Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish

Interacting with war beyond the screen

If ever it may happen in the future, today war cannot be halted. Tragically, the ravages of war are not limited to the battlefield; the combatants are not limited to soldiers; and the damage extends into every facet of society, including family, the economy, healthcare, education, governance, and infrastructure, for generations. And, as Eleanor Roosevelt said: “No one won the last war and no one will win the next war.” War is the ultimate ugliness that rains down on us from the clouds of prejudice, greed, and hatred. We are all born equal, yet are treated differently, based on nothing but the law of the jungle. War starts because of differences of race, religion, skin colour, and territoriality.

War in the human world is even worse than the law of the jungle. Animals kill to survive and to defend themselves; humans kill based on venality. War coats everything with death. Although soldiers are considered to be the main casualties of war, it is often civilians who make up the vast majority of deaths. In fact, a large proportion of casualties are women and children. While soldiers are supposedly ready to giving up their lives for the sake of their country, civilian populations do not sign up for danger. Although combat-related causalities have declined, civilian causalities have increased.

Even though we see gore, blood, poverty, and destitution on television, these images are merely a fraction of the reality of war on the ground.

The fear, the tears, the state of limbo, and the loneliness of the soul during times of war are unfathomable. Children are left to pick up the shards of their mental health, having seen their own bodies disfigured, and their loved ones’ limbs blown up. Hundreds of thousands die before their time. They die without having contributed a fraction of what they’re capable of giving to the world.

War is genocide, torture, cruelty, propaganda, dishonesty, and the enslavement of humanity. Portrayed on television as if it were a Hollywood thriller, war is presented as a live documentary about a distant topic. Instead of summoning our efforts to document the ugliness of war, showing every detail as if it were only scientific research, we must work extremely hard to try and prevent it. Caused by ignorance and prejudice, war can be prevented through education. By 2020, the World Health Organization and the World Bank predict that war will be the eighth leading cause of disability and death. Speaking up against war should be our number-one priority.

If we acknowledge that war directly affects all of us, and is not just a distant event on television, we will help bring humanity closer. We have succeeded in containing HIV/AIDS, fighting cancer, and have even reached the moon. Replacing ignorance with positive action should also be possible. Teaching ourselves that all humans are born equal, teaching our children to respect others regardless of their race, religion, sex, or age this is the legacy we must leave. We need to work together to prevent wars and conflict in their infancy, rather than wage war. Our children will eventually grow up and lead the world, hopefully rendering it more peaceful. For if a good seed is planted in them, this seed will grow into a good plant.

And that, in the end, is the best kind of victory. Peace is the ultimate prize, not more wealth, territory, or power.

Peace is freedom. It is the pleasure of knowing that we and our children matter no more and no less than others and their children do. Peace is living in health and in recognition of others’ right to live differently while enjoying the freedom to live as we please. We must teach our children to resolve inevitable disputes through harmonious communication because, according to Margaret Atwood, “war is what happens when language fails”. Peace is knowing that our children will grow up in a safe and secure world, able to develop into healthy adults who bring happiness to those around them. In the end, I believe that life is what we make it. It has always been that way. We put our effort into making it matter and it rewards us in kind. And so we must declare that our common enemy is war and hatred, not each other.

And lest we listen only to people of peace, let us also heed no less a man of war than Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five-star general in the United States Army and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, who said:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, and the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense.”

I believe that by speaking out against war we will take steps toward the path of peace. Although it is much harder to build and teach than to destroy, the rewards of constructing peace are much richer and more durable and satisfying. It’s my solid belief that safeguarding the dignity, safety, and well-being of human beings in any conflict exceeds any other consideration.

Building close ties between people is one of the most effective ways of preventing conflict over the long term. These ties should be built on equality, respect, and freedom. It is to these people—the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who crave a normal, peaceful, and economically stable life—that the international community must devote greater attention. It is they who collectively represent the best chance for peace, and yet, are ironically compelled to bear the brunt of its perennial absence.

In order to succeed, we must push the limit beyond the edge of what is possible today. We must smash barriers and exceed the limits of both the visible and invisible. We must learn to see beyond what is available today, drawing upon wisdom and insight in order to push our humanity forward from the rubble of its own self-destruction.

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, OOnt is a Palestinian medical doctor and author living in Toronto. He founded the Daughters for Life Foundation in memory of three of his daughters and a niece, who were killed during the Gaza War. He wrote the acclaimed memoir I Shall Not Hate and is currently an associate professor of global health at the University of Toronto.