– *Ali, tell us briefly your story.*
My name is Ali Abu Awwad and I come from a family of refugees of ’48. It is a very political family; my mother was in prison for many years. I soon followed in her footsteps and I got involved also in the resistance against the Israeli occupation. I was arrested in the first Intifada and I spent four years in prison. In the year 2000, I was seriously wounded by an Israeli settler. While I was receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia I found out about the death of my brother Yousef, detained and shot at point-blank by an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint.
The worst in my country is that the pain inflicted does not end with the assassination, but it continues in a thousand things of daily life under the Israeli occupation. Many times the pain and the desperation leave you without any choice, **but at the end of the day I can say that the one who killed my brother could not shatter my humanity, or manage to control my mind**. My mother was the first person of the family who joined the Parent Circle, then I did. The Parent Circle is an organisation that is composed of over six-hundred Israeli and Palestinian families who transform the pain for the loss of a loved one into actions for reconciliation. At the moment I am in charge of projects of the organisation. After a very long and very hard process, now I believe that dialogue is the path to reach truth and peace… but not any type of dialogue.
– *What do you mean?*
For the past eight or nine years, I have been living out of a suitcase. I have been in many places around the world. I have heard the politicians speaking about peace and dialogue at the United Nations or at the House of Lords. They are skilful with words. For me, on the contrary, **dialogue begins by seeing the world while sitting upon a very uncomfortable chair**. It is about staying on it and trying to understand what the other is feeling, not to feel compassion, but simply to understand what they need in their life to live, to believe, to think, to behave like a human being.
– *And on what type of chair do you have to sit to understand what happens in Palestine?*
One has to ask oneself a few things: what do you feel when you are ten years old and visit your mother in a prison, but you cannot hug her? What does it mean growing up as a refugee? What do you feel when you fight with stones against an enemy who is powerfully armed? What did I feel when they told me during the interrogation and torture to which I was subjected that they had completely cut the hair from my mother, that they had shaved it because she had a kind of illness? What do you feel when during your entire life people expect you to be a hero, when it is expected that you are a leader at only 17 years of age? These are some questions extracted from my own story, but my story is perfectly common in Palestine. When we sit on one of those uncomfortable chairs, then the dialogue can have results because immediately a practical dialogue is developed.
– *I would like to understand what experiences and reflections have taken you to the Parent Circle and, in general, to your current positions.*
That process has many moments. For example, the first contact with nonviolent resistance was when I was in prison, after the first Intifada. I was in the committee that headed a group of five thousand Palestinian political prisoners. We decided to go on a hunger strike with only water and salt that lasted seventeen days. All we asked was better conditions, not even our freedom. And we achieved it. That test of the strength of nonviolent resistance marked me deeply.
Another very important episode of my process occurred also in those days. After three years in prison requesting it and protesting, I got to see my mother who was in a women’s prison. They took me from my prison to hers. She was on the other side of the glass and we started talking, without tears. I don’t know, when you live this life in some ways you start turning a little into a machine, I supposeprison the on who could not stop crying were the two officers of the Israeli police who guarded us. **I knew the Israelis as an occupying force, soldiers, enemies, but never had I seen one crying**. So through that gesture I could savour the taste of reconciliation.
Many times we have these internal conflicts, where we don’t know very well what happens. But in politics you always have to be very sure about what you do. Things must be clear and even though they are not, you have to say that they are. **Adding humanity to politic**s, this is hard work. We are in this.
– *How did you live the Oslo Agreements?*
My family and I expected something important from that process. We expected nothing more and nothing less than changing our identity: going from being revolutionaries to being citizens of our own State. Personally, I longed for getting out of prison, returning to my home in the West Bank and living normally, living a life that would integrate the values of peace. But when I was freed together with another four thousand Palestinian political prisoners, they forced me to live in Jericho for two more years, without being able to go back home. The Peace Agreement started tpeacel for me. And I learned something important, that later had much to do with my decision to join the Circle: **one thing is a peace agreement and something different is the construction of peace**. That Peace Agreement was above all peace in front of the media, peace only on paper, without the construction of peace.
– *What did you do upon returning home?*
I could not connect with the situation. I asked myself all the time: am I going to continue being a revolutionary, a fighter? But during the period of the Agreement I could prove the meaning and the value of the absence of violence, I had hope in that something could change in my life. So I decided to get involved more directly in the peace process and I became an officer of the Palestinian security. But it was not easy at all. The Palestinian Authority was not an authentic authority, it had an authority above what was the Israeli occupation. In reality we could control practically nothing. The Israeli commands humiliated the Palestinian Authority one and another time. And when there was a suicide attack they asked us many questions: who has the responsibility? The Palestinian Authority? The Parliament or the Israeli army, who? It was then that I realised that if there is no participation, if you do not include reconciliation, empathy, knowledge and comprehension, if you do not add all of this to the political solution of the political problems, the peace process is weak and the hopes are lost very quickly.
In the year 2000 the second Intifada started, with a clear militant mark. Two months after I was wounded by an Israeli settler. And while I was in Saudi Arabia receiving medical treatment they informed me about the death of my brother at a checkpoint. A soldier shot a bullet at seventy centimetres from his head. Yousef was 32 years old.
– *How did you receive his death?*
I took it badly. Yousef was for me a brother, a friend, a father, a mother. He always took care of me, he used to protect me. I knew what it means to lose faith, to go out of one’s mind. I knew what it means to lose sleep, to lose hope. But I didn’t know what it meant losing someone who is part of my life, of my existence. My brother was murdered, not because he participated in any political activity, or because he was a delinquent, but simply for being a Palestinian. For this they killed him. Is being Palestinian a crime, a mistake?
Yousef was worth as much as an entire planet, and there is nothing that can replace him. **If Yousef was worth as much as an entire planet, if he was worth as much as all the Israelis together, how many I would have to murder to feel better?** How much hate must poison my body and the body of the enemy to be able to soothe my pain? I closed in upon myself, I didn’t want to speak to anybody, I simply didn’t want to live. I did what I did, nothing was going to give him back to me. Not peace, not violence, not nonviolence, nothing. But Yousef left also a son, a daughter and his wife. And rebuilding the meaning of my life consisted in helping them to deal with the death of their father. But in that moment, full of anger as I was, I didn’t want to see the other side, or to talk with them.
– *And what happened then?*
After that the founder of the Circle, Yitzhak Frankenthal, wanted to know my family. He informed my brother and he told my mother, who answered: “well, we welcome him”. I was amazed. I have seen many Israelis at home, I knew their behaviour, their nerve, I had placed labels on them, but never had I seen so closely their pain, their tears. I realised that if those persons, who had paid the highest price in the conflict, were able to come to my house, give me support and empathy, and understand my rights and my reasons, then anyone in Israel could do it. And in the same way, as I joined the Parent Circle, anyone in Palestine can also do it. So I started my path in the Parent Circle, until here just a phase of my story.
– *What does it mean for you reconciliation?*
In the first place, I believe that reconciliation is a great personal challenge. Because **fighting against the enemy is an easy response, but it is much more difficult fighting against yourself**. Resisting the feeling of revenge, the desire to throw the venom that they have put in your body against another body, that is very hard. To reconcile supposes reconnecting with the life after the crime. Being capable of opening again the eyes and saying openly that what was done against you did not sink you.
But it is not easy stopping to feel a victim, that is one of the reasons why the conflict continues. Being a victim means that one does not act, but reacts. One loses his capacity of action, loses the strategy, loses control, because the only thing that controls you is the feeling of being a victim. In this conflict both sides feel victims and that explains why the aggressive behaviour is perpetrated. There is a competition to see who is more victim. And the victims often become murderers. The Israelis have the tool of history, the reference of the Holocaust, to demonstrate that they are victims. And the Palestinians can hoist a thousand elements in their daily life: the checkpoints, the wall, the settlements, etc.
**I also felt a victim and I expected external answers**. All depended on everybody else: the solutions, the judgments, the punishments, etc. But there was a decisive moment where I started to look for answers by myself and in myself. Then I stopped feeling a victim. That process went through knowledge, when from the other side they took a step. I don’t know if there are keys for reconciliation. I don’t even know very well what happened to me when I decided to move towards reconciliation. I don’t know what happened to me, but I do know what I want. The key question is: what do I want to reconcile for?
– *And what is your answer to that question?*
For me, reconciliation is a tool to achieve peace in a situation of conflict. We can sign a peace agreement between two States or two nations. But reconciliation means defending tooth and nail such agreement, and normalising the relations with the other. **Through reconciliation, the existence of one is converted into the existence of the other, both are connected**. For that reason I believe in reconciliation during the conflict. And after achieving peace, reconciliation must convert into an objective, not only into a tool. The objective of being good neighbours, in a situation where there are normal relations between normal neighbours.
If as persons we do not reconcile it is not because we don’t want peace, or because we want to remain in a feeling of victim that is never pleasant. We do not reconcile because we don’t know how to do it, we don’t know how to bury our suffering and our anger, we don’t know how to go back to living when the crime against you is continuous, how to give a human face to the enemy who dehumanises us day by day. But while we do not do it there is no solution, we will be paralysed. We are not talking about loving each other more or about spiritual things for the style, but about something very practical that could serve also at a political level. Achieving reconciliation while the conflict is still occurring is not easy. But as this conflict is complicated, the solution will be complicated.
**The soldier that killed my brother wanted me to pay with my mind, that I would lose my head. That is the real occupation**. Because if I could not control my behaviour I would respond with violence and that would serve his politicians, for that reconciliation is so valuable.
– *What relation does reconciliation have with politics?*
For me, reconciliation not only is a personal journey between two persons, but also between two nations. It is not a personal solution for which I feel better with myself. It is not a psychological treatment, but the political treatment of problems that are political. For example, the assassination of my brother was a political action. If I participate in the Parent Circle, if I sit with Israeli students to show them my experience, it is because I believe that all that can contribute to greater freedom for the Palestinians. For that reason, in my idea of reconciliation, the political vision is a very important element.
– *What would such a political vision be?*
My vision as a Palestinian is to have a State for the Palestinians. That is my vision. My objective is to end the Israeli occupation, which will automatically bring safety for Israel. My objective is having a Palestinian State, which will automatically bring the recognition of Israel as a State. Reconciliation during the conflict will not work without a political vision. Because when there is such vision, when I have it clear in my mind, I can defend publically my behaviour and my declarations of reconciliation. Reconciliation needs a political vision and also a strategy, that is, a base structure that would support it. Because when your behaviour is part of a structure and of a strategy, then the people, other victims, can be part of the process and join it. It is not something personal, it is converted into a public behaviour, collective.
– *Is such political vision of the politicians?*
No, all the contrary. One of our main problems is that politicians do not have a strategy for peace in Middle East. That’s why from them only fights come out and the construction of peace comes from other sides. I ‘m not sure at all that the politicians come to the negotiating table with a clear mind and with good arguments on how to resolve the problems. From there immediately the political competitions start over who is going to gain more. But there is no winning side in peace negotiation. The two sides must gain. Nor does the International Community have a strategy for peace in Middle East. In fact, there are initiatives where our blood is clearly exploited as if it were material. But **the blood of the Israeli and Palestinian children is much more sacred than the political needs of anyone**. Our blood is not for sale.
– *You say that a great problem for reconciliation is that we don’t know what to do with the suffering and the anger, where to place the energy of hate. What do you think in that regard?*
What takes people towards violence is not hate. That is what I experienced. Our normal behaviour is not hate. But when you live in suffering, it pushes you to anger. Anger is the language of suffering, not of hate. It is important to know that. It is possible to create a place where another use can be given to anger. That is one of the keys of my bet on nonviolent resistance. **Nonviolent resistance is the means through which we can effectively channel anger**, and such anger well channelled takes us to success. Do we want to be right or also have success, and be effective? It is a key question. Do you want your anger to take you to any place or do you only want to feel well to respond, to resist, to take revenge?
**Nonviolent resistance is more than a philosophy, it is a structure, a life style, a political identity**. When you talk about India, immediately the face of Gandhi or the salt march comes to your mind. But, what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you talk about Gaza? Hamás, the resistance of Hamás. A behaviour is converted into a political identity. But we can change it, the nonviolence movement that we are creating could convert into the new nerve of the nation.
– *What is missing for that change?*
A short time ago I met with people who live in the area of Jenin in the Gaza Strip. I sat with sixty guerrillas who were there with their weapons. We talked about the process of construction of peace. We took more than sixty years fighting, but what is the result of that fight? More walls, more settlements, more checkpoints. I explained why nonviolent resistance could be a more effective path towards peace. After four hours of conversation, the guerrillas told me very clearly that years before they had signed an agreement to put down their weapons, but that it did not work because it had produced no type of change in their daily life. The main problem for Israel is safety: if they don’t suffer attacks, the Israelis live in peace. But it is not the same for the Palestinians: a cease-fire by Israel is not a solution for Palestine. Because the occupation continues, with its walls, its checkpoints, its settlements. In the last few years we reached many times an agreement on the Gaza Strip, but what is the result? That there is no change at a practical level, so that that in future when the feeling of desperation surfaces again the cease-fire will be broken. To convince people who live under occupation not to respond to any attack with violence an active path must be shown, practical and effective.
– *What is the force of nonviolence?*
Nonviolent resistance does not attack physically, but it does clash with military aspects: weapons, army, tanks. However, its arm is not physical or material, but moral. It is its own humanity. It is a right that is exercised and is brought to practice. If I bring to practice the right to independence of Palestine via the military path I will be defeated. Because we will lose any battle with Israel, things are so whether we like it or not. And moreover **not any type of revolution achieves freedom**. In an armed conflict we Palestinians come out losers at all levels. In its way, nonviolent resistance is also a fight strategy. And I’m saying fight because this is a battle. For example, you get in front of a steamroller that comes to damage and destroy your house. One is there naked, with only ones body. But you’re not naked of beliefs and of morality. You must have a very high level of beliefs to develop this type of behaviour. Israel has a big problem with nonviolent Palestinian resistance. **The Israeli soldiers are each time more violent against the nonviolent activists. They want us to respond with violence. But I know that if I don’t do it I thwart them**. Through nonviolent resistance we make the system in front of us not work. To better explain what is nonviolence, I always tell a story.
– *Go on with it*.
A friend and I one day went in a car through a checkpoint. There, a very aggressive Israeli soldier came to us smiling. I asked him: “how is life in this checkpoint?” That day was raining and it was very cold. “It seems to me that it must be terrible to be in this checkpoint”, I continued. He smiled a little more and said: “Why is it terrible? I’m in charge here”. I answered: “Because you’re suffering.” He got very annoyed: “No, you’re wrong, you’re the one suffering”. And I answered very calmly: “No, I am in a car, warm, with a friend. You are in the rain, you come to me with your weapon and are proud of provoking my suffering. But here the weak one is you. I am going past **this checkpoint and you will remain here alone all day”. That soldier was very frightened when I showed that he could not turn me in a victim**, when I showed the weakness of the power that comes only from having a weapon. Then he started talking to me in another way. He told me that he was born in a settlement, that his family belonged to the religiouthe far right and that he had never talked with a Palestinian as equal to equal.
Who controlled the situation, who had the real authority? It wasn’t him of course. It is only an example, a story. But it shows very well how **nonviolent behaviour requires a lot of force, in the first place to control the anger**. If I am the person who is suffering a military occupation, it is him who is in a wrong and unjust position, not me. It is then when we must ask ourselves if we only want to be right or be effective. Because through these acts of humanity, you leave the other side without option. The other side thinks: “Take a weapon and I will know how to treat you”. But while you don’t take a weapon, they don’t know how to treat you. In a physical war you can fight, but when you place **your humanity as weapon** in front of the enemy you awaken the human being that is in him, because all that he has in front of him is another human being. At the end I did not have in front of me the image of an armed and aggressive enemy, but that of a human being with his own history. If this behaviour is converted into a mass behaviour, and that nonviolent resistance develops right now in the Gaza Strip as a public and national behaviour, surely the solution will arrive very soon.
– *For what reasons do you think that nonviolent resistance can be so effective?*
Because it takes away from the Israelis the excuse of safety. Israeli safanother been converted into the main enemy of the Palestinians. Why? Because it is based in the occupation: it is not the legal defence of a nation, but a system in which the Palestinian children need four hours to get to school in the morning, a situation in which pregnant women die in the checkpoints. That is not safety, the wall is not a mechanism for safety. In the first place, it is the psychological representation of the Israeli fear, a fear that is linked very much to its historical past. That is the truth. If the military structures of the Israeli occupation did not work we could find another solution. But while there is a suicide that structure will continue to be powerful, because there it finds justification to continue getting armed. For that reason I feel devastated when there are actions of armed violence. The fight against the “radical Islamist” is the best excuse in front of the International Community. And that way nobody pays attention to the legitimate right to resist of an occupied nation that lives in a situation of injustice. Nonviolent resistance takes away such excuse. What we need is a structure that serves freedom and safety at the same time. Hamás has a structure, the occupation has a structure, Avigdor Lieberman has a structure. But the occupation does not serve safety and violence does not serve freedom. Because of that 95% of Palestinians do not participate in the violent resistance, in spite of living under a military occupation (however, they continue considering us as terrorists!). **We need a structure for peace, a structure for the humanity of nonviolent resistance**. Nonviolent resistance does not mean that I abandon the right to resist the occupation, but the rejection of killing for that. The assassination of another human being should be considered a crime. If two nations can reach this conclusion without more excusserf or the slaughter, we could reconcile and perhaps forgive each other.
– *Which are in your opinion the most important achievements and the contributions of the Parent Circle?*
The main gift that the Circle can give is to show that those who paid the highest price in the conflict can sit down and talk. If they can do it, then anybody can. That is the greatest achievement for me, because it defies the reproduction of the conflict. Achieving a political solution through the Circle is not our task. **Our task is to bring greater understanding between the people**, which can contribute in addition to the process of negotiation and the search of a political solution. It is difficult being human when you live in a jungle. For me, being human is not feeling compassion for others or being pleasant with the others. Being human means to be capable of understanding what others need to live as human beings, helping them and thus being part of their existence as human beings. When we know each other, when one knows the needs in life that the other one has and feels involved with them, then you’re converted in to part of the solution for the problems. In the Circle we have forged such confidence that I could without problems let Aaron (Barnea), an Israeli, represent me. It is to say, I could place in his hands the blood of my brother, the history of my family and the political identity of my existence without any doubts. That confidence is another important achievement of the Circle.
Also I would like to point out the international achievements of the Circle, which consist in bringing all around the world the following message: let them not use us any longer, let them be pro- this or pro- the other and let them be pro-solution. If they want to support Israel, let them do it so that it abandons as soon as possible the occupied territories. If they want to support Palestine, let them support the nonviolent resistance and the transformation of the daily life conditions of the Palestinians. **Here nobody is going to disappear, the only solution is that we all learn to live together in the same land**. For this, I want that there be two States and that a group of nuts do not manage my life. I wish that Israel had political borders to acknowledge them. I wish the situation in which all realise that weapons are not the answer. I don’t know why we cannot share life in this land and we commit to share death, once our dead are buried. The only thing I need is my freedom, I do not want to throw people into the sea or any thing like it.
For that our message, our joint voice is raised, like the voice of people considered in general as victims, to say that we’re not material that can serve the political initiatives of anybody, that we choose to live, that we choose to have peace and that we choose to reach a solution. And if at the end separation is the solution I will be part of it. If the wall has the agreement of both sides, I will support the wall. If people choose divorce, then we will divorce. Because like that perhaps we can then go back to marry, but not in this type of marriage. Not in what we have now.
– *Are you still capable of imagining a future of peace?*
Never would I have imagined Arafat and Rabin shaking hands but it happened. Never would I have imagined that one hundred forty Palestinian and Israeli families would go together to the Museureach the Holocaust and the following day visit an Arab town in Palestine, but the Parent Circle did this. Never would I have imagined talking together with Aaron of a future of peace, or mentioning the word occupation in an Israeli school. Never would I have imagined that Hamás would say that they are ready to acknowledge the initiative of the Arab countries and ask them to seek a cease-fire. Things are moving. It is a process at the same time emotional and political, personal and political. We cannot solve everything. The problems will not disappear, not even after reconciliation. **Always there will be conflicts, different identities, different ideologies, but are they conflicts where people die or where they simply argue and don’t like each other?** There is no need to adore each other, but that we do not kill each other. That is the situation that I want to see between Israelis and Palestinians: that they include nonviolent values in arguments and conflicts.
This interview appeared in the number 35 of the magazine Hermes (November, 2010). The bold type is mine.
The webpage of the Parent Circle: http://www.theparentscircle.com/
More about the Parent Circle in ‘Fuera de Lugar’ (Out of Place):
– interview with Aaron Barnea:http://blogs.publico.es/fueradelugar/category/aaron-barnea
– interview with Mazen Faraj: http://blogs.publico.es/fueradelugar/category/mazen-faraj