On Thursday night I took a ride to the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, to 4101 Freeland Avenue, the site of a warehouse that has been converted into a vibrant place of peace and worship; Mishkan Shalom; https://mishkan.org/ . I went to hear a man of peace, a Palestinian with a history, Ali Abu Awwad. He traveled across the United States to some forty sites in partnership with Encounter; http://www.encounterprograms.org/ , to share his story and his vision for peace in the Middle East.
Ali began by telling his story: “Israel found a state in 1948. For us 1948 was a time when we lost our state and lost our houses. My Mother joined the P.L.O. before I was born. I was arrested several times. If you live in such an environment you don’t need a particular curriculum to hate. This is a challenge in itself.”
He went on to talk about what happened during the 1st Intifada: “I was arrested with my Mother. I got 4 years and my Mother got 5 years. I was going to the best university as a political prisoner. There were five committees in prison and I was part of a very respectful community. In 1993 5000 prisoners went on a hunger strike for 17 days. We had to hold onto a belief in our humanity and the moral weight to achieve the right cause.”
The hunger strike made him think about both Palestinians and Israelis. He began to see that neither side could relate to or understand the other. “The occupation has made the Israeli military blind. We need to create a secure place for the other side to understand.”
His life changed with Oslo: “We gave our full support for Oslo in prison. Many of us were released as a result of Oslo. I was given a mission to manage security and focus political issues on the Palestinian cause. The mission was to transfer the nation, to switch and begin to act as citizens. To explain our rights and duties and fight against violence. I arrested Palestinians that did the same thing that I did a year before. We have to prove ourselves. We became ashamed by the Israeli occupation understanding where the violence comes from. I resigned from the Palestinian security forces. I cannot support violence. But I cannot be a traitor to my nation. Our kids threw stones at Palestinian security forces in 1995.”
Ali went on to describe the problem of the Palestinian people: “Our identity was in a revolution against the occupation. There was violence and an issue of political corruption… People lost hope. Many people think Palestine has a country. But Abbas is like a Mayor, a manager, not a leader.”
“I became convinced that armed struggle was not the way. The status of Palestine became a question. People became confused because they didn’t have an identity.”
The 2nd Intifada was limited, (in numbers), but more violent. People were killed in terrible ways. I was wounded by a settler from Kiryat Arba, shot in the knee and sent to Saudi Arabia for treatment. While there my brother was killed by an Israeli soldier. All of my life I paid prices. I lose my brother. What could warrant such a price? Our family has blown up. I have an argument between my feelings, [vengeance], and my mind, [non-violence]. I lost my brother, but I didn’t lose my mind. No other alternative on the ground to invest in the price to heal.”
“I said; there is no revenge, but there is no peace. Everything is different after losing Youssef.”
I met a group of Bereaved Families; http://www.theparentscircle.com/ . They were people, [Israelis and Palestinians], who lost their kids and were willing to come to our home in 2002. It took Israel 30 years to show me their tears. The only face of the Jewish nation had been the occupation. If these people, who paid the highest price can show their pain, then who can’t?” “I joined and became a speaker. What can serve people in Tel Aviv, [to understand], is different than in a Refugee Camp.”
“By meeting, by dialogue we are reaching the truth. You must be an artist to reach the truth because we are stuck in our own truth. We have to be secure in dialogue. Both sides are not secure. We have to create security.”
He went on to say that; “there is corruption in the field of peace. An economic investment in peace companies. Palestinians don’t need to go to 5 star hotels. My book is going to upset so many peacemakers.”
“I decide to go to non-violence. I met Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in Jenin. These people were thirsty for alternatives. [They said] ‘We were used by the Palestinian political parties and by the occupation.’ “They signed an agreement not to fight with the PA four years ago.”
‘I went to settlers in Gush Etzion 11 months ago to create a Palestinian Non-Violent Center. After three meetings we agreed that our disagreements have to be managed non-violently. We made an agreement to fast together during the recent war on the 17th day of Tamuz/18th day of Ramadan. I found out there are many people, ‘leaders,’ out there. We are building a centre in Gush Etzion, a kitchen to create Palestinian non-violence: http://www.friendsofroots.net/ .Settlers are replanting Palestinian trees. Women are the real leaders. We have an active Women’s Group with Hadassah Froman.
Ali went on to say that he was “tired of the game of guilt and the competition over suffering.” He went to speak at the House of Lords in England and found that it was divided into two groups; one supporting the Palestinians and the other the Israelis and they wouldn’t sit together. “I said; can’t you be Pro-Solution?”
He ended by telling the audience; “We have to be ready for the price of peace. Both sides have to give up because the price of peace is much cheaper than the price of war.”