Return to Transcripts main page


A Gazan Doctor's Message Of Hope And Love; A Father's Mission To Save His Daughters From ISIS. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired March 23, 2018 - 15:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: As London marks the first anniversary of the Westminster terror attack with a call for unity and love, I meet two

people who are bringing that message to the world. The Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish, who lost three young daughters in 2009 Israeli war in

Gaza. Tonight, he tells me why he has always refused to hate.

Plus, the riveting story from Norway of a father's attempt to rescue his daughters from the grips of ISIS. The investigative journalist and author

Asne Seierstad joins me.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

This week, this city observed a minute's silence to remember all those who were killed in last year's terror attack on the capital.

The wave of violence began March 22nd, 2017 when a driver rammed into Westminster Bridge near Parliament. And a few months later, the same thing

happened on London Bridge and also outside a London mosque.

Different people committed these crimes, but they all shared the same motivation - hate. My next guest says hate is a disease that needs to be

treated as a public health issue. It's contagious, he says.

The Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish is bringing his message to London today with the help of the British-Jewish organization Yachad. Nine years

ago, he lost three of his daughters and a niece when an Israeli tank shelved his Gaza home during a 22-day war.

Back then, I visited Dr. Abuelaish at his apartment shortly after it was hit and this is what I saw.


AMANPOUR: Oh, my God what a mess. Can you tell me what happened?

IZZELDIN ABUELAISH, AUTHOR, "I SHALL NOT HATE": When my daughters were building their future and their hopes and their dreams, inside this room,

all of a sudden, everything was destroyed. Look what kind of weapons they have, the educational materials.

AMANPOUR: There's art, culture, and entertainment and shopping. Her blood is still on it. What answer did you get from the Israelis when you asked

them what happened here, why they did it?

ABUELAISH: They admitted their responsibility about shelling my house and killing my daughters.


AMANPOUR: So, these are very painful memories after all for my guest, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the father who you saw in that clip and who joins me

right now on set here to talk about. Nearly 10 years later, Dr. Abuelaish, when you see that, how have you processed this?

IZZELDIN ABUELAISH, AUTHOR, "I SHALL NOT HATE": It is not seeing. I have the clips with me. Who's with me? My daughters are living, are part of me

and I've been living for them.

AMANPOUR: The three who you lost in that shilling.

ABUELAISH: The three and my niece and even I feel the pain of everyone who is killed, in particular girls and women, innocent people in this world.

And I am fighting to spread their message because they were girls who were born - raised fighting for peace and to send a human message.

And I am committed. And that's the promise I gave them. After their death, I will continue. I will never give up. I will never rest till I

meet them, that their holy souls and noble blood wasn't waste. It made a difference in others' lives.

AMANPOUR: It has done. For the last nine years, you've taken the story of peace, of bridge building and of a refusal to hate, you've taken that story

around the world. You wrote your story "I Shall Not Hate". It's been made into plays. You give lectures. You have a foundation. How has that

sustained you, just a refusal to hate?

ABUELAISH: Because it's a mission in life and I need to be strong, determined, healthy mentally, spiritually, physically. With hatred, I am a

broken. With hatred, I am defeated. I will never be defeated or be broken and the message will continue to be more stronger, more determined and more

focused and that's the way out, without anger, without revenge or hatred, with wisdom, kind words, courageous and strong deeds.

[15:05:11] AMANPOUR: So, tell me how your surviving children are doing? Your daughters and your son?

ABUELAISH: Our life is a message of hope in this world. My daughters who were -- and my children were very traumatized within a short period of

time, but they didn't accept to be victims. They are survivors and leaders in this world. In particular Shatha that you know who lost the sight in

her right eye.

AMANPOUR: She was the one who I met in the hospital.

You're in Canada. That's where you're living. Now, Canada has laid out the welcome mat for refugees in the last few years, the Syrian refugees.

But, as you know, there is a great deal of fear, hatred, anger in America and maybe in parts of Canada, certainly in Europe, about refugees, about

Muslims. Are you worried that your girls who wear the hijab and yet who are so assimilated, so educated, are you worried at all that this hatred

can come back at them?

ABUELAISH: I am not worried, but I am worried about what is happening because hatred - we are talking about the definition of hatred. For me,

it's acute or chronic destructive disease to the individual who carries it and it's contagious and it is the result of exposure of this bread of

incitement, fear by political leaders in this world who are using hatred, fear, incitement to promote hatred, which leads to violence and violence

leads to hatred.

AMANPOUR: So, this is actually really interesting because you are now - you are a doctor yourself and you are a researcher and a professor. And

you are now researching hatred as a public health issue. Tell me why you think it's public. How does it get defined as a public health issue?

ABUELAISH: Because it's the result of exposure. In epidemiology, when we study epidemiology, the disease is the result of exposure and we study the

causal relationship between the arm or the exposure and the result.

No one is born with hatred. No one is born with violence. But we can make people - it's the environment and context or what did we suffer in life and

what are we exposed to. Hatred depends on who you are and where you are. It's the environment, the culture, the context.

And every day, we hear it in the media, some leaders in this world who are provoking incitement, fear, violence and hatred. It's time to prevent if

we want to contain to hatred to count our words. If you don't have a good word, not to say a bad one.

AMANPOUR: That's for the political environment and the particularly charged one we live in right now. What about in your homeland? What is

your prescription because you've talked about what the Israelis have to do, but also what the Palestinians have to do to get over this hatred.

ABUELAISH: It's important because the situation in Gaza, many, many have a stake in it. Egypt has a stake in it, Palestinian authority has a stake,

Israel, the international community who are watching it, they should intervene. Gaza Strip is a time bomb.

And then, if they became violent or even to lose control, we all will suffer.

As you said about the refugees, the Syria refugees issue and the Syrian issue, it's not Syrian, it's a global issue and the world is suffering as a

result of that. So, we need to act and to prevent.

AMANPOUR: So, we don't know what the Trump administration peace process or peace plan will look like. They keep saying they have a plan. Do you have

hope that at least this president who seems to have a good relationship with the Israeli prime minister can actually bring a peace plan that might


ABUELAISH: We want him to have a good relationship to bring justice, freedom and equality for all. And to be with good relations and to think

of the Palestinians, to put himself in the position of the Palestinians.

AMANPOUR: Has the study of hatred as a public health disease - has it been done before, what are you actually finding?

ABUELAISH: The hatred, all of the time, because of what happened in my life, as a gynecologist, so I shifted to public health specialty to see it

as a disease. Most of the time we are talking about hatred as a feeling, psychological, social issue.

No. I see and I say hatred is a disease because it disturbs the homeostasis of the human body. It disturbs the balance on the human body,

the chemistry and there are certain markups.

If I am sitting with you and someone that I really hate, malignant hatred thus in front of me, all of the endocrine and the indicators inside my body

will be disturbed. I will see, I will be blind. So, it's a disease and it's the result of exposure.

[15:10:02] So, we want to focus, number one, what are the causes. And to prevent as public health issue, we focus on prevention in a time the world

is polluted with hatred and violence.

AMANPOUR: And so, the question is, can you really stop it? I mean, can you really negate or rather can you really get rid of this constant


ABUELAISH: We can, of course, by adopting the ecological model, the public health model of preventing it and managing it to seek the causes, prevent

the causes and also to immunize the people with resilience, with education, with tolerance, with compassion and empathy, which is missing in this

world, and understanding.

AMANPOUR: So, you speak with a lot of passion born of your loss, but also born of your experience. When I met you, you were either the only or one

of the very rare Palestinian doctors who was working, as you were an OB/GYN, in an Israeli hospital across the border. That was your place of



AMANPOUR: So, you were raised with good relations.

ABUELAISH: And I will continue this relation -

AMANPOUR: Tell me what it was like there? I mean, how did they treat you as a Palestinian doctor and particularly how did they treat you after their

military shelled your apartment and killed your kids.

ABUELAISH: Medicine and health for me, it's the human equalizer, stabilizer, socializer and harmonizer. When we treat patients inside the

hospital, we are all - all of them are equal.

The cry of the new born baby is a cry of hope and a new life Can anyone differentiate between the cry of the new born Jewish, Muslims, Christians,

Jews, (INAUDIBLE), anyone, British, Palestinian, Canadian, it's a cry of a new hope and the responsibility, what the future are we planning and

preparing for these kids who are born innocent and they're pure. Then the environment poisons them.

So, I felt it's my home with my colleagues, why not to take this message and to spread that outside to equalize and to treat all equally with

respect, with dignity, with justice, wishing them the good health and the pure.

AMANPOUR: And at your moment of maximum need and crisis when this shelling was happening back in 2009, you had the presence of mind to call an Israeli

reporter and it went live all over Israeli television. You remember that?

ABUELAISH: Of course. I remember it. It was a plan from God at that time to be interviewed live. So, I called (INAUDIBLE), a friend, whom I admire

and he behaved as a human, not as a Palestinian, to have the moral courage when he opened the speaker and to broadcast it live through the whole of

the world.

And what satisfied me the second day when Ehud Olmert, prime minister, announced unilateral ceasefire. This gave me the relief that the blood and

the holy souls of my daughters didn't go waste, it saved others' lives.

But do we need to be killed in order to save. We need to say for the sake of saving and to prevent the causes of the killing.

AMANPOUR: You never wanted to sue even if you'd be able to sue. You never wanted reparations. You just wanted an apology and an acknowledgment from

the Israeli government that what they did was a mistake. Did they give it to you?

ABUELAISH: They acknowledged. From the beginning and the even the officer who gave orders to shell the house, they admitted it. But do you think

these innocent, beautiful, bright daughters, do they deserve the apology or not? I'm fighting now just to get the apology to say to them, they

apologized for you and I am bringing you justice.

AMANPOUR: You think you'll ever get it?

ABUELAISH: I'm determined. I will. I will get it. But at least, when I meet my daughters one day, I will say to them, I did my best. And my

youngest son Abdullah that you know is planning to study law, so he will carry the torch to bring his daughters justice and to give that apology.

AMANPOUR: His sisters. Well, that's really very, very powerful. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, you're an example for the world.

ABUELAISH: Thank you so much. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: You've just heard Dr. Abuelaish share the devastating story of losing his children and now we turn to a story of a man suffering a

different kind of parental loss. His two daughters voluntarily left their home in Norway for ISIS and its hate-filled ideology.

[15:15:00] The father, Sadiq, says that he went to Syria twice to try to get them back, but he failed both times. The incredible story is

dramatically captured by the famous Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad in her new book, "Two Sisters", and we talked about the kind of hatred that

ISIS has promoted when she joined me here in the studio.

Welcome back to the program. What led you to these girls in Norway who ran off to join ISIS?

ASNE SEIERSTAD, AUTHOR, TWO SISTERS: Well, first, I got to know the father who wanted the story of his girls to be told. And his girls had fled to

Syria and he felt he'd failed as a father, failed as a husband, failed as a patriarch of the family.

But when the girls left, he felt totally in shock, what was this, and then afterwards he realized all the signs were there, the signs of

radicalization. So, he also wanted to tell the story as a warning to other parents.

AMANPOUR: So, let's just go back a little bit. You met the father, Sadiq, who went to Syria couple of times to try to get the girls back. But, first

and foremost, what was he doing in Norway? He is from Somalia, right?

SEIERSTAD: He was a child soldier in Somalia and he came to Norway after the war at end of the 90s and he got asylum and then he got his family

over. So, these two girls and their brother came to Norway as toddlers.

And they were doing well. They integrated easily. They were A students. They were doing well in sports. They were swimming, going to the beach.

And then something happened when they became teenagers because the mother was not integrated and she was afraid to lose her girls to Norway because

they were wearing skinny jeans and tee shirts and she wanted them to get back to the Somali way of living, to the Muslim way of living and she hired

a Quran teacher, a young beautiful guy.

And then the father says that was the start of the nightmare. They didn't realize then, but that was how the girls start to their step by step

radicalization and then going into more fundamentalist organizations and then just further up on the ladder of radicalization.

AMANPOUR: That is really staggering, just to think that trying to keep your own culture in that context, at least for these girls, pushed them

over the brink and send them to Syria in the middle of a war.

So, they were toddlers when they came, they were teens when they left, when they went to Syria to join ISIS. Was it a spur of the moment? What did

you discover (INAUDIBLE)? How do these girls do that without their parents knowing where they are going?

SEIERSTAD: It was a long process. And I think that's quite typical. It's very seldom that you're radicalized overnight. So, this was definitely a

step-by-step process, started just by being a bit more observant, then changing of world view of suddenly from being an ordinary teenager to

becoming someone who only relates to the very fundamentalism of Islam.

And for these two girls, religion played a great role. Like, many of the jihadists who go, especially the young guys, they could be young criminals,

they have a criminal record, they are pushed out somehow or they feel pushed out to Europe because they don't really feel they succeed there.

These girls had all the possibilities, but they started to think that this world that we live here now is not the real world. Real world is after

death. The more you suffer in this life, the better position in paradise. Of course -

AMANPOUR: The whole sort of typical sort of narrative that we hear.

SEIERSTAD: Yes. And for them, this was joining utopia and I think that was definitely a very important factor for them leaving Norway.

AMANPOUR: And did they join Utopia? What did you find out about what they went to?

SEIERSTAD: Well, they got married. They got children. They settled in Raqqa. They wrote letters and chats and messages to their brother about

how happy they were. They got the best villas. They came from Norway with money. They got the best places. And for a few years, they had a quite

good life, if you can say that in the middle of a war zone.

And then, everything, of course, deteriorated from 2016. They fled Raqqa. And now, they are - if they're still alive, they're on the last strip of

land between Syria and Iraq, which is still kept by ISIS.

AMANPOUR: And you just don't know whether they are and the parents don't know whether they are alive.

SEIERSTAD: No, we heard about them last few months ago.

AMANPOUR: So, let me just ask you because you mentioned the brother who they were in touch with, Ismail his name is, right? So, Ismail basically

says I believe in Allah about as much as I believe in this spaghetti monster.

He took a completely different view than his sisters. Was that in reaction to what his sisters have done or was he anyway much more integrated and


SEIERSTAD: Yes. That's what he tells them, like I have nothing against religion as such, but now when I see what religion did to you, I'm against

all regions. And he starts reading Christopher Hitchens and he starts reading atheist literature.

And these three siblings, they had the same Quran teacher. So, whereas the girls were drawn into this fundamentalism, he was just disgusted. And he

warned the mother saying, this teacher, he supports Al-Qaeda and she was just brushing him off, saying you must have heard wrong.

[15:20:09] So, the interesting - the backbone of this book is like a two and three years' long chat log between the girls who were more and more

radicalized in Syria and the brother who just goes the other direction.

And in the end, they just cut relation because they're so far apart, even though there is a lot of this sisterly-brotherly love and affection and

quarrels, so that makes - we can really hear the girls, the voices of the girls through the logs that they are - or the texts that they write to

their brother.

AMANPOUR: So, we talked about the father Sadiq. We have his picture. That's him trying to find the girls. That's when he goes to Syria couple

of times to try to find them.

You also worked sort of alongside a documentary unit, who have an interview with the father about one of his trips there. Let's just play this.


AMANPOUR: So, he mentions Ayan, one of his daughters. The other one is Leila. You've given them pseudonyms. So, he tried to get them back and he

recounts to you that actually he was not only unable to bring them back, but basically arrested and tortured by ISIS people in the vicinity. What

happened to him?

SEIERSTAD: So, he actually got to - he found the girls in Syria and then the story he tells that with meeting Ayan, then the youngest sister has

been injured by a bullet. So, he meets the oldest daughter and she says, daddy, I can't go, I'm married now.

And then, he starts to become physical and wants to get her back and then he is arrested by the guards and he's put through prison and tortured and

stays (INAUDIBLE) in an Islamic State prison until his release.

AMANPOUR: What makes you believe this story? You didn't talk to the girls, right?


AMANPOUR: No. You don't have their permission to tell the story. So, obviously, there has been a lot of controversy over that. What is your

answer to that first, doing it without their permission?

SEIERSTAD: Yes. Well, when I started out doing the book, I was thinking that they would come back. So, I was thinking, I'll do quicker the

research to get the process to radicalization as I could see it from Norway before they got back and I thought that when they would come home to

Norway, I would get the full story.

Because the initial account from the father was that they had fled from ISIS, that they were in hiding, that they were desperate to come back.

But, then, apparently that was not a fact. They had never tried to be back. So, they never came back.

And then comes the story, the moment, can I tell the story now without their consent. And then, I felt that this is also a story of the father,

of the mother, of the brother. And when they wrote their accounts to the brother during three years, it's his property somehow and the fact that

they - I just believe.

AMANPOUR: So, you've got the permission from the brother.

SEIERSTAD: Oh, yes. Definitely. And I also do believe that this story is so important because it really gives an insight as to the motivation, but

also what they end up, how they end up in an ISIS territory.

AMANPOUR: And nobody quite knows what's going to happen to them because ISIS has "been defeated" anyways, been run out of Raqqa, it's not the

organization that it used to be. So, they could turn up any day or never.

SEIERSTAD: Yes, that's true. We don't even know if they're still alive. I think that they have had many opportunities to leave Syria, with all this

rescue attempts by the father. They had an opportunity to go, but they did not want to go out because they seemed to be still into the idea.

AMANPOUR: And not brainwashed. You say that they're not brainwashed.

SEIERSTAD: No, I don't believe in brainwashing. And I think, there, I'm in line with most researchers. That's - a parent would say because then

they are not to blame, our girls were brainwashed. And I think we also tend to look at the female jihadist as less culpable -

AMANPOUR: Less as an agent of their own choice.

SEIERSTAD: Yes, exactly. That someone manipulated or lured them or brainwashed them into this whereas the boys or the young guys are going on

their own will, But these girls - and that was maybe the most interesting part of their radicalization, how they - they even call themselves

feminists, like it's their right to dress up because Norway forces them to undress.

AMANPOUR: So, how big a problem is this for Norway in terms of citizens going and being recruited and joining the jihad?

[15:25:02] SEIERSTAD: Well, we're part of Europe and we're on the average of the European. It's a small country, but there's about 100 people who

left. And some of them are still there, some are coming back. And, of course, it's dangerous.

And it's also dangerous that with the extremist trends now that are happening in Europe both with Islamic trends, the right wing extremists

that are feeding on each other and who needs each other and it's interesting how Ayan, the older sister, when she's talking about Norway,

the Norwegians and how we look at Islam, she uses the example of Anders Breivik who committed the massacre in 2011, that's how now Norwegians are.

And when he was talking about Muslims, he would talk about the extremists like these girls and others, that's how they are, that's Islamization of


So, it's like the fight is to widen the space in the middle and counter these two trends that are going on simultaneously.

AMANPOUR: Asne Seierstad, thank you so much indeed for joining me. Such important insight into the vulnerability of young minds there and both

fathers tonight refusing to succumb to hatred.

That is it for our program. And remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.