Persistent Hope Speakers

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish
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 believes that medicine and health can be an engine for the human peace. Health and medicine are human equalizer, socializer, harmonizer and stabilizer. He continues to advocate for justice, health, peace and human rights worldwide.
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 Ghandi and the “Martin Luther King of the Middle East”, having dedicated his life to using health as a vehicle for peace. Despite all odds, he has succeeded remarkably; aided by a great determination of spirit, strong faith, and a stalwart belief in hope and family. As a Palestinian physician and internationally recognized human rights and inspirational peace activist, Dr. Abuelaish is 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. 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 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 exaltingly 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 19th, 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’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 Australia and Asia. In addition to speaking to live audiences, Dr. Abuelaish has been interviewed extensively by 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 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. His book I Shall Not Hate which was published into 23 languages and national and international best seller. Elis Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Laureat said about the book I Shall Not Hate: This story is a necessary lesson against hatred and revenge President Jimmy Carter said: in his book, Dr Abuelaish has expressed a remarkable commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation that describes the foundation for a permanent peace in the Holy Land. The daily telegraph: A great work of insight and compassion that tries to point the way towards peace and reconciliation… If there is to be peace in the Middle East, it will come through men and women of the giant stature and epic capacity for forgiveness. Sunday times: A remarkable study of compassion, and of daily life in the Gaza Strip Dr Abuelaish believes that hatred is a chronic, contagious and destructive disease. He focuses his research to promote awareness about the impact of hatred on health and wellbeing, and how to prevent spread of this destructive disease through positive resilience, tolerance, compassion and reconciliation. 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 also 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. 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.
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Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon
Executive Director, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)

Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon is the executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace and an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). Cannon formerly served as the senior director of Advocacy and Outreach for World Vision U.S. on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC; as consultant to the Middle East for child advocacy issues for Compassion International in Jerusalem; as the executive pastor of Hillside Covenant Church located in Walnut Creek, California; and as director of development and transformation for extension ministries at Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois.

Mae is the editor of A Land Full of God: Christian Perspective on the Holy Land (Wipf & Stock, 2017) and the author of Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World (IVP, 2009), Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action (IVP, 2013), and Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith (co-authored, Zondervan, 2014).
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Mike Abel
Regional Coordinator for DCMEP

Rosita Michael Abel “Mike” is a Palestinian-American who worked in healthcare for most of her professional career. Her family originated in Palestine and the Latin America Diaspora. She has traveled to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza on peace and medical missions. In 2009, she was part of a diplomatic delegation with the Council of National Interest, visiting five Middle Eastern countries and Israel. In 2011, she spent three months doing a work/study in Palestine/Israel. Currently she serves on the board of Delaware Churches for Middle East Peace and is the co-founder of DelPHR (Delawareans for Palestinian Human Rights). She is the recipient of the 2014 Peacemakers Among Us Award from Pacem in Terris Delaware. She is part of an annual leadership program in Bethlehem. Through her advocacy and human rights work, she presents to a wide range of audiences including students and churches.

Rev. Douglas Leonard
Director, World Council of Church's United Nations Office

Rev. Douglas Leonard is the director of the World Council of Church's United Nations Office where he serves as the WCC’s representative to the UN. He advises the member churches of the World Council of Churches and regional ecumenical organizations about their domestic and international advocacy strategies and opens space for their voices to be amplified in the UN system. He follows the Sustainable Development Goals, peace building, and current international legal processes on behalf of the ecumenical movement. Rev. Leonard serves as the WCC liaison to the World Bank and IMF and oversees WCC engagement in Latin America and the Caribbean. Rev. Leonard has served as the director of global mission for the Reformed Church in America and as the executive director of Al Amana Centre, a center for the study of global Muslim-Christian relations and diplomacy based in the Sultanate of Oman. At Al Amana Centre he developed graduate and undergraduate academic programs in peace building, religion and diplomacy, and Christian and Muslim relations. His scholarly work has appeared in numerous academic journals and books and he serves as a special editor of The Muslim World. Rev. Leonard is an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America and received his MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary. 


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