It started out around sixteen years ago. This happened before the outbreak of the Gulf War in the 90s;
I was nine years old. Sometimes, many things happen around you, but it’s hard for you to feel part of them. They might make you feel very annoyed, or angry, or nervous, but you can’t possibly feel part of it until it reaches your door step. Before I was personally affected, there was the massacre at the Aqsa in 1990 and our neighbor who lived right next door died as a martyr. I remember at that time, we went to their house to visit and gave our condolences. Everyone was outraged; everybody was sad. But after one...two... three weeks, a month passed by and one started to forget. My brother at that time was in prison. But there’s a feeling that’s a little different when you see something going on around you than when it happens in your own home.
It was Ramadan then in 1990. At 5:00 AM, a group of Israeli soldiers came to our house and searched it, but found nothing. My four siblings and I were sleeping in the same room. They asked for IDs, asked questions, called their authorities, etc. and finally decided to take my older brother Tayseer with them to be investigated. He was eighteen years old then. They didn’t tell us why they were taking him, and for the first eighteen days, we had no information about his whereabouts. For the first eighteen days, the soldiers actually said that they didn’t arrest him to begin with. We tried seeking help from the Red Cross, from lawyers, from other people- nothing helped.After eighteen days, we were told that he was arrested for throwing rocks. Two or three months later, he was sentenced. During the period of time before his trial, we were allowed to visit him only three times, three people were allowed to see him each visit- I got to see him once. There was a fence that separated the two of us. Have you ever been to a prison? You stand behind a fence, and the prisoner stands a few feet away behind another fence, which prevents any physical contact between the two. The meeting lasted for ten minutes. A year or so later, he was released from prison due to his health condition. During the first eighteen days of his imprisonment, the time of his investigation, he was beaten and hit to admit his guilt. During this process, his kidney stopped working, and he started regurgitating blood. When he asked to see a doctor, they beat him up more. They didn’t allow him access to a doctor. Upon his release, we took him to Al Maqased Hospital in Jerusalem, where they diagnosed him and decided that he needed to undergo surgery to remove his spleen- I don’t know why. They removed his spleen a week and ten days after his release from prison. Within the next few days his condition improved a bit but soon after, it got worse.
I remember the doctor approaching my mom to tell her that there was no hope. The way the doctor broke the news to her was by first asking her, “Do you have other children?” She didn’t really get it at first- why was he asking this question? She said, “Yes, I do have other children. Why are you asking this question?” He answered her saying that in a few days, she’s going to have one child less! Two or three days later, my brother passed away. The period of time from his release to his death was about three weeks. I was ten years old then and it took a long time for me to comprehend what was going on. How did this happen? Why did it happen? What was the reason?The only thing that was clear to me was that my brother was killed and the soldiers were the ones who killed him. Because of this, I grew up thinking that my goal in life was to seek revenge. Of course, I could not stand anything Jewish. I did not learn Hebrew, and even when we had Hebrew classes at school, I used to run away from the class. I even had someone else do the tests for me, I was very extreme in that regard. When I reached Tawjihi, I attended Al Rashidiyeh School for grades 10, 11, 12 and you know that big schools are influenced a lot by politics, and Fatah had a strong political presence in Al Rashidiyeh. I joined their youth movement and later became a member of their Administrative Staff and slowly I became head of the Cultural Committee involved with writing and their youth magazine in Jerusalem, and those kind of things.
While doing that, I thought that it was highly possible for me to get revenge through what I wrote, to influence others and say what I thought. I used to write a lot. Each week I wrote two or three articles, and since I had no one above me, I didn’t need anyone to approve what I wrote - so I used to just sign the article off myself. The more extreme I was in my writing, the more people enjoyed reading them. Bibi Netanyahu was the head of Israeli government at the time, which made it easier for me with the protests that were going on because of the tunnel. People were really angry. That’s why I was able to write about anything I wanted. All my writings fell under titles like Zionist terrorism or things like that.
But after a while, when I started the Tawjihi, I started thinking about what I was doing. I noticed that I thought that the more I wrote, the more I sought revenge, the better it made me feel. But realistically, that's not what happened. The more I wrote the angrier I felt, and I realized that that did me more harm than good! So I thought to myself that everything I did was of no use. Thus, I decided that I should leave this country, forget about politics, and apply to an American college. I finished my Tawjihi, and applied for a scholarship, but that didn’t work out for me.
I was eighteen years old then and I was living in Jerusalem, and you know if you live in Jerusalem and you don’t know Hebrew, it’s a bit of a problem. I wanted to finish college, to study, to work, but without Hebrew, it was impossible. I found myself stuck.So I got jobs here and there, and in the process, I learned that in order for me to live here, I needed to know Hebrew. This gave me a really bad feeling, but when you have to do it, you have to do it. When I went to all the Arab institutions that taught Hebrew, I realized that none of their graduates advance much after that, so I knew that I had to learn at a Jewish institution. I went to a place called “Ulpan Mila” on King George Street. Everyone in my class was either Jewish or foreign, and I believe that the first change in me started here.
In this class there was something a little different. The teacher was nice to me, the students were nice to me. I didn’t find the racism I had encountered all my life. All the encounters I’d had with Jews until the age of eighteen had been really bad - they were with the soldiers at the checkpoints who usually mistreat people. Since my ID was issued four months later than it should, and since we had to move from Azariya, I used to illegally pass through checkpoints. I was in the same position as someone from the West Bank and if I were caught, I’d get into a lot of trouble and be sent back to where I came from. This just increased my hatred towards Israeli soldiers. Me’a Sha’arim is only 200 - 300 meters away from Al Rashidiyeh School but we never met an Israeli student, and we never had any sort of communication with them. And for the first time in a classroom that was not completely Arab, I found people who were not like those I met at the checkpoints. I know it might sound sarcastic to say “the color of our blood was the same.”
We were able to talk together about the same genre of music, we used to go have coffee together, even though we sometimes disagreed on what kind of coffee to drink. But in general, we were the same - human beings. This was hard for me to accept because the idea that I had was not one that someone told me about, it was my own experience that made me see the Jews from a limited perspective - they were all soldiers, they all hated Arabs, they all mistreat us. For the first time I was in a classroom that had Jews who were different; and it’s really hard to break from a barrier that you have previously formed; it took me along time. Even when I was with them, I used to question their kindness - why were they treating me like this, why were they nice to me? Maybe they’re trying to get something out of me. Maybe they were from the intelligence service. My family had the same doubts. One day one of them asked me to go to a coffee shop with him to have a drink. I had a lot of doubt and fear then, but with time, I began to see that they were just like me. What alarmed my family at home was when I sometimes slept over at their houses, and they began to think I had gone crazy.Even though I began to have a lot of relationships with Jews, I still stayed by myself and didn’t join any of these joint organizations. I didn’t even know that such groups existed. At that same time, Dr. Adil Misk, a friend of the family, was the director of the Palestinian office[of the Bereaved Families Forum]. He invited my parents to attend a meeting, which people from both sides would attend. My parents, at first, did not want to go, but they did so out of respect for Dr. Adil.
They went to the meeting, and when they came back, I found that my father was not very affected, but my mother was very much so that she came back crying and sad. I asked her what was wrong, and she said that it was her first time seeing Jews who were feeling pain because of losing their children. She saw that both the Arab and Jewish pain were the same. At that point I became interested in the activity, and I went to the office a few months later after scheduling an appointment with Dr. Adil to talk about the Forum. I decided to join. I was asked if I wanted to participate in the activities but I didn’t really feel like it then, because I thought that everything I was doing was useless. So they invited me to a lecture at a Palestinian school in which one of the speakers was Khaled Abu Awwad and the other was an Israeli.
We went into the classroom and each one of the speakers told his story. When the students were given a chance to speak, they were all very outraged, and they were screaming at both speakers. They told Khaled that he was betraying his brother by doing this and told the Israeli that his people were murderers. Everyone was very nervous. The change I saw in the class after one and a half hours was really strange for me. Before we left, we were given feedback from the students, and what I read was very strange. Some students wrote that before the lecture, “I had a certain perspective and now you gave me a new way to look at things. Now I think that there is hope.” And I figured out that what I was doing was useful and could lead to change, which gave me a head start to participate in part of the activity.