Interview with Lucy Nusseibeh, founder and Director Middle East Nonviolence and Democracy
I met Lucy at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum that took place in Bonn from 25 to 27/6/12. She was introducing some of her nonviolence work in Palestine and I was struck by the similarities of concepts and language with my own humanist take and work on active nonviolence, which is exactly how she put it. I wanted to know more about her work.
Lucy was born in the UK. She met her Palestinian husband as undergraduates and after getting married they moved to Jerusalem in 1978. She had always enjoyed new experiences, she said beaming. She had had some contact with the methodology of nonviolence as a high school student through the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
She worked at the University of Birzeit teaching Cultural Studies and the History of Ideas. The subject was also ideal to get to know the local language and the culture. She participated in the Palestinian Centre for the Study of Nonviolence founded by Mubarak Awad that advocated nonviolence strategies during the first intifada. A study carried out by the Centre showed that most Palestinians were against terrorism, and this was published by the New York Times.
After Awad was deported by the Israeli authorities she went on to work setting up camps during the Peace Process in 1997, although with the failure of the procedures the joint camps did not contribute to Israeli-Palestinian understanding, in her view they rather backfired. When violence broke out she was horrified to see that the professionals stopped talking to one another. She decided it was better to work separately and proposed Conflict Resolution work in Palestinian schools. It was difficult to get funding for work with only one side. Nevertheless she managed to convince teachers that training in Conflict Resolution contributed to better teaching.
She found that there was a long tradition of nonviolence in Palestine that most people did not know about. She set up an NGO with a grant to work in Palestinian schools to reduce violence. She experimented with many different ways in different schools, also seeking to empower girls to continue their education. Some of her camps brought together Palestinians with black South Africans and traumatised children from Northern Ireland.
At the height of violence she was approached by Fatah to learn about Nonviolence. She brought trainers from different parts of the world, funded by USAID and the European Union. The Active Nonviolence (ANV) Network included work at many levels, such as radio soap operas, bumper stickers (“Smarter without Violence”), in all, 198 methods of ANV, the power of nonviolence. Around 2007 she was working with high level people, activists from the West Bank, issues of Media and human security, and received a visit from Martin Luther King’s son who endorsed the process. Her goal was to humanise people in conflict situations. She had observed that the dehuminising stereotypes typical of any conflict started as early as the age of 3 both for Israelis and Palestinian children.
When she started most people were skeptical about nonviolence, ”now, everybody is talking about it”.
**Hopes and Projects for the Future**
Lucy wants to see a Ministry of Nonviolence and a Nonviolence Youth Service that can teach about ANV in the context of high physical activity, a sense of belonging and hope for the future, the things youths need for a healthy development. And she wants to do this through community building with Muslims and Christians, also learning new skills. Perhaps with the help of the Arab League, developing a training manual. She observes a high level of individualism and apathy that stems from frustration. One of the joint projects with the Israelis has been developing teaching materials on tolerance and coexistence, also on Human Rights.
When a senior Palestinian leader was killed there were lots of suicide bombings. Now they have stopped and many people believe it is because of the wall. She thinks it is the campaigns and that violence is not politically acceptable anymore. In any case part of her work has been to discuss nonviolence with would-be suicide bombers and their families, managing to stimulate in some of them nonviolence activism rather than violence.
She would like to see less truancy in Jerusalem schools and more places for girls who often do not have where to study. She is trying to help set up a Media Department to teach journalism and new media outlets. Her projects have been blocked twice by the Israelis, accused of being set up by the Palestinian Authority, in reality it is the University. A transmitter has been confiscated as it “interfered with air traffic” although the frequencies were very different.
In spite of the difficulties her commitment to nonviolence as a tool to achieve a fair deal for her adopted country and people has been growing. We did not discuss models, the two States solution, the Federation, nothing seems to be within immediate reach and this is a source of great frustration, but she is clear that her education work on nonviolence is essential for the well being of her people.