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Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish is a Palestinian-Canadian physician 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. He is a man who walks the walk and who leads by example.
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish was born and raised in Jabalia Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip. He is the first Palestinian doctor to receive an appointment in Medicine at an Israeli hospital. Through his work, he has experienced firsthand the impacts of conflict in countries like Palestine, Egypt, Israel, Uganda, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. His experience working as both an insider and outsider to conflict has led him to believe that doctors are particularly well-poised to serve as peace-makers, based on the moral doctrine of their profession. His work as both a healthcare practitioner and a peace advocate builds on this philosophy and mobilizes health as a tool for peace.
Dr. Abuelaish has overcome many personal hardships, including poverty, violence, and the horrific tragedy of his three daughters’ and niece’s deaths in the 2009 Gaza War. 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 has been nominated five times for Nobel Peace Prize, and he is fondly known as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and the “Martin Luther King of the Middle East”, having dedicated his life to using health as a vehicle for peace. The Belgian Parliament named him the “Martin Luther King of the Middle East”. Again in 2016, Mr. Jean Marc Delizee from the Belgian Parliament nominated Dr. Abuelaish for the 2016 Nobel 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 exultingly 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 Barack Obama referred to him as an example of strength and reconciliation in his address on May 19th, 2011, when he discussed the possibility of peace within the Middle East. And the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos 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’s book, I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity, an autobiography of his loss and transformation, has achieved worldwide 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 16th, 2009, the book has become an international bestseller. It has also become a testament to his commitment to forgiveness as the solution to conflict and the catalyst towards peace.
Dr. Abuelaish’s extensive list of awards and honors include countless national and international awards including 14 honorary doctorate degrees, The order of Ontario, The Meritorious Service Cross, and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, The Governor General’s Medallion, the World Citizenship in Action Award, presented by the Canadian Branch of the Registry; the Mahatma Gandhi Peace Award of Canada; the Foundation P&V Citizenship Award; the Calgary Peace Prize; the Lombardy Region Peace Prize, the Stavros Niarchos Prize for Survivorship; Dr. Abueliash 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 one of three finalists for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Dr. Abuelaish has founded Daughters for Life a Canadian charity, in memory of his daughters and to honor his commitment to women’s empowerment. Daughters for Life that provides young women in high school and university the opportunity to pursue higher education so that they can become strong agents of change and advocates of peace; functions of women’s vital role in improving the quality of life throughout the Middle East and the world at large.
Currently, Dr. Abuelaish lives in Toronto where he is an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. He remains deeply committed to his humanitarian activism in addition to his roles as a charity leader and inspirational educator.