganda, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. Working as both an insider and outsider to conflict has led him to believe that doctors can be peace-makers, based on the moral doctrine of their profession. His work as both a healthcare practitioner and a peace advocate mobilizes health as a tool for peace.
Dr. Abuelaish despite the impoverished conditions and despite having to work to support himself and his family, he was determined to become a doctor and he studied hard to achieve his dream. He won a scholarship to attend medical school at the University of Cairo and completed further studies in Obstetrics and Gynecology in London, UK, a residency in Israel followed by subspecialty in Milan and Brussels. He earned a Master’s degree in Public Health, Health Policy and management From Harvard University and was the first Palestinian doctor to receive a staff position at an Israeli hospital.
He has overcome many personal hardships, including poverty, and violence. His extraordinary dedication and achievement was tested beyond endurance when in January 2009 Gaza War, a mere four months after his wife succumbed to leukemia, his home in Gaza was shelled by an Israeli tank, killing three of his daughters and his niece. The anguish of this loss is unimaginable.
Dr Abuelaish refused to fall victim to despair, and instead vowed to fight for reconciliation, peace, and justice between Palestinians and Israelis and in the world. Dr Abuelaish is a man who has gifted our world with his presence and his work. He is a man who fights for all regardless of religious or political beliefs, who acts as a messenger of understanding, justice and peace and who models faith and wisdom. He continues to live up to the description bestowed upon him by an Israeli colleague, as a “magical, secret bridge between Israelis and Palestinians”. He is now one of the most outspoken, prominent and beloved researchers, educators and public speakers on peace and development in the Middle East.
Dr. Abuelaish’s book, I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity, presents an incontrovertible message of hope through wisdom, non-violence, compassion and education. An autobiography of his loss and transformation, has achieved critical acclaim. Published in 2010, (currently in 23 different languages), and inspired by the loss of his three daughters – Bessan, Mayar, and Aya – and their cousin Noor to Israeli shelling on January 16 th , 2009, the book has become an international bestseller. It has become a testament to his commitment to forgiveness as the solution to conflict and the catalyst towards peace. It has been translated into 23 languages and is national and international best seller.
Dr Abuelaish believes words are stronger than bullets. Even if words cannot stop bullets, they can deflect the poisonous hatred resulting from bullets. Peace is a dangerous idea to those who invested in violence. A refusal to hate is the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of human experience and transformation. Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish is a living example of the power of reconciliation, forgiveness, resilience and humanity.
Dr. Abuelaish’s impact on peace-seeking communities is exceptional. He is an internationally-renowned speaker, having spoken at the Canadian House of Commons, the American Congress, the Chilean Senate and Parliament, the European Parliament at Place Du Luxembourg in Brussels, the State Department, Forum 2000 in Prague, and many more. Dr. Abuelaish has also spoken at academic institutions and organizations in Canada, the United States, Europe, Africa, and Austral-Asia. He has shared the stage with several Nobel Peace Laureates such as Senator Romeo Dallaire, Dr. James Orbinski, Shirin Ebadi (Iran), Leymah Gbowee (Liberia).
In addition to speaking to live audiences, Dr. Abuelaish has been interviewed extensively my leading journalists and prominent personalities, including Christiane Amanpour, Anderson Cooper, Sir David Frost and Zeinab Badawi, and has appeared on prominent media outlets such as BBC News Hard Talk, Fox News Channel (FOX), CNN, Al Arabiya News, London’s The Telegraph, ABC, TVO, The Globe and Mail, The Economist, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, the Boston Globe, People Magazine.
Dr. Abuelaish’s extensive list of awards and honors include many national and international awards including 14 honorary doctorate degrees from Canadian and American universities, The Order Of Ontario, Mahatma; Gandhi peace award, Archon Award, Search for Common Ground award, winner of the Excellence and distinction award in Science by the Canadian Council of Arab League Ambassadors, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. Additionally, Dr. Abuelaish has been named one of the Top 25 Canadian Immigrants; one of the 500 Most Powerful Arabs; and one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims by the Royal Islamic Strategies Centre in Jordan for five consecutive years.
He was nominated four times for Nobel peace Prize and in nominating Dr. Abuelaish for the Nobel Peace Prize; the Belgian Parliament named him the “Martin Luther King of the Middle East”. Other called him the Mahatma Gandhi and nelson Mandela of the Middle East. In 2016 Mr. Jean Marc Delizee from the Belgian Parliament nominated Dr. Abuelaish for the 2016 Noble Peace Prize and remarked that “Our world has more than ever need peace ambassadors such as him, of men and women capable of building bridges and links between people and between peoples.”
Many influential figures within the diplomatic community have spoken very highly of Dr. Abuelaish’s work. In his nomination for the Sakharov Prize, Dr. David Naylor, then President of the University of Toronto, called Dr. Abuelaish a remarkable ambassador for peace and an exemplar of forgiveness and reconciliation. The President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pottering spoke of him in his speech in Strasbourg, Germany at the opening of the exhibition “From Hebron to Gaza”. President Barak Obama referred to him as an example of strength and reconciliation in his address on May 19 th , 2011 when he discussed the possibility of peace within the Middle East. And the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to cited Dr. Abuelaish in his speech Walk for Solidarity: Kindness and forgiveness are not signs of weakness but strength. It needs more courage to be nice and make peace than to be angry and want revenge.
Dr. Abuelaish has been described as the Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King of the Middle East. In memory of his daughters, he established Daughters for Life foundation. Believing that lasting peace depends on empowering girls and young women, it provides scholarships enabling young women of any Middle Eastern nationality or faith to pursue studies otherwise inaccessible to them, thus honoring his daughters’ love of learning and investing in girls as potential leaders.
Daughters For Life is a Canadian charity that provides young women in high school and university the opportunity to develop a strong voice and play a more influential role in improving the quality of life through their education as our world can only endure with women’s education and role. Currently, Dr. Abuelaish lives with his five children in Toronto where he is an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.