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Interview Archives

Between 2004 and 2010, Just Vision interviewed more than 80 Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders. The interviews in this archive represent a fraction of the civic leaders working in the field at a particular moment in time, and aim to provide audiences access to a range of perspectives and approaches.

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Inas Radwan

Inas Radwan studies hospital management at the American University of Jenin. For the last three years, she has been involved with Building Bridges for Peace, a program which brings young Palestinian, Israeli and American women together for a summer camp in the United States. At home, the Palestinians and Israelis continue to meet through year-long follow-up programs. Inas has been a participant, a leader in training, and a counselor at the camp.

  • Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up, and what are you currently involved in?

    My name is Inas Radwan Saeed, I'm twenty-one years old, I study at the American University of Jenin and I live in Zababde1 close to Jenin. I was born in Saudi Arabia, and then I moved back and forth with my family between Jordan and Palestine because my mother's from Jordan and my father is from Palestine. My mother's family moved to Jordan after the War of 19673 and they stayed there. My father was born here in Jenin.

    • 1A city in the North of the West Bank/Occupied Territories located between Nablus and Jenin.

  • Tell me about your peace-related activities, your meetings with the Israelis. Tell me about the beginnings and how you got to where you are now.

    I started in 1996 in Afula;1 there was supposed to be a meeting between the Palestinian and Israeli school kids but then they [the Israelis] became unwilling to participate because they were afraid of such meetings even though the situation wasn't bad at the time. Then in 1998 I participated in a month long program in France to talk to Europeans about the Palestinians. Most of the activities were focused on telling about the Christians in Palestine because the [the Europeans] didn't know we existed. I wasn't active after that because I was busy with the Tawjihi.2 When I was a freshman at university, I participated in Building Bridges for Peace3 and I am still involved there. The trip to France was arranged by us, the students, no one funded us, it was at our expense. We had a French teacher that took us with his wife because they knew the places. We had prepared for a small play in French and our folklore dance, the Dabke, and other theatre shows we planned to perform. No one supported us; we had to bring the costumes, the dresses for the Dabke, from the locals because the school wouldn't provide them for us. We prepared everything by ourselves.

    • 1A small city of about 150,000 residents located in the Jezreel valley in northern Israel.
    • 2The 12th grade general examination required by Palestinians for university admission.
    • 3Building Bridges for Peace brings together female teenagers from Israel and the West Bank and Gaza (the Occupied Territories) to participate in a summer camp in Colorado.

  • How did you get involved in Building Bridges For Peace?

    It was in 2002. It was the first year at the university for me, and Razan Makhlouf, she's a relative and went to university with me, told me about the program because she was a past participant. I knew about the idea behind this program, but not about the program itself. We had similar programs, in the concept that there is something inside us that we couldn't express here [in this country] so we can do that in outside countries. It was very nice the first time I attended Building Bridges, it was a new experience and different from the ones I had before, I never thought it would be like that.

  • How was Building Bridges For Peace different from other programs in which you had participated?

    All the programs that I've been to were about me talking about my pain, I didn't know and wasn't willing to hear that the other side was also in pain. I didn't want to listen to that, I didn't want to understand or imagine that. At first I felt like I was being forced to listen to them [the Israeli participants], I didn't want to listen. For example, the first time they said they wanted to talk about the bombings that happen in Israel, I said I didn't want to listen and nothing could make me. I only wanted to be there [in the program] just to show the world who I was. But I had to listen for the first time and eventually I came to realize that it's not fair for me to keep talking and not listen to them. The first time I really felt that I was forced to listen, it really was a problem because I didn't want to listen. They insisted that they wanted to talk about their pain and what was hurting them. At last I gave in, not because I wanted to listen but because I became curious. If they wanted to talk, so be it, I didn't have to understand or feel their pain. When they started talking, I realized that they were saying the same things I say only from a different perspective. The way they talked was different; they were saying the same things I would say. For example they say they are afraid of getting on a bus, I say that I am afraid of walking in the streets of Jenin, or of being in a car behind the car of wanted people,1 or being near it... The names have changed but the idea is the same. They would talk about the children that died, I immediately would tell them about Mohammed Al Durra,2 Iman Hajjo3 and a list of names of children that were killed. When they started talking about their children, I felt that the names had changed but the idea was the same: that both nations are in pain. As I said before, I let them talk because they wanted to get it off their chest, but I didn't care—they could say whatever they wanted—and then I started to understand.We meet eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds, the age at which they [Israelis] go to the army, so we try to make them understand. I know that one or two [people] cannot change their government, but at least when they go to the army, if they go to the army, they will treat the Palestinians better than [Israeli soldiers] are treating us now. They will know that there are good Palestinians. There are some Israeli participants who refused to go to the army after camp because they realized that Palestinians are not all the same. I also realized the same thing: that they [Israelis] are not all the same. I had only seen Israelis in their army uniforms. The first time I saw them, I was expecting to see them in their uniforms. Maybe it doesn't sound realistic, but that's what I was expecting. I didn't expect them to be wearing Jeans and a T-shirt like myself.

    • 1Refers to individuals identified by the Israeli military as "wanted".
    • 2The 14 year-old boy who was shot in his father's arms in Gaza on September 30, 2000. The boy's death was captured on film and created a flashpoint for increasing conflict. It was what is now considered one of the beginning moments of the Al-Aqsa intifada.
    • 3A four-month old Palestinian infant killed by Israeli military fire on the Khan Yunis Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip in May of 2001. See "4-Month-Old Baby is Youngest Victim," Ha'aretz Daily Newspaper, Tel-Aviv, Israel, 8 May 2001. "Palestinian Baby Buried, Sharon Blames Arafat for Attacks," AP International News, May 8 2001.

  • What motivated you to participate in this program?

    Just like the program in 1998, I felt I had to take things into my own hands. But this time I really felt that there were people who cared. In 1998 all I wanted was to talk to people, as if it was about crying to them, begging them to know who we are. In 2002 I realized that I have to understand the other as well. The first time Razan1 told me about it I was very excited about going there and showing them [Israelis] and telling them about us, so I started reading history books and watching the news, I wanted to know everything so that I could tell it to them. While we were on the way to camp, a big military operation happened in Gaza2 and 13 Palestinian children were killed, it was so big it shook the world in Palestine. I wanted to tell them about this incident... as if was planned, there was a bus explosion after that in the same period, and just like the thirteen of our children who died, there were Israeli children who died on that bus explosion, too.

    • 1Razan Makhlouf, an extended family member of Inas.
    • 2Refers to Israeli military attack on Gaza in the early morning of July 23rd 2002 that targeted a leader of Hamas. In addition to killing a Hamas leader, Palestinian civilians (including several children) were killed and wounded numerous others. See Ibrahim Barzak. "Israeli Air Strike Kills Hamas Leader, at least 11 others in Gaza City," Associated Press, International News, 23 Jul 2002 and Suzanne Goldenberg. "As Palestinians Bury Their Children, There is Only One Thought: Revenge," The Guardian (London), 24 Jul 2002, pg 3.

  • What did you do after you came back from camp?

    There were supposed to be follow-up meetings, we also keep in touch through emails. The program is not just about spending a couple of weeks together and that's it. We used to meet often, sometimes when we go to visit Razan in Azariya, we go meet some Israeli girls at a bus station and go somewhere. We went to Tabgha1 once for three days together. I didn't go out a lot after that because it is very hard to get out of Jenin and to cross the Green Line without permission.2 The farthest I can get is to Ramallah and for that I still need a permit. It wasn't easy for me to go there for meetings, but I know they used to meet. I went back as a Leader In Training the second year and in 2004 I went back a staff member.

    • 1Located on the Sea of Galilee, the area contains a church and is site of pilgrimage for many Christians.
    • 2Refers to permission from the Israeli District Coordination Office. The Green Line refers to the borders of Israel prior to the June War or Six-Day of War of 1967.

  • What did the people around you think when they knew about your involvement?

    At first I was very afraid to tell anyone. The programs I've been to were different, and I used to feel differently. It was the first time that I lived in the same house with them [the Jews], eat together and go to places together. It was the first time that I was in the same small place all the time with them. Before going to Building Bridges, there was a school exchange once where we went to visit an Israeli school and we met the students for like half an hour but it was from a distance, we barely said hello but we didn't get to know each other. Whereas in this program we lived in the same place, we talked about our lives. Some of them are even my best friends now, like Eliana and Adva, who are Jews. But I am afraid to tell anyone here that hasn't been through the program. I tell them [Adva and Eliana] everything about me and I know everything about them. We were together in New York and went shopping. People would ask us, "Where are you from?' and I would say, "Palestine." Then they would ask one of them [an Israeli] and she would say, "Israel." People would get confused and ask again to confirm that they heard us correctly. This year in Denver, I met a woman that asked me where I'm from and I said, "Palestine." She said, "You mean Israel." I said, "No, Palestine." Then she asked Eliana where she's from and she said, "I'm from Israel." So the woman said, "You mean Palestine." Eliana said: "No, Israel." The woman was confused because we were friends. Even the open- minded outside world could not imagine that we could be together. We had to stop in Holland to take another flight on our trip to the States this year. They [Holland airport personnel] saw my ID and saw Yoa'ad's ID. She has an Israeli passport. They asked us the routine security questions, then the guy said, "I want to ask you a question for myself and you don't have to answer, how come you're friends? I see both of you killing each other on TV, how are you together now?!"

  • What do your friends think when you tell them about this work?

    They don't know that, I don't tell them that there are Israelis there; I only say that we are Palestinians, Palestinian Israelis and Americans because they will not accept it. It is difficult to say that I have a Jewish friend. I know because before joining the program I used to think that Jews were just dogs... I didn't look at them the way I do today. If my friends knew, they'd think I'm wasting my time, that I'm not doing anything useful. This is what I used to think about peace camps before I was involved in the program: that the Jews' only mission is to slaughter people. It's not easy at all to say I have a Jewish friend or say that I am going to a camp in America with Jews. First of all they will think that you sold your cause. There are a lot of closed-minded people that think like that. I had a friend that knew about the program, so when I told her I was going, she said: are you crazy? Do you still want to go meet them when they want to bomb the Aqsa? How can you still think of peace with them? When you say the word Jew, the first thing that comes to their mind is the ones that want to bomb the Aqsa or kill the children of Gaza and Jenin. They can never think that a Jew could be your age and be like you.

  • What about your family? What did they think of your work?

    My brother who is now studying in America had always been involved in such programs. He was involved in a program called NIR School1 since he was twelve. Then my twin brother and sister were also involved in the same program since they were very young, so they are used to the idea. When I talk about the program they tell me that they heard the same things in their program, it's as if all of them learned the same answers. The same with us, we all say the same thing because we live in the same environment, lived the same history so we have the same answers. NIR School is a bigger program so they have a lot of friends there. They meet in Turkey and there are kids from different countries like Egypt and Cyprus. My youngest brother was also involved in a summer camp that had Palestinian-Israeli participants, and those are difficult to meet with as well because we cannot reach them. He knows what a Jew is and what a Palestinian Israeli is, they are Arab-Palestinians that live inside Israel.

    • 1The NIR School of the Heart brings together teenagers from Jordan, Israel, Palestine and other countries to study cardiology and other medial sciences.

  • What are other challenges that you've faced?

    There is no support at all from the ones around you, your friends. Maybe family supports me a little but they are always afraid, and keep warning me not to talk about certain things or to say certain things. Same with the follow-up meetings that are close to being impossible; I mean, I need to take six taxis to get to Jerusalem and it's all illegal. In a normal situation, going to Jerusalem usually takes around an hour and a half but now it takes me five to six hours. I sit at checkpoints for hours, but now I don't go through the checkpoint, I take the ways around it through Tulkarm because [the Israeli DCO] does not give us permits anymore. It's been a year since I went through the Hamra1 checkpoint. I take the long road to Anabta,2 then to Tulkarm to get to Ramallah. That's the first challenge. The other challenge is I don't tell anybody here about what's inside me; I don't tell them what happened at camp. If they ask me I just say, "I enjoyed it" at the most. Unless I find someone that understands, which is rare, I might tell them a little about camp. I don't blame the people but I blame the situation they live in. If there was peace and people were able to go to each other...I mean before the intifada the people from Afula were always in Jenin every Saturday. It was enough to know that we could go to them and they could come to us. When you can go to Haifa and Tel Aviv anytime, you can see the humans there, but when all you see of them are soldiers in tanks and planes, armed and roaming around as if they are going to war with another army—this is the only image we have of them—so I can't say to my friends that I was in a summer camp with Jews.

    • 1A village in the West Bank/Occupied Territories near Nablus.
    • 2A village in the West Bank/Occupied Territories outside of Tulkarm.

  • Did this work bring you to meet with someone you never would have met otherwise or brought you to places that you would not have been to otherwise?

    Yes, a settler. I don't know where she's from exactly, but she's from around Jerusalem or Bethlehem, not around Jenin. Both of us were shocked the first time we met. She was always around me, making sure that we are alike. She would ask me questions like, "What do you eat for breakfast?" You can't imagine how she was asking those questions... She would always sit next to me and touch my clothes, asking me about everything, she was afraid of me. She was exploring me like a child exploring something new. She even told me that she never imagined that there were people like me in Jenin. She never thought that there would be people she could talk to. The last thing she ever imagined was meeting someone from Jenin; she said she only saw people from Jenin on TV carrying guns and fighting the soldiers. She was watching me even when I was drinking water so I said to her: "Rest assured, I am human!" I do not blame her, her parents never let her go out and get on busses or do things. There were two other very religious Jewish girls that kept Kosher. One of them kept calling me, "my terrorist friend," because I was from Jenin. She always says what her community taught her about us, but she always told me: "I don't see this in you, you are a good person". It was the first time that we had a settler and religious girls in camp. They had no idea that there was such a thing as Palestine! I thought that they were mocking us at first, or trying to prove that we do not exist. One of them truly did not know that there is a Palestine; she used to think that if you look up the word Israel in the dictionary, you would find the word Palestine as an explanation. She truly didn't know, she wasn't making it up. I asked her, "Where do I live then?" and she said, "I don't know, Jordan?" I told her, "No I live in Jenin." Then she said, "I know, but are there people there?" But I don't blame her. This is what is good about camp because she went back and told her friends at the service year that there is a Palestine. They gave her a lot of trouble. They called her a liar and told her that she was brainwashed at camp. She became supportive of the Palestinian cause and she is a religious person living among religious people. Can you imagine the amount of risks she takes when she tells the people around her that she met a Palestinian from Jenin? There is no support.

  • What are your next projects or what are you doing next?

    We had a follow-up meeting in a place next to Hadera. It was very good but not everyone could reach the place. It took my sister and me eleven hours to get there. We left at four in the morning and got there at three in the afternoon. As I told you, I cannot pass any checkpoint, I don't have a permit. I used to have a permit to Ramallah but they don't give it to us anymore. I have to take roads that zigzag away from the checkpoints. However, we were caught in Beit Hanina, but we explained that we were here as part of the peace camp, we pretended we don't speak Arabic. After they saw our US visas,1 they let us through. He joked with us saying, "We love you peace people!" It wasn't a soldier, it was a regular policeman. We were supposed to take a taxi to go to Adva's house, she's a staff member of the program, but on the way they were checking every car, so I thought: great, they let us go the first time at the checkpoint so we'll get caught and get in trouble this time!! So instead we went to the church of the Holy Sepulcher. I was so scared every time I saw soldiers. It was the first time I felt this way because I was alone with my sister and there was no one to help me in case anything happened. My cell phone had no service because it does not have service in that area. It was the first time that I felt afraid while being in my land. We were hiding in the Holy Sepulcher, in the church, because we had no place to go, so one policeman noticed that we spent a long time there so he asked us if everything was ok. I was shaking but I said yes. We stayed there from ten in the morning till three. The soldiers were everywhere - in my face. It was fear that I never felt before. I started thinking, they will imprison me for a year; they will search my bag thinking I was carrying bombs. This was all I could think of. Eventually we got to the meeting place but some girls could not get through the checkpoints because they got closed right after we left. There was also a girl from Ramallah that couldn't get out. All the Palestinians did their best and still could not make it. Some girls were in shock after they came back from camp, they changed. The religious girl's parents would not let her come to the meeting because she found out about Palestine, which her parents have been keeping away from her for years. Imagine living with your parents not telling you that in the land you are living on were people, it's not easy to discover that and get in trouble with your family and friends, that's why her parents didn't let her come to the meeting, so she would not find out more. This year we had Americans in the program, so maybe we will meet for follow-up outside of the country because for us going into Israel is not easy. So maybe it will be in Europe or Egypt, anywhere so that we can meet.

    • 1Their passports were stamped with US visas from having entered the US.

  • What is the most important thing for you to achieve for your people and country?

    Even before joining Building Bridges, when I was in France, it was important for me that those people inside, the people that are far from us, should know about us. Those people are the Israelis and the Arab-Israelis because even the Arab-Israelis do not know anything about us. They should know that we do not hate life and we do not want to just blow ourselves up, they should know why we do that because if they were able to understand us then they would be able to help us. For someone to wrap a bomb around himself and explode, it is the loudest cry for help. Why did he blow himself up? He's telling them to look at us, "Look at me, why I did this and help the people I left." It is the greatest sacrifice. He left everything to tell the other side to take a look at him and why he's doing what he's doing so they could help the people that stayed behind, not to do the same thing. People should know that a suicide bomber doesn't do it because he hates life or does it for money, he has lost his life, what can he do with the money even if he got millions? The Israelis and the Arab Israelis should know that those people are in pain and are crying out for their help.

  • What do you consider a small success?

    To get to a point where the girls of the camp are able to influence their communities. I do not expect that they change them. First they change from the inside. For me, I consider it a great success that a girl finds out that Palestine is not the Arabic translation for Israel! It is a great success that a girl that is almost twenty years old knows that there is Palestine and tells her friends. Also it would be a success if a Palestinian could tell her friends that she has a Jewish friend, which is a hard thing. We have to come to understand that the people's rejection of the current situation is the solution. The solution is not up to the leaders. All the revolutions were carried out by the people that objected to their situation. No leader ever said: "I don't like the situation so I will change it". It is always the people that make the change, they are the spark.

  • What does it take to get to what you want for your people?

    It's not a difficult thing. Building Bridges had, let's say, five hundred girls, if they have not influenced anyone, they have at least been influenced themselves. Other programs have another five hundred, maybe more. The NIR School program has thousands. There's Seeds of Peace, and Face to Face.1 If there were more of these, there could be a difference. If there was at least one participant from each program that could make a difference. Palestine and Israel are small countries on the map and the population is not very big, so five hundred people could make a difference in the elections. If there were one or two thousand among the Palestinians working for peace, it would make a big difference.

    • 1Face to Face/Faith to Faith is an interfaith dialogue groups that brings together adolescents from various conflict regions in the world, including the Middle East.

  • What is the ideal situation for you, what do you wish to accomplish?

    It was my dream to take back all of our land, Palestine as it is on the map in one piece. But after I went to camp and visited them where they live, saw they had a life, they had work...their life is just like mine. It's not like they could move if they didn't like the place, like some of the settlers do, there are villages and towns that have been established. I don't want to stay living in fantasies; what I had imagined is now impossible, it's a fantasy. The only solution is to stop slaughtering each other because no one is helping us; even the world is tired of our trouble. I mean America supports them [the Israelis] a little, then the Europeans support us a little, until they got fed up with us. We've been fighting each other for more than fifty years. We should just be able to live with each other, what's wrong with that? We used to live together before there was an Israel, there used to be a lot of Jews. The problem is that their state is founded on religion. What about the Christians and the Muslims wanting to found a state? Why should it be a state of one religion ruling, why can't all live as different religions and not one religion ruling over the others? This is not impossible or a fantasy because it happened before. Many nations had lived in Palestine, it was controlled by different religions over history and this is what the Jews do not understand. This is a place for three religions, the Muslims want it, the Christians want it and the Jews want it, so why should we go through all the trouble when it will belong to no one in the end? Should we keep killing each other for it? The only solution is to accept the idea that this land does not belong to anyone, it belongs to everyone, and it should be open for everyone to live in.

  • You talk about all three religions living together on this land. Where do you see yourself in this the picture?

    The first day the Jews pulled out of Bethlehem and the Palestinian Authority came in, I was studying at St. Joseph's boarding school there, we were out on the streets celebrating that day. It was around Christmas time and we watched as the Palestinian soldiers were marching in, we were throwing candies at them, then they demolished the Israeli police station by the Nativity Church and we were all rejoicing. The first thing I heard that day was: we are going to break your cross... first the Jews and you are next. At that point I lost hope. I think that this land is cursed, everybody wants to take control over it even if they kill each other, for religious reasons they would do anything.

  • What does the word peace mean to you?

    Peace? I hear a lot about it, we talk a lot about it but I never imagined what it would be like living it. I only imagine what it would be like but I don't think we will actually live it, I think it's difficult to happen, very far off. Peace has been a dream for me, just a dream, to be able to live in one land no matter who's living in the house next to me or who am I going to school with. Just like the Palestinian-Israeli and the Israelis are living in the same place, I imagine the three people living together the same way. They are originally only two people but the situation made them three, making the Palestinian-Israeli the third one. Without that, I don't think there will be peace

  • Which international audience do you think has the most influence here?

    The Jews love the Americans, so if anyone could have an influence on the Jews it would be America, not Europe or other countries like Russia that do nothing except talk but do nothing. A country like America is enough. That's why I like that camp takes place in America because it shows the people that are against us who we truly are. History has proven that even in the United Nations, America is controlling the whole world. America is the only country that has influence here, they could either support the continuation of the conflict or put it to an end. They could simply tell the Israelis that they will cut off the weapon supplies and support unless they stop killing Palestinians. The Jews count a lot on America.

  • What are the most important lessons you learned about yourself?

    I surprised myself. I always said that we need to get back the lands of 1948; I never realized that I could accept the truth; I used to hide it inside me. Just like the people of 1948, they realized after spending a long time away from home that they will not come back as they were expecting, so why are they still keeping the keys to their homes? They keep it to live in their dreams. I was living in my own dreams. I definitely was shocked when I was faced with the reality, but I found that I was strong enough. What do you think makes me go to Jerusalem? It is to prove to myself before proving to them that I can and will get inside Israel, I could get to the land that I want to get to, even if to just be able to walk on it. I was very happy when I got to Jerusalem because I got there - I felt I achieved something by myself. I learned that I am strong enough to accomplish whatever I set my mind to. I start with small things that grow bigger. I used to live without aspirations just like others.

  • How do you envision the solution?

    First of all, and to be realistic, forget the romantic "let's all live together" visions. They should open the roads so we can go wherever we want. I don't remember the last time I was in Hebron or Jericho. We don't want to go to Tel Aviv. At least let us move freely inside the West Bank or Palestine or whatever it's called-- all those names on the news mix you up! First of all just let us move freely, it will ease our problems and theirs. Why are they putting up walls? It will only make matters worse for them. My sister Amira told them [the Israelis] even if you cut your country into pieces and hang it up in the air, we will reach you no matter where you go. This is not the solution; they shouldn't hide, they should face us. They just need to open the roads and no one will even think about a bombing there.

  • Is there anything you want to add?

    Yes, I want to talk about the wall. This is what we talk about everyday. They think this is the solution but it's not. This is not a solution; they just can't put us in this prison. They don't let us go to Jerusalem even though it is a holy place but I realize that not everybody is religious. All our needs are in Jerusalem, like the church court for example.1

    • 1Refers to ecclesiastical courts for Christians.