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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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Ali Abu Awwad

Ali Abu Awwad grew up in a politically active family and was active in resisting the Israeli occupation during the first intifada. He was arrested for his resistance activities, which included throwing stones, participating in demonstrations and being a member of a political party, Fatah. He was sentenced to ten years in Israeli prison, however he was released after four years after the signing of the Oslo accords. During the second intifada, Ali was shot in the leg by an Israeli settler and went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. While there, he received the news that his brother had been shot and killed by an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint at the entrance to their village. Ali and other members of his family later joined the Bereaved Families Forum where they are active in spreading a message of reconciliation and non-violence to Palestinians and Israelis. Ali Abu Awwad is featured in Just Vision's documentary film, Encounter Point; to view one of his scenes click here.

  • Tell us about yourself, where did you grow up and how have you become who you are today?

    My name is Ali Abu Awwad. I live in the village of Beit Omar,1 near Hebron. I belong to a refugee family. My family originally lived in a village called al-Qubayba in the area of Bayt Jibrin,2 which is located between Gaza and Hebron. My family was forced off its land in 1948, and as a result most of my family lives in refugee camps in Jordan.3 The part of the family to which I belong settled in the village of Biet Omar. I grew up in a home that was saturated with politics. My mother became a member of Fatah in 1978. Because of the scenes I witnessed as a child of my mother being arrested, I became more connected to the conflict than any other normal Palestinian child. My mother was arrested many times. I was active in the first intifada. I participated in it and was arrested twice, the first time by chance. The army broke into our house and arrested me while I was studying for my secondary school exams.

    • 1A village located in the West Bank north of Hebron. Est. population 12,000.
    • 2A Palestinian village (located northwest of Hebron) whose residents where displaced during the 1948 War. Not to be confused with the Beyt Jibrin Refugee Camp, established in 1950 next to the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
    • 3There are 10 official UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) refugee camps for Palestinian refugees located in Jordan. For information and profiles of the camps see http://www.un.org/unrwa/refugees/jordan.html.

  • What do you mean by arrested by chance?

    It wasn't a targeted arrest. I wasn't wanted by the Israeli security service for a specific reason. The army broke in after a demonstration and arrested me while I was studying for an exam. I was given a choice either to pay a 1500 shekel fine,1 or to serve three months in prison. I didn't agree to pay the fine, because I believed in the principle of not helping the occupation in any way.

    • 1Approximately $325 US dollars based on current (2006) exchange rates.

  • Under what charge were you imprisoned?

    An Israeli helicopter pilot claimed he saw me throw stones. I used to throw stones, but on that particular day I didn't. I was studying for an exam. During my time in prison I began to discover more about Fatah. I regard my time in prison as an opportunity that was given to me to be with myself, and be a part of the organized system that the Palestinian prisoners have in Israeli jail.1 I exploited my time in order to read and discover more about the Fatah movement and its activities. My brother Yussif, who has become a martyr, was arrested shortly after my arrest, and was still held after I was released from prison in the Negev three months later.

    • 1Mr. Abu Awwad is referring to the networks of communication, political/military strategy, studying, and learning established by Palestinians while serving as prisoners in Israeli jails. See "Palestinian Captives Convert Israeli Jails to Bases of Education," The Palestinian Information Center, 7 Feb 2003, at http://www.palestine-info.co.uk/am/publish/article_59.shtml.

  • Was your brother arrested for the same reason as you were arrested for?

    No, he had a security background and was specifically wanted by the Israeli intelligence. They arrested him at night. When I was released from prison I felt strange, as if I were a hero. I don't really now how to explain the feeling, but when you are a person who resisted the occupation and suffered as a result, you are more highly regarded by the people. I remember that when my friends visited me after my release, and when I told them what I had learned about Fatah, they were very surprised and said that I wasn't the same Ali I used to be. I hadn’t had a deep understanding about the idea and ideology of the Fatah movement. At that age I was highly motivated, so I began to read more and become more engaged in politics. Despite my arrest, I continued my studies, and when I began my studies at university eight months later, I was arrested for the second time and sentenced to ten years, out of which I spent four years in jail. At that time, my mother was also in prison. She was arrested a few months prior to my arrest, and when I used to visit her, I couldn't embrace her because we were both prisoners separated by bars. Even the police officer that was present at the time couldn't hold back her tears. I played a central role in prison. I was a member of the central committee that led the prisoners. I was released from prison with the signing of the Oslo agreement. After our release we were sent to Jericho. Because according the agreement Jericho and Gaza were the first two cities the PA gained control over, we weren't allowed to leave Jericho.1 I wasn't convinced of this peace. On one hand prisoners were released, but on the other hand I couldn't return home. What kind of freedom was that? I remember I used to secretly visit my home in Beit Omar near Hebron. Were you imprisoned in Jericho? No, we weren't imprisoned, but we weren't allowed to leave the city.

    • 1In what became known as the "Gaza-Jericho First" plan embedded in the Oslo Accords, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Jericho were the first territories to revert to Palestinian control in the "land for peace" negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  • When you were sentenced to ten years, what were the charges against you?

    There were many charges. I was charged with throwing Molotov cocktails, throwing stones, leading a group and being part of a military cell. We didn't have any weapons and we didn't shoot anybody, but I was charged with heading a military cell in the town. Nevertheless, the main reason I was imprisoned was because I refused to hand out any information regarding my mother, who was the main target of the investigation. Not being able to go home after I was released according to a peace agreement was a problem for me, but the greater problem was that this agreement didn't provide the Palestinian people with what it was supposed to. The agreement didn't ensure a Palestinian state and didn't stop the settlements. At the same time the Oslo agreement didn't ensure security for the Israelis and didn't stop the operations inside Israel, therefore it was a failure for both sides. The Oslo agreement was a result of the efforts of the politicians, not the people. The two peoples weren't prepared to pay the price-- to evacuate settlements and return land to the Palestinians and the Palestinians weren't ready to discuss the issue of the refugees. This led to the second intifada which was more violent. The attitude of the people on both sides was that we tried peace, and it didn't work, therefore peace with the other side is impossible. The anger involved in the second intifada was far deeper. During the recent intifada I became connected to the conflict in a different way. I was badly injured in my leg by an Israeli settler and my brother was killed by an Israeli soldier in a totally inhumane way and without any reason. The soldier shot my brother from a distance of two feet only because he was talking to him. This isn't human conduct at all. At the time, my brother Yussif didn't know that the Israelis had issued a new law. He didn't know that he was forbidden from opening his mouth; we were supposed to keep our mouths shut. My brother broke that law, and since then I decided not to shut my mouth. When my brother was martyred I was in Saudi Arabia. I was very shocked by the news. I was full of anger and hatred and didn't want to see or have any contact with the other side. I didn't want to return to the checkpoints and see the soldiers acting in their ugly way. I didn't want to return here and see the settlements and my people suffering. It was as if my life had ended and there wasn't any reason to live. But we can't live in that way. Our destiny is to live, but the way we live is determined by us, not fate. One day I received a phone call from an Israeli organization called The Bereaved Families Forum. They said that they have lost loved ones, but nevertheless have decided to embrace the way of peace and reconciliation, not the way of revenge. They asked to visit us. I was greatly surprised because I didn't expect that there could be either a bereaved Israeli or a bereaved Palestinian parent who wants to meet with the enemy. We invited them and we began to talk. The group included Yitzhak Frankenthal and Roni Hirshenzon, who lost two sons. When we talked, they began talking about Palestinian rights. I was greatly surprised. I said the way of non-violence can provide real results. We have been killing each other for sixty years with no gain. Whether we like it or not, there are about ten million people on both sides who share this piece of land. This is our fate. But our fate isn't to kill each other in this way. My mother was the first to join the Forum, and she was followed by me, my brother Khaled and other people.

  • Please tell us about the beginning of your involvement in the Forum.

    The beginning was hard, but pleasant at the same time. It was hard because I got the sense that I was giving up something even though I wasn't. I mean we were accustomed to thinking that talking with the other, the occupier, is treason and normalizing. Every meeting was considered to be a normalization meeting. It isn't easy for a patriot to do such a thing. But I discovered that these weren't normalization meetings; normalization happens between countries. These meetings are about expressing your suffering and defending your rights in a different way. Even the extremists think that their way will lead to a solution. Through these activities you begin to realize that you are doing a great thing. You are dismantling the excuse for killing our people. Terror is the excuse for building the wall and all the other issues. I can't allow the cause of my people to be regarded as terrorism. My feelings swung between these fears and the positive side of the meetings. You discover a way of living with your pain. Before I became a member of the Forum, I didn't know what to do with the pain that was imposed upon me. I didn't know what to do with the pain and there wasn't an outlet for the grief. The Forum is a means of helping yourself in addition to a means of resistance. It is a different kind of revolution for my people. This is how I view it. You are eventually drawn into this and begin to believe in the principles of what you do. I now feel that I have the capacity to face anybody in any discussion, regardless of his rhetorical abilities. I now believe this is the way to establish our rights. In the beginning it was the search for a new path, and for healing, that brought me to the Forum; today it is my mind, not only my feelings, that drives me to continue.

  • How can your work at the Forum be the means for a revolution or resolving the conflict?

    In the Forum we talk about our suffering, the checkpoints, the occupation, the settlements, the martyrs and the injured. We talk as Palestinians. Is the message of our suffering and its presentation throughout the world a revolution? I think it is. Why do the extremists carry out operations? They carry out operations because they want to convey that they are suffering, to an extent that life and death have the same value. We talk in order to exploit the suffering in a more efficient way and our work presents a greater danger to the Israeli state. An Israeli general once said that non-violence is the most dangerous weapon the Palestinians possess, because it undermines all the excuses for the occupation and the legitimacy they claim to have when destroying a house or assassinating someone. The Israelis claim they install checkpoints in order to capture wanted militants, but what if there weren't any wanted militants? They would have no excuse. Modern wars are controlled by the media. The Soviet Union didn't fall as a result of an American nuclear attack; it collapsed because of economic reasons. Conflicts never end through wars, all wars end through negotiations. We are totally convinced of this. We understand our leadership's lack of ability to influence the situation through negotiations because the situation on the ground is very complex. Abu Mazen can't evacuate settlements or remove checkpoints, but we can at least try to influence the other side to see us as people who have rights. I don't see how blowing up a bus full of children or even ordinary people helps us internationally or in terms of our image in the media, on the contrary, it harms us.

  • Please tell me about your work in the Forum.

    We try to survive. Our activities concern education. As you now, education is a major factor in any conflict. We try to explain our message to pupils and students. We are usually accepted. Occaisionally there are difficult things to hear, but eventually you begin to understand and attempt to analyze why a certain student talks with such hatred. A student wasn't born with this hatred, so why are they like this now? You begin to understand this issue and find yourself being an advocate of humane feelings among people. In addition, children on both sides grow up according to different perspectives. Among Zionists or Israelis, 1948 marks the creation of the Zionist or Jewish state, but for us, it is the Nakba. Both sides should realize the source of this hatred. Through our lectures, we try to explain the reasons for the hatred and misunderstanding and convey that the people on the other side aren't animals, they are human. In addition, the issue of the media is very important. We perform media-related activities such as interviews for TV and newspapers, as well as meetings through which we try to convey that there are still people here who want to live in peace. The opposing media, which is deeply influenced by the Israeli government, presents the situation as a war in which the majority takes part, but the fact is that the ones who actually fight are a small minority, and the majority are people who suffer. Both sides are suffering. After the lectures, we also organize meetings between the pupils. The point of these meetings is for the pupils to explain their messages to each other in order for both sides to accept each other. During the meetings, the Palestinians try to explain to the Israelis that they [the Palstinians] aren't strangers in this land and why they are demanding a Palestinian state. In addition, the Palestinians try to explain to the Israelis why they reject the settlers and view them as settlers on Palestinian land, even though the settlers consider this their land. The Palestinians try to explain to Israelis that as long as the settlers consider all of Palestine theirs there will always be a conflict; for the Israeli settlers to be advocates of the Israeli state, cause and people they need to relinquish their belief that all of Palestine is only theirs. This leads to a situation in which both peoples are more willing to negotiate with each other, to understand the other side and to pay the price for peace. This is our message in general.In addition, we organize family meetings. The Forum consists of about 500 families. We organize meetings between the families in order for them to maintain contact, because consistent relationships are of utmost importance in order to deliver our message of reconciliation. We discuss the facts and conclusions and try to reach a common understanding for the future. Despite the distance and the isolation, we challenge the situation and try to meet continuously and recruit new members to the Forum and introduce them to the other side. We also perform lectures abroad, and are willing to go wherever we are invited. We present our message as The Bereaved Families Forum, a message that contradicts that of the politicians who claim that there is no one to talk to on the other side. We say that if we, as bereaved families, are able to sit together and try to reach a better future, then everybody can. We try to explain this message to the world. We have begun lecturing even in European schools. After the political leaders returned from Camp David and declared that the other side didn't want peace, we tried to prove the contrary. We set up a phone service, through which you could speak to someone from the other side by dialing *6364. Since February 2002 we have had 750,000 calls between the two sides and over 1.4 million minutes of conversation.We are a non-political organization that doesn't belong to any political party. We don't even have a political message; our message is a humanitarian one. We contact politicians and important people from both sides in order to convince them that despite all that is happening, the issue of negotiations shouldn't be neglected. Through all programs, we try to enable people to live with their pain. From the pain we extract the good, and this is a very hard thing to do. It is even harder for the Palestinians than it is for the Israelis because it is harder to believe in peace and reconciliation while you are living under occupation.Peace for the Israelis is the continuation of life in a safer or better fashion because they have their state, economy, education and everything. For the Palestinians, peace will mark the beginning of life. The question of how to address the two sides with the same language is difficult and complex but when you realize that this is the only way, you invent a language that appeals to all people. This Forum, as I always say, is a means of invention. With every new event, there is a new humanitarian invention. I wish politicians could invent solutions for complex problems in the same way we have through the Forum.

  • Do you feel that your activities produce results?

    Everything produces results, even evil. What determines the answer to this question is the degree of our self-confidence. We stopped believing in ourselves and in our ability to create change and acheive peace as a result of the suffering and despair. We began to think that no matter what we do, our work won't help. Despite the desperate situation, we should bear in mind one fact: if we don't engage in this kind of work, the situation will get even worse. The Forum may not solve the conflict between the two peoples, but it can at least save the life of a single person or change someone's behavior. Because of the Forum, when I wake in the morning I feel that there is something I can do. The majority of the people on both sides are left suspended in the middle: they don't know what to do and aren't part of the cycle of violence. The situation needs a solution and people need a reason to live for. I think our work has an effect on the political level. When people elect a person like Abu Mazen, they are actually saying that violence isn't the solution. The Palestinian people have elected a candidate who says that violence isn't the solution. This is a major historical event. It is the first time the Palestinians call for non-violence. It isn't that we don't have the right to resist and revolt; the question is about the essence of this revolution. The revolution should be non-violent. I try to convince the Israelis and Palestinians to believe in this. Another issue is that the Israelis also suffer because of the situation. I ask why the Israelis don't do what I do. Why don't the Israelis have their own revolution for peace like we do? Israeli society suffers greatly due to the conflict; when their sons return home they commit suicide or leave the country or become domestically violent. They are facing real problems. As a result of its behavior and its support of the occupation Israel as a nation suffers internationally and is considered a rogue state. The Israeli evacuation of settlements from the West Bank and Gaza wasn't unprecedented. There was a cause for it. Therefore I conclude that our work is effective. The stage is set, but the question is - are we ready to work? We should work.

  • You said that you approach Israelis and Palestinians differently and that you are inventing a new common language. Could you give an example?

    I once presented a lecture in what is called “pre-army preparation”. Settlers, religious people and extremists attended this lecture, and I had the feeling that all types of violence in the world had representatives there. My partner Nir introduced himself as a member of the Forum, who like me wanted to talk about peace. A student stood up and said, “What? You are a Palestinian and you want to talk about peace? Get out; we don't want to hear you. We should have deported you long ago and saved ourselves a great deal of suffering." I laughed, because he was really pathetic. I told him,“When you present your people as being unfamiliar with the language of peace and unprepared to listen to it, I am proud of being a Palestinian. However I know that you don't represent the Israeli people, this is why I am laughing.” I told him that if he didn't want to listen to us, then he should leave because I was sure there were others who wanted to hear what we had to say. The student was surprised and confused because he never encountered such a response. He sat down, and after four hours of lecture he approached me and said, “According to the peace you propose, as a settler I would be forced to leave my home." I said: “Unfortunately that is true. Why can't you leave your home? I had to leave mine long ago!" He was convinced and said that he wanted to visit me with his friends. There is an alternative language to violence. You can convince people when you talk to them logically. I said that I understood their feelings. I don't accept their feelings and don't accept living under occupation as the price for their feelings, but I do understand that they are human. This language is very effective. A Palestinian woman once said that I am a traitor to my people and that I am trying to prevent them from fighting. I answered her in her own language and told her, “If you feel that the Palestinian airplanes and tanks are locked away in a warehouse and I am holding the keys to prevent you from using them, then you can kill me.” I told her that I am not stopping her from fighting. She was confused. I am not stopping the Palestinians from using their airplanes or their tanks, nor am I asking the Palestinians to stop shelling Tel Aviv! I wouldn't have answered her in such a way if I wasn't involved in this work. The Ali I was a year ago would have answered her differently. Our belief in what we do increases as a result of our work, and we are really inventing a new language that hasn't been heard here. I never before heard an Israeli say that the occupation is unacceptable and that the Israelis are the ones who should resist it. I didn't hear this from just any Israeli, I heard this from Israelis who lost loved ones. This made me believe that there is an alternative language.

  • People may think Palestinians such as yourself conduct non-violent activities only as a last resort because you can't compete with the Israeli military.

    People may find this hard to understand but I wish a war would break out and the conflict would end in one week. I am also not sure that even if we did have airplanes and tanks we could end the conflict. I don't practice non-violence because I am not capable of carrying a weapon. I can get a weapon and kill someone, but when answering someone you should use their language. If I answered the women who accused me of treason and said that we should be humane and moral, this answer wouldn't appeal or interest her. I have to suit my answer to the person I am talking to. If the reason for that woman's support of my way is the Israeli military supremacy, I don't care. Her reason for supporting my view is of no importance, what is important is that she accepts it. After accepting my view, she will be ready to support my way. It is a gradual process.

  • What was your friends' reaction to you when you changed from being a prisoner fighting the occupation to a peace activist?

    First of all I still resist the occupation. I am still active in Fatah, and some of my friends refrain from raising this issue. We discuss all issues, but refrain from raising this subject. In the past people used to ask me why I worked in this field despite me being a fighter in the past. Today they don't ask me such questions. The reason for this may be their respect for me; they feel they can trust me. In addition, people don't raise the subject because they feel it is unimportant, therefore I am forced to raise it myself. I once raised the subject with a group of youths who were throwing stones. I told them that there are Israelis who refuse army service. They said they had heard about this, but they didn't know much about the issue. I suggested they meet. We organized a meeting in Beit Omar and invited three Israelis who refused army service. The Palestinians were shocked. They said that they had heard of Israelis who refuse to be soldiers, but they never knew the reasons why. The Palestinians said they thought the Israeli refusers were afraid of being killed by the Palestinians; they didn't know their refusal was ideological and due to their refusal of being part of the occupation. The Palestinians who participated in the meeting discovered a new reality. We realized that most people from both sides hear about the situation, but don't really know. There is a difference between hearing about something and understanding it. This is the reason we sentence peace to death before giving it a chance to exist. We hear about peace and determine that it won't help, but we do this without knowing what peace really is.

  • What does the word peace mean for you?

    I have a confused conception of this term. For me, peace means a revolution. The struggle between the different and sometimes juxtaposing conceptions of the word peace give birth to a good thing. I define the concept of revolution as being a twin concept of the word peace rather than a contrasting concept. Ideally peace would mean living in freedom and security but given our struggle here the meaning is very different in practice.

  • How is the meaning of peace different in this context?

    It is different because peace has become a complicated concept due to the complexity of the conflict. Our conflict is very complicated. Our situation isn't that of a country occupying another country. The Palestinians don't have an army that is fighting the Israeli army. Our conflict is of utmost complexity and is probably unique. As a result, peace has to be equally complex in order to be effective otherwise this conflict can't be solved through negotiations. We tried an agreement and it failed; it failed because it didn't address a complicated conflict. The agreement was a result of an effort to solve a conflict between two sides. We aren't two sides; we are sometimes ten sides and sometimes just one. For example, if Saddam1 had launched a chemical missile at Tel Aviv, it would have wiped us out along with the Israelis. Our conflict is very complex, therefore we should seek a complex peace. Maybe what I am saying is confusing and hard to understand, but I am trying to say two things: first, usually people seek peace for themselves. We should seek peace for others. The first step is for Israelis to stand up in Tel Aviv and say they want peace for the Palestinians before saying they want peace for the Israelis. The Palestinians should do the same. The reason for this is that all the armies in the world can't stop a suicide bomber, and all the militant operations in the world won't necessarily lead to a liberated Palestinian state, but a single well-intentioned Israeli has the power to influence others who in turn can create a well-intentioned leadership. The same is true for the Palestinians; but not every Palestinian can do this, he should be a Palestinian who fought and sacrificed, a Palestinian who realizes the meaning of peace.The second issue is what is happening on the ground. What is happening on the ground, such as the wall and the settlements complicate the situation. Even people’s mentality have complicated the situation. We are required to achieve a peace that isn't clear on the ground, can you imagine?! All the peace agreements between countries were implemented on the ground and this is what convinced the people. What can I tell the Palestinians? Can I promise them that tomorrow there will be no checkpoints? I can't. The Palestinians should be convinced of peace and adopt it as a mission in order for it to be implemented on the ground. This is a complication and not a simple issue. I can't promise the Israelis that there will be no suicide bombings tomorrow but if that does happen, I want the Israelis to hold a protest against the Israeli government first, not celebrate each time a Palestinian is killed. When the Israelis are recruited to the army and are forced to kill Palestinians they should be the first to protest. This is why peace is an extremely complicated issue. We are used to blaming the politicians for not achieving peace, but to some extent I understand the complexity of the problem.

    • 1Refers to former Iraqi President Sadaam Hussein.

  • Why did previous peace processes fail?

    I will present you with my personal view. Every peace agreement not implemented on the ground is destined to fail. This agreement [Oslo] wasn't implemented on the ground. The agreement stated that a Palestinian state would be established in the 1967 territories yet no Palestinian state has been created. The agreement was supposed to ensure the Palestinian’s political and administrative existence in practice. This didn't happen, there is no such Palestinian existence. No one can claim today that we have a state or even a government. We have a Palestinian Authority. This is different from a government because a government represents a country, while an authority represents a nation. We weren't entitled to a country even in terms of having a name, so no wonder the agreement failed. The agreement didn't create borders. I don't see any borders. A peace agreement is supposed to be implemented on the ground. I think the strong side is responsible for the implementation of the peace agreement on the ground. Abu Mazen can't determine the Palestinian borders. Even if he were to set borders and draw those on the map a thousand times, that wouldn't mean a thing. I think the Israeli government should work seriously towards a just agreement that would convince the Palestinians that there is peace. The reason for the failure of the previous peace processes is that they weren’t ever implemented and not because the Palestinians don't want peace. All the Palestinians want peace, even those who carry out suicide bombings. I am sure they want peace, but they have reached the stage where their lives are worthless. I think this is because there is no peace. If there were peace, life would have value and people wouldn't be willing to give their lives so easily. There would be games for the children, employment and other opportunities. While there is no peace there will be no life.

  • What would an ideal solution be?

    To divorce. The two peoples are married, but this marriage isn't very successful. We aren't able to live together in one home and have a peaceful relationship. We should separate, live in separte homes, calm down and avoid contact with each other. But we would later have to re-marry because we share land, an economy and life. We can never close our eyes and separate completely forever. When the time comes, we should re-marry as two free and independent sides. We should have a good and respectful relationship between two countries, not between one people and their occupier. The creation of two countries is the solution. This is the solution. The current solution is that both peoples sit down and decide that we have had enough killing and occupation. The people should decide on this, not the governments. The governments can't force on us something we don't want. We should convince each other of each others case. This is how people get married. They love each other and convince each other before getting married; they can't marry when they are enemies.

  • What are the main difficulties or challenges you face?

    The main issue is my being a Palestinian under occupation. I am forced to ask for permits for my activities and held at a checkpoint for hours while being checked by the soldiers. Even when I wanted to travel to Jenin to visit the family that donated the organs of one of its children, I had to travel for seven hours, even though it should take only an hour and a half. Despite all this I still try to believe that there is hope. Extremism is a problem, but I don't view it as an obstacle on my path. When you want to move a rock from the road, it is very unwise to try to push it aside when there is no place for it to go. Extremism is like a rock that is blocking the road. I think we should dig a hole in the road to hold the rock and only then bury the rock in it, step over it and continue our journey. No conflict is ever resolved through violence. The occupation, which attempts to oppress and control the Palestinian people, won't succeed. The Palestinians aren't a class of children who will sit quietly when shouted at by the teacher. Another difficulty is the unwise reactions. We as Palestinians have a just cause but some of us are very bad lawyers. The violent attitude of some Palestinians may cost us the cause, this is a problem. The third problem is education on the Israeli side. The Israelis are far from understanding the situation. It is like an illusion for them. They say, “You are a good Palestinian, but that there aren't many Palestinians like you”. I don't want to be a “good Palestinian” if you condemn my people to death. If you say that my people are barbaric and greet me with flowers, I will refuse your flowers. I would rather be a bad Palestinian if the good and evil are personalized or generalized. I am a part of this people, and the existence of many like me within my people proves this: I am a product of my society. How can the Israelis expect there to be many others like me when my people live under occupation? The Israelis are living comfortable lives, so it is no surprise that there are many good Israelis who want peace, but how can the Palestinians produce people like me? Although there are many people who are like me, the Israelis don't know about them. Ignorance is a major problem facing both sides. We believe we should know each other in order to know how the other side thinks and in order to be able to convince each other. Other problems are related to the situation in general. The situation is very hard, even more so for the Palestinians. These are the main problems we face.

  • You said that you try to convey your message to the international community. Why?

    The conflict is delivered to the world through the media or through politicians. Neither the media nor Israeli politicians can present me to the international community in the right way. I seek to present myself to the world and tell them the truth about what is actually happening. In addition, I don't want the American president to proclaim that God visited him in his sleep and told him to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to protect the world and give the Palestinians a state.1 He said this about a month ago. He didn't present us in the right way even in his vision of a solution. He is calling upon Bin Laden for another cycle of violence. He said that God called upon him in his dream to go to war in Iraq. I am sure Bush isn't the right person to represent the Christian faith and even if he was surely God wouldn't choose to visit him. I am also sure that the Christians don’t view Bush as their prophet. In addition, as a Palestinian, I refuse to accept that the solution to my issue came to Bush in a dream; I still wish he would really solve the conflict even as a result of his dream... The world treats us either in a violent way or disregards us. They support Israel in terms of a supply of arms, confining the conflict to the Jews and Muslims, or to he Israelis and Palestinians. I want the whole world to announce that there are two peoples who have the right to live honorably, freely in their owns states. The Forum’s message to the world is that if we can sit together and talk, so can everybody else, including politicians. We urgently need funding and we need the world to support us. We don't get paid for our work in the Forum, but I can't perform activities beyond my personal contribution.

    • 1In a BBC documentary, Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Nabil Shaath recounted that in a 2003 meeting with George W. Bush, the US President said that he was told by God to invade Iraq and Afghanistan as well as bring peace to the Middle East and establish a Palestinian state. The White House has denied the comment ever occurred and Shaath later said that he did not take the comments literally. See "Palestinian: Bush Said God Guided Him on War," MSNBC Online, 7 Oct 2005, at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9618531/.

  • What do you gain from your work in the Forum?

    I gain many things. I have no financial gain. The greatest gain from my work in the Forum is the opportunity to help my people; this is what drives my work there. I am helping the Palestinians before the Israelis, because my primary concern is my own people. I believe that I am leading a revolution. I am sure many Israelis hate me for doing so because they want to maintain their claim that the Palestinians are terrorists, and present them to the world as such. I don't want the Palestinians to be presented to the world as terrorists.

  • What are the most important lessons you have learned from your work in the Forum, and what would you have done differently if you could?

    Although I hate politics, maybe I should have politicized our activities linking the Forum more to what is happening on the ground. I don't want the Forum to be linked to a certain political party, but rather to be more politically oriented. I would like to organize a reconciliation-oriented meeting at a checkpoint because checkpoints have a major effect on the Palestinians and even on the soldiers that serve there. If the politicians aren't capable of changing the reality on the ground, I hope humanitarian and peace organizations attempt to create this change themselves. We are changing the reality in the minds of the people, but the reality on the ground also needs changing. We should have a political stand and take political action against the wall and even the suicide bombings—it is not wrong to take political action against the suicide bombings—but it should be coming from both sides; I don't want to sound selfish. There should be greater politicization of our activities. I understand the current position of the Forum and am sure that it is against the wall and the occupation, but I think the Forum should be more connected to the reality on the ground. In addition, I hope we integrate the issue of reconciliation in education. I want every Palestinian or Israeli member to have a strong message when confronting people. I hope to create education that fosters reconciliation. This is obviously depends on our capabilities. If time could be turned back, I would like those who lost their lives to be with us today because in the end this is the most important thing.

  • What do you think the biggest misconception about Israeli-Palestinian joint work is?

    Normalization and the belief that we are surrendering and raising white flags in front of the enemy. This is true for the Israelis also. We were once accused by an organization in New York of being part of the PLO and were boycotted by extremist Jews.

  • What do you think is the biggest misconception about the conflict in general?

    That the conflict is between two countries and two armies. This is, of course a misunderstanding. Another misunderstanding is that there is no solution. The Jews are convinced that this is their promised land and the Palestinians are convinced that this is their land and the Jews are strangers here. Regardless of this, what is the solution? There are 11 million people here. How are they going to live together? I am not talking about the beliefs of each side; I am talking about a reasonable solution because if we act according to our beliefs we will never reach a solution. We should change our beliefs whether we like it or not.

  • What are the roots of this conflict?

    The main root is the land. The conflict isn't religious or ideological; the root of the conflict is land. This is why I propose a divorce in which each side receives their own share of land and accept the division, despite the belief that the rest of the land is theirs.

  • How do you propose to divide the land?

    The land is already divided according to international resolutions such as 242, 194 and 338. There is the Green Line and the option of territorial exchange. There are many options for a solution if the people are willing. Unfortunately, people are not willing enough to carry out even the smallest part of the solution and this is what makes the problem even more difficult. I don't want to be over optimistic, but I think the two sides are now more prepared for a solution. Sharon promised that he would wipe out the intifada in 100 days. We are now in its sixth year. Palestinian military operations didn't achieve anything for the Palestinians; on the contrary, they brought upon us the wall and an increase in settlements. Both sides have realized that they will achieve nothing by force but there is no one to show them the way.

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

    Of course it does—in daily life as well as in politics the fear of tomorrow destroys today. If we are confident today, we will build a good tomorrow. Because we are afraid of the future we are destroying the present and hampering the efforts of building a future. The past also has a major role. Our bloody past in which we paid a high price is what causes us to be fearful today. We are even afraid of meeting others; we are afraid of being accused [of treason], afraid that "they" might convince us, afraid of not being able to face "them" or of being undermined by "them". Fear is no simple issue.

  • Do you have to suffer in order to be able to say you believe in a different path?

    No, not at all. If you look at the political parties on both sides that support peace you will notice that most of them aren't made up of bereaved people but rather of people who haven't suffered that way. There are many people who establish peace organizations without being from bereaved families. We are just one out of hundreds of organizations. Though I can clearly say that all the Palestinians want peace there isn't even one single Palestinian who really lives in peace. We aren't living in peace, therefore there is no peace.

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

    I think religion plays a role, but the problem isn't religion itself, it is how it is used. Islam calls for avoiding killing women, children and the elderly. Our religion is basically good.