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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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Professor Sami Adwan

Through his work with PRIME, Sami Adwan is pioneering an educational model that enables both Palestinian and Israeli educators to create school history curricula that includes both historical narratives in a single textbook. Sami was born in a village north of Hebron and finished his PhD. in the United States. He has published widely on the role of education in peacebuilding. His encounter with Israeli soldiers while in prison for being a member of Fatah during the first intifada made him realize that denial and avoidance would not help to improve the situtation, but rather discovering the other.

  • Please provide a brief personal background-- where you were born, where you grew up and what you do.

    I was born in 1954 in a village northwest of Hebron, called Sureef. My family was Palestinian peasants working in agriculture. I lived like any other child in the village. I am the youngest in the family, and being the last one, I received a tremendous amount of care and attention from my parents and siblings. I benefited from this immensely. I went to the village school until ninth grade, and then moved to a school in Halhool, where I studied from ninth grade until twelfth grade. At that time, our village had a primary and middle school, but no high school. In 1972 I was accepted to the Jordanian University.1 I studied there, with a major in education and a minor in sociology. Upon graduating I worked at the Arabic College in Jordan. At that time, in the late seventies, community colleges were quite a widespread phenomenon. I worked in the Arabic College for two and a half years. In 1978 I went to the United States to get my Masters in education at San Francisco State University. I returned from the U.S. in 1982. I tried to return in order to get my Ph.D., but the Israeli intelligence service - the Shabak or Shin Bet -prohibited me from traveling to continue my education.I had to look for a job, so I worked at Hebron University for one and a half years. During this time I also got married, and then in 1984 I went back to the U.S. and got my Ph.D. in Education at San Francisco State University. I returned and resumed a position at Hebron University, where I worked from 1987-1993. Working at Hebron University gave me vast experience and also greatly enhanced my understanding of the Palestinian reality. In 1993 I moved on to teach at Bethlehem University in the Department of Education's teachers' preparation program. The topics that I enjoy teaching most are environmental education and religious education. I wrote a book about the teachings of Islam and Christianity in Palestinian schools. Writing this book allowed me to examine the situation profoundly. One must study the reality in order to understand and transform it, to respect religious sensitivities, and to avoid all attempts to use religion as a source of conflict or discrimination. In this sense, this book gave me a very important push. I continue to be involved in research on curriculum development and other topics. I have also taken part in organizing meetings between Palestinian Muslim and Christian students with the aim of helping them discover and comprehend the reality in which we live. I do not call this “religious dialogue,“ but rather an effort at building mutual-understanding, acceptance, and respect. “Dialogue“ is a big word that I try to avoid, especially in reference to inter-religious dialogue, because it leads to a dead-end. My aim in this project was, first, for both Christians and Muslims, to learn more about their own religions, and second, for each to learn as much as possible about the religion of the other and to develop a relationship based upon mutual respect and acceptance. Acceptance does not mean that a Muslim becomes Christian or vice versa. It means that each accepts the other the way that he or she is, without imposing any sort of pressure or constraint or denying him a thing. I was imprisoned in 1993 in "Ansar Three" 2 prison in the Negev. Israelis call it "Katzi'ot" and we call it "Ansar Three." Why is it called Ansar Three and why did this have such a large impact on me, personally? First, it is called Ansar Three because the first Israeli prison built in Southern Lebanon in 1982 was called "Ansar One". "Ansar Two," the second prison, was built in Gaza in 1988 after the outbreak of the first intifada, "Ansar Three" was built in the Negev Desert in a place where there is no sign of life. My imprisonment affected me in many ways. During my studies in the United States, both for a Masters degree and a Ph.D., I never took a class in which I knew there were Jewish students. If I knew that some of the students attending were Jewish, I would avoid the class or drop it. I simply did not want to study with Jews. I had no interest in that. In the seventies and eighties, our concept of Jews in general, and our experience with Israelis in particular, was as follows: they are the reason for my suffering, my misery, and the situation in which I find myself; they are the reason why the world has neglected me, the reason for the misery I experience every day when I go to school, etc. For this reason, I felt better about withdrawing from any course in which Jews were present. Towards this goal of building mutual respect and acceptance, I also worked with my students on a play that reflects our inter-religious unity. The play was very successful, and many Palestinian Muslim and Christian children worked together to make it complete. The play discussed the beliefs and practices of the different religions.I also taught at an institute for environmental studies in Kibbutz Ketura, which is close to Eilat. I had students who were Jewish Israelis and Jews from abroad, as well as Palestinians and students from Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, America, and France. I enjoy environmental education very much because I think that the environment is one of our most pressing issues. I tried to take advantage of the presence of people of three religions in order to contemplate how Islam, Christianity, and Judaism think about the environment and how their practices can aid environmental preservation. Unfortunately, I am not able to continue teaching there now due to the problem of obtaining a permit and so on.I also work as a consultant for many Palestinian schools in the Bethlehem area, am a member of the Palestinian committee of UNESCO,3 and am a chief editor of the Bethlehem University Magazine, overseeing the educational sciences. I also serve as an editor for many international magazines related to peace education and democracy. I participate in international conferences and seminars. The Lutheran Church has invited me to go to Germany early this March and give a talk on Muslim and Christian religious education in Palestinian schools, and on my project on this topic. I am also the representative of Bethlehem University to the Council of Arab Students' Exchange and Training Program. This council is a subsidiary to the Arab League that seeks to give students in Arab universities opportunities to receive training in other Arab universities, such as in Syria, Jordan, Egypt, or other countries to which the students can enter. Unfortunately, we have not been able to host and train Arab students in our university because the political situation prevents them from obtaining permission to come here. Every year the council holds its meeting in a different country. This year the meeting will be held on February 20th at the University of Annaba in Algeria.Being in prison, however, made me think in a different way. I realized that denial could not help me, or anyone else for that matter. What had the potential to aid understanding was not avoiding or ignoring the other, but rather discovering, speaking with, and coming to know him. For Palestinians, and for me as one of them, it can be difficult to differentiate between an Israeli as an occupier and soldier and an Israeli as a civilian. It is difficult to differentiate between the settler and the soldier, and so forth. This causes a problem for Palestinians and for me, personally. If I talk with an Israeli, is he the same person who was once a soldier arresting me or demolishing my home with a bulldozer? Or perhaps he is a settler or a former soldier or a soldier-to-be? It is this diversity, this range of the different faces of Israelis, that makes it difficult for Palestinians to understand precisely what you mean when you say 'Israeli'. I was in prison under administrative detention, which means that one is sentenced without being given any specific charge. I was arrested before I was told of the charge against me. I was detained in Thahiriyyeh and stayed there four or five days without knowing why I had been arrested. Then a letter came by fax that said that I was an important Palestinian activist in a terrorist organization that aims at destroying the State of Israel.

    • 1Established in 1962, in Amman. See www.ju.edu.jo
    • 2Ansar III is "on a remote ridge called Ketziot close to the Egyptian-Israeli border and deep inside a forbidden military zone" and was used by Israel to house prisoners during the First Palestinian intifada. Ansar I "was set up by the Israelis to hold their captives as they edged their way out of Lebanon in 1984," while Ansar II is located "on the beach south of Gaza City." See Ian Black. "Judges Visit Negev Punishment Camp of the Palestinian Uprising, The Guardian (London), 3 Sept 1988. Also see Selim Saheb Ettaba. "Israel's Plan to Reopen Desert Prison Awakens Palestinian,"Agence France Presse- English, International News, 9 Apr 2002.
    • 3United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization See: www.unesco.org

  • Is the time you were kept in Thahiriyyeh and Ansar Three the same?

    Yes because we were kept first in Thahiriyyeh. Then, after a few days or a week, they decided where to transfer the prisoners. The thing that affected me the most was that fax. It is very humiliating to be detained for some time, and then later to have the reason for indictment unveiled in a fax one and a half lines long. What also made an impact on me was being kept inside a prison cell with two soldiers positioned outside the door. The door had a single hole, no more than five centimeters in diameter. The soldiers called out to me and told me that there was a paper that I had to sign. The paper was written in Hebrew and, as I don’t know Hebrew, I said, “No, I am not signing a document that I cannot read.” He said, “I’ll translate it for you.” I replied, “Why would I trust you enough to translate it for me? If it states my charge and I sign it, then I will be admitting to that charge.” So I refused to sign it. He told me that if I signed, they would move me to the tents outside. The rooms in which we were staying had previously served as stables for the horses of the Jordanian army. The room was about three meters by sixteen meters, and we were about thirty men. The bathroom was inside with us, covered with a plastic blanket. So of course, it would have been much better to go outside, where at least you can breath some air, see people, and hear the sounds of life. Nevertheless, I refused to sign. When I was having this conversation with the officer, however, there was another soldier with him. That soldier asked the officer, “How can we make him sign a paper when he doesn’t know what it says?” I’m not sure that I understood exactly what he said, but this is what I assume they were talking about. At that point it was as if the conflict was not between the soldiers and me, but rather between the soldiers themselves. I began to realize that even soldiers wearing the same uniform could have different opinions and ways of thinking. This is what being in prison gave me the opportunity to learn; that I should not look at others and assume that they are all the same. This was an extremely important experience. Later, when we were being transferred from Thahiriyyeh to the Negev, one soldier insisted that we remain handcuffed and blindfolded while another soldier gestured as if to say that it was OK to take the blindfolds off and look outside. It was summer - July - and it was very hot and the way from Thahiriyyeh to the Negev is long. The officer had said that we could not go near the water faucet, so one of the soldiers forbade us from drinking. After the officer left, however, another soldier told us that we could go over to the faucets and drink. This was another personal experience that taught me not to assume that all people are alike. At the same time, it gave me the idea that dialogue and encounters could offer a better solution to the conflict than avoidance, neglect, or denial. I have never believed that military combat or the use or force could be the solution, or even one of several solutions with positive results. Even if the Palestinians achieved their independence after a war, I just do not think that the Palestinian State should be built on any more blood than that which has already been shed.

  • Were you involved in an organization to resist the Occupation?

    I was an activist and leader in Fatah in various locations in the Hebron area. I was directly or indirectly responsible for the student movement, overseeing the professional elections that used to be held. I was an election coordinator, and we used to focus on developing Fatah's position and helping it to win more seats. We were very successful in some locations and not as successful in others. I was more active on the ideological side, in trying to raise awareness among students, as well as among unions, among professionals such as pharmacists and lawyers, and among other organizations, sports committees, etc. At the time, was Fatah considered a terrorist organization? Of course in 1992 Fatah was regarded as an opposition movement, a so-called "terrorist movement," and membership was prohibited. In the seventies and eighties, if they knew that you had even talked to a member or had been seen with one of them, you would be imprisoned.

  • What happened after prison?

    My son Anas was three days old when I was imprisoned, and by the time I got out he was six or seven months. Until now I feel that the emotional connection between us is not as strong as it is with my other children. I missed the first few months of his life, so I always feel a need to interact with him emotionally, as much as I can. I try as hard as possible, but, sadly, I still feel like my relationship is stronger with my other children, with whom I have lived since the moment they were born. I don't know exactly how to handle this.After I was released from prison I continued with my activism in Fatah. The first meeting was with an NGO called the Palestinians Consultancy Group, or PCG,1 which was based in Jerusalem at the time. They invited a group of Palestinian academics to meet with a group of Israeli academics. That was after I got out of prison, the time of the Oslo Accords,and we began to think about what we could do. One of the participants was a professor from Hebrew University named Ruth Firer,2 who was also a specialist in the field of education. We agreed to work together to study possibilities for cooperating on education issues, and began by discussing the issue of the Palestinian and Israeli curricula. We thought that this would be an easy topic, but soon realized that analyzing Palestinian and Israeli curricula in the midst of the conflict was very complicated, indeed.

    • 1The Palestinian Consultancy Group (PCG) is located in the Palestinian West Bank town of Ramallah and conducts research projects on the management of Palestinian infrastructure. PCG was founded by Sari Nusseibeh.
    • 2Ruth Firer is director of peace education projects at the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

  • How did you come to work with PRIME?

    Shortly after I met Ruth and started working on the Palestinian curriculum, we also began working with the George Eckert Institute1 in Germany, which also focuses on schools and curriculum issues. The institute was founded in the late fifties or early sixties to work on the French, German, and Polish curricula. And so we carried forth with our project. We examined the presentation of the 1948 War in Palestinian and Israeli textbooks, as well as the presentation of the refugee issue, the 1967 War, and so on. We used to have bi-national meetings in Germany every summer to discuss these topics. Subsequently, in 1997, a French institute invited fifteen Palestinian and fifteen Israeli academics for a two-week meeting.2 They selected participants who were well known in the field, and that is how we came to be invited. We - the fifteen Palestinians and the fifteen Israelis - started discussing what we wanted to do, in the hope that the institute that invited us would also support us in developing projects. In the end they were not able to offer us support, but at least I had the chance to meet new colleagues. Ruth was there, and also Dan Bar-On3 from Ben Gurion University. This meeting was exploratory and focused on brainstorming what it might be possible to do, as well as discussing some individual research projects that had been conducted. Some research, carried out as part of a European study on historical events, concentrated on how Palestinian and Israeli youth perceive history. The findings were compiled in a book that included the contributions of both Palestinian and Israeli writers and was published in Germany. This project inspired us, the group of Palestinians and Israelis, to think about establishing an institute that would organize and formalize our relationship. Harald Muller4 of the Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt,5 Germany offered us assistance, which helped us tremendously as we were starting out. And that is how fifteen Palestinian and fifteen Israeli academics, both men and women, worked together to establish PRIME6 in 1998. The World Bank and the Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt gave us funding as we launched work on our first project. I see the period from 1993-2000 as the era of peace. During this time, Palestinians and Israelis combined forces at the grassroots level to develop a number of projects. Our hopes and ambitions in 1998 were much greater than they were in 2000, when the intifada began. We decided to locate our institute in Talitha Kumi.7 We thought about having it in Jerusalem, but decided on Talitha Kumi because it is easier for both the Palestinians and Israelis to reach, as Palestinians do not need a permit to get there8 . It would therefore be a place to which both Palestinians and Israelis could have access. We hosted many meetings and conferences between 1998 and 2000. Johannes Rau, the President of Germany, attended one of the conferences focusing on Palestinian curriculum. He sat with us for two hours and shared his knowledge and experience, as the analysis of curriculum is also a topic of interest for him.The Palestinians chose me to be the Palestinian director of the institute, and the Israelis chose Dan Bar-On to be the Israeli director. We work together, as PRIME is an institute based on the principles of balance and equality. In other words, all the tasks and positions are divided equally, whether these are related to planning, implementing the project, supervision, or the management of the Center. It is not an Israeli institute that just brought in a few Palestinians to work with them. On the contrary, we try as much as possible to prevent one party from dominating the other. There are other associations in which Israelis came up with the idea and designed the organization, and then needed Palestinian partners to join them. In organizations such as these, a sort of domination remains until this day. In contrast, from the very beginning we were extremely aware that there is no equivalence between the Palestinian reality and the Israeli reality. This is something that we recognized and admitted from the start. Through our work, however, we try to create and maintain a kind of balance. Of course, regardless of how good we are at this, it will never be good enough. The Israelis simply have greater opportunities; their universities and institutions are more developed, they have the ability to travel, they have freedom, they have resources, and we have less.One of the weak points that causes us a lot of agony, for example, is the fact that we must rely upon the Israelis in order to obtain permits. In a way, this highlights the imbalance in the relationship. On the one hand, it is good that we can receive help when we need it. On the other hand, this reliance reinforces the idea that there is "one who can" and "one who cannot." In one way or another, dependence upon Israelis for obtaining permits affects Palestinians' participation. We started with two projects: one was dedicated to oral history and the other to learning about the narrative of the other. One of the reasons we chose the topic of oral history is that the value of family is of fundamental importance in both Israeli society, or better-said, Jewish society, and Palestinian society. Family plays a key role in the composition of both societies. A large part of Jewish history, and especially that related to the Holocaust, has been passed along through oral history. For Palestinians, family is also extremely important. Indeed, one feels that family has been the very means of maintaining the existence of Palestinian society. In this way, Palestinian history has also been passed along orally, from grandfather to son to grandson, and so forth. This has also been the case both because Palestinians feel the need to talk about their suffering and because we have been forbidden from writing our own history. The study that I carried out brings out this point clearly. No more than four percent of the Palestinian curriculum is devoted to discussing the Palestinian reality. The Palestinian history presented in the curriculum is abbreviated and condensed. It offers only dry facts, and gives no sense of the lives of real people, their suffering, or their humanity. This history focuses exclusively on wars, key personalities, and the like. Yet one cannot understand the present or move into the future without looking back to the past and understanding one's own history.As Palestinians, what we learned about our history in school amounts to only ten percent of our complete history. There are many reasons for this. The Jordanians did not write much about Palestinian history. Then in 1967 the Israelis came and censored the curriculum, omitting mention of much of what had happened to Palestinians. So we have lived, from the 1950's until today, without knowing a thing. This is why documenting oral history is so important. We need to understand the past in order to explain the present and plan for the future. Only in this way can we learn from previous experiences and avoid repeating the same mistakes.Israeli history in particular and Jewish history in general, was oral for a long time. Of course, we cannot cover all aspects of Palestinian oral history or of Israeli and Jewish oral history, so we selected just some issues, such as the issue of refugees. By refugees, we mean the flight of Palestinians and the immigration of Jews. We arranged meetings between Jews who immigrated and settled in Palestinian lands, and the Palestinians who had been living there and were forced to leave during the same period. We will soon finish a film - we're just adding the final touches to it now - called From Beit Jibreel to Ravadeem.9 Beit Jibreel is a Palestinian village, which was inhabited by Palestinians before they had to leave it. The Azza family is one of the large families from this village, as is the Tal el-Safi family.The Israeli side chose some families who are currently living in the same area. Then we got both sides to meet and tell their stories to each other. It was very moving and very effective, but also very difficult to hear the story of the other. Each person spoke, and listening to both sides you could hear the pain in their voices, whether they were speaking about the Holocaust or about the Nakba. Moreover, they were both talking about the same place; the place where the Palestinians had once lived and where the Israelis live now. Of course, this was not dialogue. That was very hard to do for the purpose of the film, so we just had each side tell its story and offer forth its perspective. There will be other occasions in which dialogue can take place. Through our analysis of Palestinian and Israeli curricula, we have found that both sides tell one-sided stories. They both tell only their own part of the story; Israelis tell their stories and Palestinians tell their stories. I am not saying that the Palestinians wrote their narrative, however, as this was the narrative presented in the school curriculum written by the Jordanians and Egyptians. Regardless, what is very apparent is a complete denial and disregard for the other's story. Palestinians learn in their own language, Arabic, and Israelis learn in Hebrew. There is not even a proposition to listen to the other's story or learn about how the other thinks. This is one issue. Another issue is that neither curriculum pays attention to the eras of peace and co-existence that once existed between Palestinians and Jews. Rather, both curricula are limited to discussing wars, immigration, revolutions, and attacks. Educational undertakings such as these do not bear fruit over night; we must be cognizant of that. In order for Palestinian and Israeli children to understand themselves, however, they must understand the other. It is only after they understand the story of the other that they will discover to what extent they are truly prepared to understand the other side, and thus prepared to make changes to their own stories. It was our sincere ambition that what was happening on the ground in 1993 would continue, and that the booklets we produced would be used widely in schools. Unfortunately, the start of the intifada made it difficult and uncomfortable for us to continue with these meetings. Nevertheless, we succeeded in holding meetings for our two projects. We produced our first booklet, which contains the Palestinian and Israeli narratives of the Balfour Declaration, the 1948 War, and the first Palestinian intifada. The second book, which will be released next month, will contain the Palestinian and Israeli narratives of the 1920s and 30s, as well as the 1967 War. The third booklet will discuss the 1950s, 70s, and 90s. In this way we will have covered the Palestinian and Israeli narratives of the whole of the twentieth century, from 1900 to 2000. We hope that this experience will serve us well as we continue to develop curriculum on both sides.

    • 1Located in Germany, The George Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research is a "research institute on teaching materials in the fields of history, geography, and social studies." The institute "organizes international conferences, offers advice to textbook publishers and authors, writes expert opinions on various aspects of international textbook research, supports research, and publishes its findings." See http://www.gei.de/.
    • 2The Israeli-Palestinian workshop which Mr. Adwan is referring to was held from January 26 to February 2, 1997 at the Centre des Pensières, Fondation Marcel Mérieux, Veyrier du Lac (Annecy), France. A study in comparative education, To Live Together: Shaping New Attitudes To Peace Through Education, ed. Daniel S. Halperin, was published in 1997 and based on the workshop.
    • 3Dan Bar-On is Professor of Psychology at the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Ben-Gurion University. He is also the co-director of PRIME (Peace Research Institute in the Middle East) with Professor Adwan. For more information on Professor Bar-On's research interests and past works see his homepage: http://www.bgu.ac.il/~danbaron/.
    • 4Harald Muller is Executive Director and Head of Research Group (Arms Control and Disarmament) at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF). He is also an Honorary Chairperson on the Executive Committee at PRIME (Peace Research Institute in the Middle East). For a brief biography of Harald Muller and his research activities see: http://www.hsfk.de/mitarbeiter_detail.php?personid=25&language=en.
    • 5The Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) conducts work "towards identifying the causes of violent international and internal conflicts, carrying out research into the conditions necessary for peace, understood as a process of decreasing violence and increasing justice, and spreading the concepts of peace. Within the framework of its political counseling, research results are converted into practically orientated options for action that find their way into the public debate." See http://www.hsfk.de/index.php?language=en.
    • 6Peace Research Institute in the Middle East is "a non-governmental, nonprofit organization established by Palestinian and Israeli researchers with the help of the Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany. PRIME's purpose is to pursue mutual coexistence and peace- building through joint research and outreach
    • 7A Christian school located in Beit Jala, a Palestinian town near Bethlehem in the West Bank. It was originally founded in 1851 by a German Deaconess.
    • 8Israelis can legally go to Talitha Kumi because it is on a road in Beit Jala that is in Area C (under Israeli military control).
    • 9Beit Jibrin was a Palestinian village displaced by Jewish settlement in 1948. See: http://www.alnakba.org/villages/hebron/jibrin.htm and http://www.badil.org/Photos/villages/Beit-Jibrin/Photogallery/photo22111/real.htm. Today it is the site of a Jewish-Israeli town, Beit Guvrin, and of a National Park that was founded in 1949. See http://www.jafi.org.il/education/noar/sites/bguvrin.htm Revadim is located approximately 30 km south of Tel Aviv between Ashdod and Bet Shemesh in the same area as the former Palestinian village of al-Masmiyya al-Kabira. The name Masmiya lives on as a reference to the road junction between highways 40 and 3.

  • When you work on creating a joint curriculum for Palestinians and Israelis that includes the two narratives, what are the significant guidelines and what do you avoid doing?

    Our proposal and project are realistic. We don’t want to create the illusion of a perfect reality that is out of touch with the actual reality in which Palestinian and Israeli children live. In theory, it is possible for us to arrive at a single, joint historical narrative. Psychologically, socially and politically, however, this is very difficult to do. Thus, the aim of our project was not to craft a shared history. Rather, what we simply tried to do was explore the possibility of writing a Palestinian narrative and an Israeli narrative and presenting them side-by-side as equals. This was our aim - bold but humble, some might call it naïve. It is remarkable to see how the reference to a single term or event can provoke such an intense emotional response. To this day, Israelis continue to claim that the Palestinian refugees simply picked up and left their homes. Nearly 70 percent of Israelis believe that the Palestinians were not forced out, but rather emigrated. About ten percent of Israelis say that the Palestinians were indeed forced out. According to the Palestinian narrative, however, Palestinians were uprooted, killed, robbed of their land, and so on. The question of whether Palestinians emigrated or were forced to emigrate, therefore, is treated very differently in the two narratives. Another issue is one of the key expressions used in the Israeli curriculum to this day: the term "Eretz Israel." Palestinians call this land "Palestine." A question thus becomes: what is the definition of "Eretz Israel?" Is it from the Nile to the Euphrates or from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river? If this term continues to be used, it signifies a complete denial of the existence of Palestine. On the other hand, if the term Palestine, as it has been used historically, remains identified as the land from the sea to the river, then it also signifies denial of the existence of Israel. Thus, there are differences in the terms that are employed, as well as what is meant by those terms. The Palestinians consider the revolts that took place in the late twenties and thirties to be revolutions and resistance. Israelis, in contrast, view them as riots and disturbances. He who is a hero in the eyes of one group may be a saboteur in the eyes of another. The beginning of each narrative is also different, as each side chooses a distinct starting point. The ending is likewise different, as it is to be expected that each side include that which best supports its own perspective. Nonetheless, we did find events that were included in both narratives. For example, the Deir Yassin massacre received some mention in the Israeli curriculum, as well as in the Palestinian curriculum. Treatment of the role of the British is another feature of the narratives. Palestinians perceive the role of the British very negatively due to its mandate over Palestine, economic stranglehold, and uprooting of the Palestinians, to say nothing of its imprisonment and torture of Palestinian fighters. According to the Israeli narrative, the British were the first supporters of the establishment of the State of Israel. The Israelis' positive appraisal of the British changed towards the end of the thirties, however, when the British issued the "White Paper," which attempted to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine. In that period, Jews believed that Britain's position had shifted, and it was from here that the Zionist bands started attacking British installations. As a result, the narrative changes. In each story you will therefore find some aspects that are similar and others that are distinct. There is no circumvention or avoidance of this critical stage, of coming face to face with the other's narrative. At the same time, recognition is not legitimization. Perhaps during a second stage, when a real initiative for a political solution to end the conflict is on the horizon, the narratives may change. At that point, some events may be reanalyzed and reinterpreted.Eventually, it might be possible to develop a joint narrative or a bridging narrative that can begin to mend that gap between the two narratives. Yet this is not possible at this stage. Many people have criticized us for not producing one joint narrative. However, there is simply no way that this can happen in the absence of a political solution that would end the conflict in all its aspects, or at least a vision for such a solution.

  • As you have shown me in the book, the two narratives written opposite each other, for someone that doesn't know anything about the conflict, what are the outcomes of your work and how does it help?

    First of all, it puts an end to denial of the other. It serves as acknowledgement of the fact that there is more than one narrative for any historical event, and that each historical narrative is influenced by the nature of the lives of the people who experienced that history, as well as their vision for the future. It also shows that historical narratives are not constant; interpretations of history vary and evolve. It suggests that history should not be viewed exclusively in terms of politics or military affairs, but should also be considered from an economic, social, cultural, artistic and educational perspective. What is special about our project, and what cannot be seen when one only assesses it in terms of concrete results, is its dialogue dynamics and the relationships that have developed between the Palestinian and Israeli teachers who participated. This is something that cannot be documented! Imagine a Palestinian saying, “Here I am discussing history with an Israeli, and two hours ago I was being humiliated at a checkpoint.” Imagine an Israeli teacher saying, “I have come here, even though I’m afraid because I don’t know when the next bomb is going to explode.” In this respect, I want to emphasize a crucial point: these narratives were not developed by us, as supervisors or historians. They were developed by the teachers themselves. These teachers need training and on-going development. These Israelis and Palestinians have been trained only to teach their own narratives. Consequently, their learning to teach the narrative of the other -while the conflict with this other continues, no less - is an extremely enriching experience. These teachers have come a long way. The conflict between them has by no means disappeared, yet they have at least reached the point at which they are able to ask each other a question such as, “if we use this word, would you find that provocative? Is there another word that we can use instead?” They have also begun to exchange helpful resources and give each other information about various topics. They have started to ask each other questions, such as why certain persons are important to them, and so on.

  • Were there obstacles between the teachers, for example, with language?

    Of course language is a barrier. But another one of the principal difficulties is that the Israelis had more sources of information and documentation to turn to than did the Palestinians. Another thing is the disparity - the lack of equality - that exists between the ways of life of people on either side; the Israelis are more advanced professionally, have more privileges and opportunities, receive higher salaries, and enjoy a better social, economic, and psychological status. In contrast, the Palestinian teachers' salaries are lower and their lives under occupation are more difficult, psychologically and socially. Another problem was that the Palestinians were forced to depend upon the Israelis in order to get permits to travel. There was no way for them to travel unless an Israeli arranged for permission. The language problem, as I see it, has two sides. All of us, both Palestinians and Israelis, decided to use English. One might ask us why we did not use Arabic or Hebrew. However, language is not simply symbols and meanings. It is also culture, reality, interaction, and life. If we were to use only Arabic, for example, this immediately gives power to the Palestinian teachers. Similarly if we used Hebrew, this would give Israelis power. So granting preferential treatment to either language rather than the other creates an imbalance. Using English creates difficulties for both Palestinians and Israelis, in terms of making it more difficult for them to express their ideas clearly. Nevertheless, we preferred that difficulty to the problem of inequality that would arise from using either one language or the other. Psychologically speaking, the fact that both Israelis and Palestinians faced difficulties with English actually served to unite them. They felt that they shared both the same needs and the same weaknesses; directly or indirectly, they were both suffering from the same thing. Being similarly restricted in the use of language, therefore, gave them the feeling of having something in common. This is another facet of the experience that cannot be documented. We faced other difficulties. For example, the use of words like "Mujahideen" or "Palestinian freedom fighters" would upset the Israelis. Likewise Israelis' description of the first immigrants as "pioneers" disturbed the Palestinians. For Palestinians, those were the people who were the reason for their destruction. For Israelis, on the other hand, they are regarded as the people who built the country!

  • How did the teachers deal with such situations when they arose?

    In the introduction [that we wrote in Arabic and English], we stated clearly that our aim is to listen to the story of the other, not to change it. This is the beginning stage, and we do not want to put the teachers in a threatening situation. In some places, therefore, we used more than one term to refer to a given event or describe a certain theme. For example, one issue that sparked debate was the Israelis' reference to the 1948 War as a civil war. The Palestinians protested, because they consider it to be a political war. Or, for example, the Palestinians would refer to the Mujahideen, such as those following Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, as revolutionaries or leaders. The Israelis would protest, because for them those people were terrorists and saboteurs. In order to solve such problems, we would return to the rule upon which we had agreed from the outset, which was that we should not to try to change the narrative of the other. Our second rule was that if any side wanted to change a term, they were free to do so. In some cases the teachers came up with various definitions for the same term. Still, when we were in Turkey writing about the 1967 War, we faced such a fierce dispute that we feared that both the Palestinian and Israeli teachers would just pack up and leave without having accomplished a thing. The conflict was very intense. It is worth mentioning that when we plan a program, we do not divide the teachers into groups and immediately start working on the narratives. Rather, we begin with a long session in which we all meet together for two or three hours, or sometimes for half a day. In that session, each person talks about what has transpired in his or her life in the time that has passed since the last meeting, be it in the personal realm or that related to work, family, etc. This debriefing gave people the feeling of comfort and relief. It aided the participants' capacities for understanding on the human level. Indeed, the relationships and ties between the members of the group became so strong that they were what kept the project going. However, no one ever asked or expected anyone else to relinquish or change his or her story. History and the passage of time may bring about this development, and this is why we have kept the space between the two narratives blank. In the introduction to the second book, on which I am working now, we also explain that we have avoided writing a bridging narrative in order to give a chance to each person, whether Palestinian or Israeli, to look at the two narratives and decide for him or herself what to do; each person is free to decide whether to change his narrative, add to it, adjust it, etc. You cannot coerce people into moving in one direction or another; that is a decision that must come from within. The teachers' involvement and active participation in writing the narratives also gave them a kind of power. These Palestinian and Israeli teachers were accustomed to receiving a curriculum and simply teaching it. In this case, however, the teachers became the very authors of the curriculum. This provided them with a sense of ownership and attachment to it.

  • You said that when you were studying in the States, you used to not attend any class that Jewish students were attending, you also said you were imprisoned and now you are working on this project which is joint work between Palestinians and Israelis?

    As I mentioned earlier, my change began when I came into contact with two Israeli soldiers with two different points of view. Later I had the opportunity to meet with Israelis. Of course, I had been used to meeting with Israelis as interrogators or soldiers at military checkpoints. But had I not met with them person-to-person, as people. For example, Dan and I have been working together for a long time now. When I first met him in France, he had six children and grandchildren and likewise, I had six children. This is the familial and human side of the conflict that too often goes missing. What we see today, moreover, is the transformation of the conflict into a tally of numbers; one of them killed versus ten of us killed, or even one of them killed versus 100 of us killed, etc. An appreciation for the human dimension enhances these encounters by aiding understanding and empathy for others’ pain. We are not asked, as Palestinians or Israelis, to abandon our people or the society in which we live. For example, it would be a terrible mistake to think that a Palestinian is renouncing his reality or suffering simply because he is working together with Israelis. One can continue to be an effective member of his community, family, and society, and at the same time participate in activities with Israelis. Similarly, Israelis are not asked to remove themselves from their society. Doing so would render the two groups isolated and disconnected from their own societies, which would only serve to weaken their impact upon those societies.

  • What do your family and the people around you think of your work?

    My wife and children were a bit surprised that I would become involved in these activities just a few years after being released from prison. They questioned whether I was doing the right thing and asked why I would forfeit my community or risk being judged negatively by others. However, some of my children actually liked to attend our meetings and listen to how things were going. From 1993-2000, we also used to have family visits. It was not just Dan and me or the group that would meet for work. Rather, we used to invite each other to our homes and to spend time with our families. In this way, our relationships extended from the professional sphere to the social sphere. Likewise, our conversations do not always revolve around politics, history or books. We also talk about personal interests, such as food, clothing, movies, cultural events, etc. Of course, I do not want to sound naïve: organizing encounters that promote peace and understanding in the context of an ongoing conflict is no easy undertaking. Both sides face an enormous challenge due to the fact that the conflict is continuing open-ended. As we speak, the Israeli government continues to construct the wall, to build settlements, to impose restrictions on Palestinians' freedom of travel, to confiscate land, and so on. Given this situation, it is very difficult to foresee any chance for peace. We are left feeling depressed or even despairing. At times we feel lifeless, like all of our energy has been drained out of us and we have none left. It is not easy to create harmony between your vision and your reality, between the life you live and your ambitions. Nonetheless, we hope that, as Palestinians, we will be able to understand each other and help each other. As Palestinians, we also seek to challenge the stereotypes spread around the world that claim that Palestinians do not want peace, that we are terrorists, that we attack Israelis, etc. People sometimes forget that we are under occupation. This is one of the difficult issues that we are always facing in our discussions. Work in this field, therefore, is very trying. One never knows when something might happen on the ground that will cause you to despair and feel that the work is useless.

  • Do you think that your work promotes peace?

    I believe that providing Palestinian and Israeli students with an opportunity to be exposed to the other’s narrative - to come to know how the other side thinks and how they live their lives - has an essential role to play in changing Palestinians and Israelis’ perceptions of each other. A Palestinian or Israeli who reads the story of the other is not the same person he or she was before doing so; facing the other’s story increases one’s understanding of one’ own story and own reality, regardless of whether this understanding is positive or negative. At the same time, one comes to appreciate the multiple dimensions of the other’s story. This is what I said at a conference in France in November-- by the way our book has been translated to French and Italian and is being used in schools there. When the French students asked me how this project has affected me, I said simply, “You will never be the same.” Perhaps I gave such a terse answer because I was tired at the time. But that is what I said. After the reading the story of the other, you will not be the same person you were before. Something changes. Of course the extent to which one changes differs from one person to another. Reading the other’s story may bring one to be more sympathetic, compassionate, and understanding. In some cases it might even help one to rethink one’s own story, and say “Maybe I shouldn’t have thought about the other in this way.” In the first stage, all of this happens at the personal, individual, human level. From there, the single individual may become a group of five, ten, fifteen, thirty, or two hundred people. We cannot say that this project, by itself, will lead to peace. Grassroots work - the development of this and other people-to-people projects - is necessary, but not sufficient for the achievement of peace. A political decision or agreement can be implemented from the top down, but in order for peace be to transformed from a political decision to a reality, people must follow it. For this reason, we need both bottom-up and top-down mechanisms to function together and reinforce one another. Furthermore, it is also impossible to look at these narratives without giving attention to the reality in which Palestinians live. Palestinians are suffering under complete occupation. Of course, Israelis who are hurt by Palestinian attacks also suffer, but Israelis’ suffering does not reach the level of Palestinians’ suffering because the Palestinian situation is one of an entire nation suffering en masse. I know that suffering cannot be weighed or measured, but the fact is that the Palestinian people are occupied. They are denied their freedom, independence, self-determination, and very humanity. Such things are impossible under occupation. On the other hand, Israelis might be suffering from the threat of the Palestinian attacks. I do not know if this can be said, but Israelis might also suffer due to the knowledge that they have occupied another nation and are continuing to do so. This feeling manifests itself in various phenomena in Israeli society, such as the increase in incidents of violence and car accidents and in relationships within the family. There is a direct linkage between these phenomena and the status of being an occupier. There are many more examples of this type.

  • What does the word peace mean to you?

    For me personally, peace means that a person is able to live in security, whether at home, on the street, at work, etc. Peace means equality, freedom, peace of mind, humanity and pluralism. As a Palestinian, peace also means complete Palestinian independence and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. It is important to define borders between Israelis and Palestinians as two independent states. However, I am confident that, once Palestinians feel that they have achieved peace and actualized their own identity, the borders and symbols will become irrelevant and unimportant. It is also vital that Israelis feel that they are living at peace. The Israelis’ feeling of peace is distinct. In military terms, Israel is one of the strongest countries in the world. It will be difficult for them to attain a genuine sense of personal security and peace of mind, however, as long as the occupation persists. For both Palestinians and Israelis alike, peace will give us a guarantee that our children and the children of our children will live in security. Then Palestinians will live in their secure state and Israelis will live in their secure state, side-by-side.

  • What are your expectations for the future, the next five or ten years?

    The situation will worsen in the years to come, and the Palestinian condition in particular will get much worse. I am not very optimistic these days. The fear that I have now is similar to the fear that existed in 1948. That is to say, I fear that I will become like a Native American Indian, or like one of the indigenous peoples of Australia or Canada. When I was in Canada, natives there said, "our places are disappearing." As a Palestinian, I also feel that my places are disappearing. Now, when I look out my office window, I see the wall. I cannot see beyond it. The wall is also very close to my house, no more than 100 meters away. So I feel like my land and the places that should belong to me have begun to disappear.The international political linkage that is being made between what is happening in Afghanistan,1 and Iraq2 and what is happening in Palestine also frightens me. The equation of the two is both unjust and very damaging to the Palestinians. We are a nation under occupation. The nations of the world have recognized our right to independence yet, unfortunately, people are associating us with the practices of certain other groups. For Palestinians, this is extremely painful. For this reason, I am not very optimistic. Perhaps if you ask me at a later point, my opinion will have changed as the course of events has changed. At this junction, however, I foresee that our situation will get worse in the five years to come. I am optimistic that the election of Abu Mazen as President could have a small impact. Nevertheless, I do not believe that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be solved only from within. It also requires a change in the foreign policy of the United States in the direction of implementing international law.

    • 1Refers to the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, the ensuing war, and the post-war reconstruction efforts.
    • 2Refers to the US invasion of Iraq in the early spring of 2003, the ensuing war, and post-war reconstruction efforts.

  • Why do you think former peace agreements have failed?

    At the beginning Oslo seemed to be the "peaceful way out" of the conflict for the Palestinians. It was believed to be a way that would lead to complete liberation and the establishment of the Palestinian State according to the Declaration of Independence in Algeria on the fifteenth of November 1987. That's why the Palestinians, regardless of their political views, welcomed Oslo. It gave them some hope and they were happy with it. They began to see some serious implementation towards their independence and began to feel like other nations, able to develop their culture and revive their history and traditions and maintain the unity of the society. Politically it is essential for Palestinians to feel free and not hesitant to represent the Palestinian identity. Perhaps in ten years they will be able to say "I am Palestinian" without saying "I am Jordanian from a Palestinian origin" or "a Palestinian carrying the laissez-passer or Israeli travel document." So Oslo in that sense helped. The simplest thing that Oslo offered is a Palestinian passport. I used to feel very ashamed when I had to present my Jordanian passport or the Israeli travel document that Israel gave us in the seventies and eighties; I never felt that I was presenting the document that represents my identity. It also has other political implications especially when I use it [the Palestinian passport] at airports; it gives the feeling that I am a Palestinian, a human.Firstly, as a Palestinian and a human being, I do not believe that any of the peace initiatives or attempts at peace have actually satisfied the ambitions of the Palestinian people. They have always stopped short of fulfilling our aspirations. Secondly, it can also be said that these attempts have failed to provide Israelis with a sense of security and internal peace.Furthermore, the leap from one initiative to another and from one negotiation to another has confused the Palestinian and Israeli publics. First there was Oslo, which we thought was a good beginning that would set the tone for that which would follow. But now they come up with a new initiative every day! Sharm El-Sheikh, Taba, the Geneva Initiative, the Road Map, and all the others simply bewilder people. That is why, if you present Palestinians with another peace initiative, they will think that it is just another trick or trap. Moreover, my opinion as a Palestinian is that Israeli policy towards the Palestinians remains unchanged. This has been clear under Sharon. Rabin, who signed the Oslo peace agreement with the Palestinians, was assassinated at the hands of an Israeli. He had become a symbol for peace and hope, and for that he was killed. The Israeli government has continued building settlements, confiscating lands, and other such practices, the latest of which is the building of the wall. Thus, should we listen to words and statements, or should we pay attention to the reality on the ground? This is the conflict in which we are living, as Palestinians. We live on the hope that the re-election of Bush might improve the situation. We live on the hope that the development of Palestinian democracy, after the election of Abu Mazen, might open up new prospects. The success of peace, however, can only be measured by the degree to which every Israeli and Palestinian senses a change, and feels that his or her own life has begun to move forward. If you ask people on the street, they will tell you that they are suffocating. They say, "We don't know where we are and we want something to get things moving from here." Although it saddens me to say it, I think that the Israeli political system has yet to reexamine or reconsider the driving concept of the Zionist movement; that of the Promised Land and so on. One of the fundamental reasons for this, that we as Palestinians tend to neglect, is the history of the Jews in Europe. Those experiences continue to cause fear among Israelis today. What happened in Europe - the Holocaust and the oppression of the Jews - still frightens them. This plays a large role in their attention to acquiring military power. Oslo changed this situation in important ways, but there remain essential issues that can only be resolved through compromise. These issues must be addressed not through limited, partial agreements, but rather as part of a larger vision for a comprehensive solution. The Geneva Initiative, for example, addressed many issues, but left some of their critical dimensions untouched.

  • Which international audience do you think has the most influence in this region?

    For me, "international audience" means, first of all, ordinary people. I believe that there are ordinary people around the world who are trying to seek peace. If we want to talk about international politics, however, that is the essential thing. We live in a uni-polar world in which the United States of America is the only power. I am not talking about America's domestic politics, which is a whole other issue, but about its foreign policy, and especially that regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Presidents continue to make promises to the Palestinians while giving real support to Israel. Palestinians feel that America supports Israel politically and economically. We should also mention the role of lobbies and pressure groups around the world; they play a big role in determining foreign policy in America, as well as in many countries in Europe. The media also plays a key role in shaping the way that people understand the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. At the same time, the United Nations remains incapable of implementing resolutions concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, even though it has succeeded in implementing other resolutions elsewhere. Therefore, we are not talking about the role of a single international audience. We are talking about the role of the UN, the media, the lobbies, U.S. foreign policy, etc. As Palestinians, we also need to intensify our social and peaceful activism in order to achieve our goals. Personally, I do not think that I will be proud of a Palestinian state built upon corpses and blood. How will I be able look at my self if this is the case? Sometimes I ask my Israeli colleagues, in a joking way, "Are you happy that you have established a state, but everyday there is bloodshed and Palestinians are killed?I am also of the opinion that the Palestinian state should not invest any money in armaments or the building of a military. Rather, it should invest in building schools and hospitals, in caring for the families that are suffering, in developing industry and manufacturing, and in improving health, education, roads, and services for its people. All the policies and plans that have been undertaken on a militarized basis have ended in failure. We do not want the conflict to continue on the path of war and the use of force.I am very influenced by the thinking of Paulo Freire, and his concept that one cannot be human without humanizing the other. Humanization and dehumanization are very strong words. One cannot be human and at the same time refuse to allow another to be human. One cannot protect his humanity on the basis of denying the humanity of others. These are the simple terms that Paulo Freire uses extensively in his writings. You can neither be free by taking away the freedom of another nor be human by taking away the humanity of another. Paulo Freire's works have influenced me to the point that they have also served as a source of frustration: I believe in his concepts, yet see that they have no bearing upon the Palestinian-Israeli reality. He says that it is the duty of the oppressed to liberate both themselves and their oppressors. Nelson Mandela and Ghandi similarly spoke about transforming your enemy into your friend: if you love your enemy, then you will cause him to hate himself, and if he hates himself, then he will come to love you in the end. Of course, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not one-dimensional. It is multi-faceted and complicated. In this way, it differs from other conflicts around the world, such as the conflicts between the French and Algerians,1 the Italians and Libyans, or the Egyptians and British. The complexity of this conflict plays a role in the difficulty of resolving it.Education also plays a big role although, according to Freire, education should be based on dialogue, not coercion. The international audience, moreover, is either shyly sympathetic or afraid of declaring its political stance. I mean, no one will disagree about the fact that there is occupation and oppression. This silence can be explained in many ways. The Europeans may continue to have a problem of conscience, due to their oppression of the Jews. Their feeling of guilt may thus affect the political position that they adopt with regard to the Palestinians. That is, if they demonstrate sympathy with the Palestinians, their subconscious might bring them to think about what they did to the Jews. The pressure groups that are based outside of the locus of the conflict also play a big role. Unfortunately, however, the way that they understand and analyze the conflict is wrong. If I were a member of a lobby in America or Europe, I would also support the state of Israel. But how can I help Israel achieve security as long as it continues to be an occupier? The Jewish lobbies in America, such as AIPAC, are not cognizant of this situation. All they care about is sending money to support Israel. AIPAC plays a very influential role, but is its role pro-peace or anti-peace? Personally, I think that its role is not only against peace, but that it is also against the best interests of the Israelis who live here in a situation of ongoing conflict and fear. It is not good for them to raise their children in the midst of conflict. How will they look at the future? One cannot look to the future from a single angle.

    • 1France began its occupation of Algeria with the conquest of Algiers (the current capital of Algeria) in 1830. After more than a century of intense French occupation and a series of bloody battles and war in the 1950's, Algeria achieved independence in 1962.