When the program started, I was thinking that 4 days seemed awful short. As I began day 3, I realized that 4 days is about all I can handle due to the intensity. There is so much to take in, to listen, to learn, and to process, that I am glad we have just 4 intensive days.
Once again, we split into 3 tracks. I chose the Prison one. I’m not sure why but I did. Our first speaker was a man named Ali Abu-Awwad. Ali was involved with the startup of the Roots program. He left them a year or so ago and started a new organization called Taghyeer Movement.
Ali’s mom got very involved with the PLO and she was a leader in the movement as he grew up. This made him special in the eyes of many and he quickly became an activist. He was first arrested at age 15 for throwing stones at soldiers. At age 18, he was arrested a second time for throwing stones only this time the IDF wanted him to give them information on his mother. They threatened him with 10 years in prison if he didn’t. Ali didn’t believe he could get 10 years in prison for throwing rocks and he chose not to say anything about his mom. At his trial, he was given a 10-year prison sentence.
It was in prison that he learned to speak Hebrew and got most of his education. The first intifada was mostly political and not violent so the political prisoners were educated people. They had created a system of government and education in the camp to make sure they were getting educated. In 1994, after the Oslo accords, he was released early from prison. He began working as a Palestinian security officer to help enforce the law. It was a struggle as he told us that he was humiliated by Israeli soldiers and he watched them humiliate his mom. The culminating moment for him was when a soldier shot and killed his brother.
Things changed for him when the family received a letter from an Orthodox Jew whose son had been killed by Hamas. The man had started a grief forum for families and heard about his brother’s murder. He wanted to send condolences and told them he ‘stood for their rights’. The man also asked permission to come to house to personally share condolences. This act changed Ali’s life. He had Israeli’s come to his house before but never any who asked about coming. When they met this man, they could feel his compassion and Ali realized that vengeance was using anger to try to get justice. And the only justice for his brother’s death was to have his brother back. Since that was impossible, he had to find a new way.
Ali shared his belief on why the peace talks failed. It was so clear. He told us:
1. The leaders signed the agreement but it was never implemented on the ground.
2. Signing an agreement doesn’t make peace. Those involved need to be included in the process. Refugees and Settlers were not included and in order for peace to work, we need reconciliation on the ground. If they are not included, there will be no reconciliation
3. Engagement of outsiders in the peace process. He specifically called out Iran who wanted to keep the conflict going and the Arab World who didn’t want to see a modern Arab democratic state.
4. The leadership who signed the agreement wasn’t really looking to have Peace. If they did, Ali said that Rabin’s assassination wouldn’t have stopped it. It was people, not systems. Rabin was dead and Arafat was weak.
5. Palestinians could not make the transition from resistance to being citizens. They struggled with a new identity of building a state instead of battling Israel in revolution.
6. Corruption by leadership. Oslo created the PA and that has become a way to help individuals (lining their pockets) rather than the state (building a country).
Ali had a few very significant statements that I want to share.
“The biggest obstacle to Palestinian freedom is Jewish Fear and Palestinian Anger.” He said the Palestinians must understand this and address it moving forward.
“Our freedom will not be built by Jewish lives. It will not be built on Jewish graves. It will be built through Jewish hearts.”
“It’s not about guilt or blame but about responsibility. The best tool I have is my humanity, not my rightness or support of my cause, but my humanity.”
Ali’s new organization is based on creating a Palestinian identity based on non-violence. He is working to address the identity issue of being citizens rather than being part of a resistance. He is building a movement and already has 13 chapters and it’s growing fast.
He finished with a few very important points. the first was 3 truths about Palestinians and Jews
1. We both have no other place to go
2. We both have a historical connection to the land
3. Nobody else wants either of us
He closed with talking about the need for recognition by the Palestinians to the Jewish claim to the land and by the Jews to the Palestinian claim to the land.
So if you actually read all of this, wow! And I hope you are as filled with hope as I was. I have heard the complaints about no partner for peace. I have heard the complaints that the Palestinians won’t govern, can’t govern, and won’t take responsibility. Ali is an example that proves both those things wrong. Perhaps it’s time for us to find the other Ali’s and work together to create a better world and peace.