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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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Nur El Deen Shehada

Nur El Deen Shehada was brought up in the Tulkarm Refugee Camp and was imprisoned for his participation in the first intifada. Shehada became disillusioned with the violent nature of the second Iintifada and began searching for alternate ways to resist the Occupation. He joined Middle East Nonviolence and Democracy, and later Combatants for Peace, which both advocate nonviolent protest of the Occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

  • Please tell us about yourself, and how you became who you are today.

    I grew up in the narrow streets and alleyways of the camp and was raised according to a strong national ethos to love my nation and resist the Occupation and the difficult conditions in the camp. I always aspire to be on the front line of the national struggle and rid us of these camps that are like nightmares hovering over our souls.

  • In your answer you hinted about life in a refugee camp. Could you please describe life in the camp and the environment you grew up in?

    It is impossible to imagine life in a refugee camp and all its difficulties without actually living there. Even if you were to stay for a night in the camp, our explanations would be of no use. Life in the camp is extremely hard, because there is no privacy at all. Even women don't enjoy privacy within their own homes due to the extreme density and proximity of the houses that are literally built door to door and window to window.

  • You mentioned you were a wanted man. What kind of activities did you take part in?

    I took part in the activities of the first intifada, which was a popular and mass struggle. My "offenses" were incitement, handing out leaflets and throwing stones.

  • You said there is a difference between the first intifada and the second intifada in that the latter was armed. You also mentioned that your views have changed due to the martyrdom of friends. Could you please tell us more about that change?

    The first intifada was a popular struggle that united men and women, the elderly and the young, as well as adults and children. All sections of society took part in it, not necessarily by taking up arms; rather everyone did what he could. Some evacuated the wounded, some transported stones and others held flags or burned tires. This made it possible for all elements of Palestinian society to take part in the struggle, contrary to the second intifada where the struggle was limited to small groups capable of carrying weapons and carrying out martyrdom operations. These groups are small compared with the larger Palestinian society in which women - who can't carry arms - outnumber men.

  • How did you get involved with MEND and what are your activities?

    A young man called Fadi Radia and my friend Ibrahim Al Hafi told me there was a MEND session being held in Tulkarem. I asked for a few days to think about it, for at the time I was part of the Al-Quds Open University student council. After two days I told them I would join the group. During the session there was a verbal confrontation between me and the instructor where I said, "You are trying to brainwash us and make us abandon resistance." Later on, I was to revise my opinion and become convinced that conflict over this land has only a political solution. There is an aya [verse] in the Qur'an that says that we and the Jews shall live connected on this land until the end of days. We aren't wiser or more just than the Holy Qur'an, therefore we have no choice other than to pursue a solution that avoids bloodshed, killing, and tears. This solution should be peaceful and political because our land, Palestine, is geographically small and has no forests and jungle out of which a sustained resistance could be carried out. Therefore the only option is a peaceful solution that will ensure two states living peacefully and securely side by side in which we will build a future for our children. We should work to achieve this in order to avoid being accused by our children of being responsible for their suffering.

  • Do you believe in nonviolence as a strategy or as the only method because of a lack of other options?

    I personally believe in the concept of nonviolence. I think the nonviolent choice is much harder than an armed struggle. It is much easier to pick up an M16. After I adopted nonviolence I was the subject of a strong attack in Tulkarm and a leaflet was handed out saying, "Look how the greatest fighter in town has turned into a surrendering coward." It was hard for them to accept, but this has changed and now after four or five years almost 500 volunteers successfully work with me on nonviolent issues. On the sixth and seventh of June there was a large gathering about the two state concept. It was held in the village of Nazlet Issa near Tulkarem and was attended by Palestinians only, because Israelis weren't allowed in. Nearly eight thousand people took part in it, demonstrating the Palestinian people's peaceful intentions. Regrettably, the problem is on the other side.

  • Why did people initially regard anyone involved in nonviolent activities as a surrendering coward? What changed their opinion?

    Regrettably we are an uneducated people, and the problem lies within peoples' ignorance and their view of anyone involved in nonviolence as a person who has given up his patriotism. This is obviously not true, we fight against and resist the Occupation in a different way using different methods and people's choices should be respected. After witnessing my work and seeing that I don't work with the Israeli intelligence but still love my nation and work using a different method towards ending the Occupation, people gradually began to see that what I was doing was right. I gave interviews on local radio and TV stations and through community work, leaflets and publications about nonviolence, people in the camp began to inquire about nonviolence. This curiosity caused a stir in the camp and people leaned more in the direction of nonviolence. On the 30th of March I organized a successful demonstration of nearly 3,000 Israelis and Palestinians against the Wall, which indicated that people only need a bit of education and awareness-raising to better understand their situation.

  • How did you become a part of "Combatants for Peace"?

    I joined the organization through a friend called Osama Abu Karsh who told me about it two years ago. At first I was reluctant and didn't believe there were Israeli soldiers who refused army service. I thought they were bound to be old men who have already done what they have done to the Palestinians and now just want to ease their sense of guilt. When I actually met them I realized they were quite young, between twenty six and thirty on average, and are serious in their intentions and approach towards peace and not guilt-stricken old men as I previously thought. I think working with soldiers who refuse service in the West Bank and Gaza is a kind of resistance, because when I work with them it means in a way that I am protecting my people and am preventing injuries and death among them as a result of the actions of these soldiers if they were to serve. This is also a kind of resistance.

  • Do you have certain conditions or red lines when working with Israelis, even those who call for peace?

    Yes, I consider normalization a clear red line. I totally reject normalization, and am not prepared to sit down with an Israeli just to make him look good in front of the world. I am prepared to meet with Israelis who sympathize with me and believe in ending the Occupation, but not with people from the Peres Centre for Peace, for example, who organize joint Israeli-Palestinian football games in order to improve Israel's global image by showing that Israel lives in peace with the Arabs. As long as the Occupation, which is the root of the problem, still exists, we will not be able to live together. We should first end the Occupation and then look at living and working together.

  • What is your understanding of normalization?

    Normalization is joint work under the Occupation meant to draw attention away from the Occupation itself. It means proceeding as if there were no occupation. It is a different matter when I convey my message to the world through nonviolence and ask for the worlds' assistance in ending it.

  • Tell us more about your activities with Combatants for Peace.

    I took part in a very successful activity in Nazlet Issa on June seventh, which was part of a series of activities that started in the town of Anata and continued in Tantur and Tulkarm. The focus of these conferences was ending the Occupation and the establishment of two states, Israel and Palestine. The creation of two states, not the Wall, is what would bring security to the Israelis.

  • Do you think these activities and meetings are of any benefit?

    Yes, when we are talking about a conference that attracts nearly eight thousand people, according to Al Jazeera it means there people are starting to lean more in the direction of peace. The conference's success is the thousands who participated in it, despite the resistance it encountered, which proves people have views on peace.

  • What is your community's opinion regarding your work? Do they support it or oppose it?

    Many people support our work; I have visited many areas and met many people who support peace, and many of them ask to meet Israelis who refuse army service and invite them to their towns and villages. I have also met with armed young men from the Al Aqsa Brigades and others from Jenin, Nablus and Tulkarem who, when I told them about the refusing Israeli soldiers, expressed their support for our idea and said they were willing to back it.

  • How did your family and people in the camp react to your transformation from being a fighter to becoming a nonviolent activist, and how did this transformation take place?

    My family is historically known for being part of the resistance, and I have a brother who was imprisoned for 15 years. He was mortally injured but it was written for him to live. It is known we are among the founders of the current intifada. How did Nur emerged from this house so very different from his brothers? I have never been in conflict with my brothers who work on the other side. On the contrary, they always supported me and saw my activities as the right thing to do. The purpose of their rifles is not to kill Israelis or shed blood, rather to return our land and end the Occupation, which means their resistance is within the 1967 borders, which is a legal right.

  • What are the most difficult challenges you face during your work?

    The difficulties in the beginning came after establishing MEND. Four of the seven founders pulled out because of what people said about them. Nevertheless our work carried on and we continued to work on publications and nonviolence training and other workshops. We also held speeches at universities where I was a member of the student council and had a large role in convincing young people that we were working with a clear goal. We succeeded and managed to gather many supporters.

  • Could you please describe the training sessions you hold?

    We hold sessions about nonviolence, and the definition of nonviolence, where participants become familiar with the meaning of conflict and ways to solve it, which can be positive as well as negative. We present participants with a number of ways to solve a conflict, while everyone chooses the way he sees fit. We present options and their effects on society, which cause the greatest damage and which yield the greatest benefit. We try not to make decisions on anybody's behalf; rather we present examples such as Gandhi in India, the revolutions in Iran, the Ukraine and Croatia and others where a nonviolent struggle was used and caused less damage to society. We got to a stage were the number of people continuing with us outnumbered that of those who pulled out, such as in one case only three out of twenty people who took part in an activity actually pulled out.

  • As a refugee from the camp of Tulkarem, how did you become convinced of the two-state solution according to the 1967 borders? What about the refugees' dream of returning to their land?

    Of course we still dream of returning to our land, and my belief in the two-state solution doesn't rule out the right of return recognized in UN Resolutions 194, 242 and 338 and all international laws and treaties including the Partition Plan. The solution should be comprehensive, and not partial, as with the Oslo agreement that failed for this reason. I am not opposed to living within the State of Israel and having Israeli nationality - there are Palestinians today who live within Israel - but if Israel were truly honest in its intentions, it would allow me to return to my hometown. I have no problem living within the State of Israel, for Jews before 1948, according to the elderly, lived peacefully alongside us. I have no problem dividing the land and living alongside them as we did in the past, for I see peace and a solution in sharing the land.

  • Why did Oslo and the previous peace attempts fail?

    Israel is the one that caused Oslo to fail; it bears responsibility because it dragged its feet. The plan was after five years of self government to move to a permanent solution, an agreement it became apparent Israel was not interested in. Israel tried to pressure Abu Amar in Camp David, and when he refused, Israel besieged him, Israel had an interest in the outbreak of the second intifada. Israel is responsible for the failure of all the peace attempts, not the Palestinians.

  • How do you envision a solution?

    The ideal solution would be the existence of two states and the refugees' right of return. What is the problem with a Palestinian having dual citizenship and being Israeli as well as Palestinian? In Israel there are many who have dual or even triple citizenship. You can find people who carry German or American and Israeli citizenship, or even French, British and Israeli passports, so why can't one have Palestinian as well as Israeli citizenship?

  • What are the roots of the conflict in your opinion?

    The root of the conflict is land. It is known that the Jews had no homeland, and were given permission to create a national home by the Balfour promise. The State of Israel was born on this land as a result of a birth certificate issued by the United Nations.

  • Do you think religion plays a role in the conflict?

    No, not at all. As a Muslim I am required to believe in all the heavenly religions in order to be a true Muslim. If I don't believe in Moses or Jesus I am not a true Muslim, for belief in all the prophets is one of the five pillars of Islam. This is Islam, but there are extremists who try to spread hatred between the two peoples.

  • Do you think the involvement of a third party or the international community plays a role in the conflict?

    Of course global balances of power play a role in the conflict, and the majority of the international community's leaning towards the Israeli position intensifies the conflict. If the international community was interested in solving the conflict it could have done so, and if the US really wanted to reach a solution it would have imposed one. The US took an active role in Iraq, so why isn't it active in solving the conflict in Palestine? The world's reluctance to solve the conflict and the international community's support of Israel add to the severity of the conflict and consolidate the Israeli Occupation. The longer the Occupation exists, the more intertwined and complicated things will get.

  • What is your view of the international community, what would you like to see it do?

    I would like the international community to be honest in its pursuit of peace and to move towards creating a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. I call upon the international community to put pressure on Israel to end the Occupation and withdraw to the borders of the 4th of June 1967 and to recognize the right of the Palestinian people to a fully independent state.

  • As a person who has suffered from the Occupation, do you think one has to suffer in order to become convinced of your way?

    Not necessarily, for as the old Arabic saying goes, "A pound of prevention is better than a ton of treatment." I recommend this way to every person in order to avoid torture and pain, tears and blood. There are those who have chosen this way and work with me without having suffered. As I mentioned before, this way saves Israelis and Palestinians blood and tears and more hardship and helps to dismantle hatred and resentment.

  • What are the most important lessons you have learned though your experiences?

    The most important lesson is to consider the other's humanity, regardless of who the other person is. One should respect others regardless of their positions, even if they are different. The main and most important lesson is that the whole international community should live together as one family in peace, not only between Israelis and Palestinians, because there is no alternative for peace. When I get on a plane I shouldn't be constantly afraid of it blowing up, but Arabs and Muslims are not the ones responsible for these bombings. There were recently bombings in Spain which had nothing to do with Arabs or Muslims, in addition to bombings in the US. Arabs and Muslims shouldn't always be held responsible for violence and terrorism. All these fears must be abandoned in order for us to live together as an international family and as Israelis and Palestinians. We should say to each other sixty years of bloodshed and pain between the two people is more than enough, we should hold our heads between our hands and think of the right way and choose the right path that avoids this hardship, and walk it with conviction. Our intentions should be true, it is important to always aspire for peace.

  • Do you think fear plays a role?

    A person who is afraid constantly tries to distance himself from what is frightening him, thus automatically acting against it. I am afraid of the Occupation, and find myself relentlessly and subconsciously thinking of how to get rid of it. These thoughts are subconscious and unbalanced because they originate in the fear within my subconscious mind, and therefore are unhealthy thoughts. If the Palestinian people were to be liberated and live in tranquility and calm I expect our thinking in the future to become more positive, and that is the most important thing.