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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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Wafa Srour

Before moving to the unique, intentionally mixed Palestinian and Jewish community of Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam in Israel, Wafa Srour was an insurance agent. She was nominally involved in activism with the Communist Party and women's movements in Eilaboun, Ramle and Tel Aviv. Wafa is responsible for women's programming at the School for Peace at NSWAS, and aims to strengthen women's roles in conflict resolution. Her activities focus on dialogue meetings and encounters among Palestinian and Israeli women.

  • Can you please give us some general information about your life?

    I am from Eilaboun, a small village in the north between Tiberias and Nazareth.. A massacre took place in this village in 1948; sixteen people were killed and the others fled for their lives. Both my maternal uncle and my paternal uncle were among those killed. My father could have been among them, as well, yet he somehow survived. I was born in the same village and in the same house. I used to be a member of the Communist party, which called for two states for two peoples. I also worked with the women's movement. My husband and I were living in Ramle when I heard about the Waha from the social studies teacher in the school where I used to study. They were having a meeting and invited me to come. That is how we came to live here. I took a facilitation course at the School for Peace1 and then began working there. On the one hand, working at the School for Peace and dealing with peace issues in general is not easy.The conflict is still going on around you, and you are living in this village that tries to create a space for peace. On the other hand, it is exciting to feel that you might be able to achieve something; that you might be able to bring people together by offering something of yourself and sharing your ideas and goals. So, in some small way, I feel that I'm giving of myself and doing something that I believe in - and not only because of the encounters. Of course, the School for Peace sponsors encounters between Arabs and Jews, and its staff consists of both Arabs and Jews. Several organizations sponsor activities of this type, each one using its own method. Some use an individual-based approach to deal with the conflict, while others choose an inter-group approach. When I began working for the School for Peace, its approach was still not clear. Our way of working now is different. Back then, things were not very structured. Now, in contrast, our staff is much more organized. We are constantly working on improving our skills through dialogue and meetings. We decided to use the inter-group model. The point is not to bring youth together so that they can get to know each other and have fun. Our aim is to raise awareness. They can have fun later. Imagine that a Palestinian student comes out of a meeting and says, "I had a good time in there, but out here nothing has changed." I would feel as if I had fooled him. This is something that I, as part of a nation that is suffering under the rule of another nation, cannot accept. As such, we have changed the methods that we use. We say that there is a state called Israel that occupies and oppresses the Palestinian people. As the Palestinian minority in Israel we also face oppression and the denial of our rights. The point is to get everything out on the table and to deal with it. I worked with the women's movement in Eilaboun and I also worked with the women's movement during the two years in which I lived in Ramle, and also in Tel Aviv. When I came to the Waha, part of my feminist identity was erased. Not long after I began working on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the School for Peace, however, I began thinking more about women's issues again. I asked myself, "where am I in this? What is the role of women?"

    • 1The School for Peace (SFP), created in 1979 as an education institution of Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam (NSWAS), conducts “Jewish-Arab encounter programs” that aim at promoting a “better understanding through broad, in-depth examination of the nature of relations between Arabs and Jews.” One of their main goals is to develop “participants’ awareness of the conflict and their role in it, and enable them to probe and construct their identity through interaction with the other...shaped by the quest for a truly humane, egalitarian and just society.” The School for Peace has a campus at Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam (NSWAS), but also conducts programs elsewhere. See: http://www.sfpeace.org/.

  • Women's Role

    I observed the behavior of the women who attended our encounters or who came to the meetings at the universities. I noticed that women's voices were not heard so much during the meetings; women tended to let the men speak. This reflects the reality in other facets of life as well, as usually the only ones at the podium giving speeches are men. We took note of this issue, and in an attempt to give women a chance to make their voices heard, we decided to organize meetings for women only. This does not mean that we are against men. We host these meetings in order to give support and encouragement to those women who believe that women should not be involved in politics, but rather that their proper role in life is to work in the kitchen, to tailor the clothes of the men in the army, and to give birth to boys who grow up to join the army. I disagree. I believe women should take more responsibility in life. Nine years ago, we started a program with Tel Aviv University. The program is concerned with women's identities from a range of perspectives. As uneducated women are usually marginalized in society, we decided to work with women who had a lot of potential. Our goals were both to help them develop self-confidence and to help them identify the constructive roles that they, as Israeli and Palestinian women, can play in the conflict. Boosting women's confidence allows them to start thinking about finding an effective role for themselves in politics and about contributing to the shaping of their own ethnic identity. For example, gaining confidence allows them to think about refusing to send their children to the army. These are issues that women must examine in order to decide for themselves what role they play in the conflict and what roles they want to play. Our work has brought us to a number of conclusions. For example, we have done some research interviewing Israeli and Palestinian women inside Israel. You know all of the fantasies about solidarity among women in the face of their shared oppression at the hands of men and the structures of society? We wanted to investigate this fantasy and examine its grounding in reality. We found that Palestinian women for the most part, do not feel a sense of sisterhood with Jewish women. In some of the interviews I conducted, when we talked about women’s issues, Palestinian women would say that they felt unity with Jewish women. When we started to talk about nationalist issues, however, it was a different story. From the perspective of the Palestinian woman, that other woman takes on the role of a man. That is, when a woman faces a conflict as massive as this one, her concerns go beyond feminist issues, alone. This is my own experience, as well. When I lived in Eilaboun, for instance, I was deeply involved in women’s issues. As soon as I arrived here, however, I became more concerned with ethno-national identity. I’ve become so involved in preserving my identity in the face of the Israelis that I have almost forgotten about feminism. This leads us to question where, under these circumstances, feminism is to be found.

  • Working with Israeli women

    If I am going to work with Israeli women, I have a number of conditions. First of all, the Israeli women must agree with us on the nationalist question. It doesn't make sense for these women to oppress me and my husband then expect me to stand side by side with them in a demonstration against men. This is not an easy situation for Israeli women, who are figuring out whether there is a positive role for them to play, or whether they should just sit and watch. Now, more and more women are asking themselves where they want to be situated in the conflict. They are exploring what exactly they can do. Now that they've asked this question, the next step is figuring out what to do about it. We want women to feel a sense of achievement. This is our goal with these meetings. This is what we are hearing from women when they talk about their lives. We never expect rapid change. Our aim is to help women listen to stories about others' experiences so that they can come to think critically about their own position in society, and where they stand in relation to the other stories. In our encounters, the women generally first listen to a lecture. We then divide them into two groups; one Jewish and the other Arab. These groups give each woman a chance to speak in her own language about the ways in which she suffers in her own society. We then bring the Jewish and Arab women together to discuss the nationalist issue. It is at this point that the meetings tend to get hostile. The screaming results from the fact the women are surprised by what they hear. Arab women were surprised that the Jewish women, who also suffered from the oppression of men, have suddenly turned into oppressors themselves towards the other Palestinian women and their husbands. These surprises are powerful because they make the women question and reevaluate their social status. After Oslo we started working with Palestinians in general and Palestinian women in particular. Our aim is not to be a political opposition, however. We respect the decisions taken by the Palestinian leadership and we understand if, after the breakdown of Oslo, they wish to boycott relations with Israelis. They have the right to refuse to communicate with people who are killing them. We have been involved in convening meetings for Palestinians and developing programs concerned with the situation of Palestinian and Israeli women. We have also offered courses in facilitation. One of the School for Peace's activities is organizing trainings that prepare facilitators to do work related to the Jewish-Palestinian conflict. We are also currently sponsoring a number of programs and encounters between Palestinian and Jewish women. Of course, there is some confusion when we include Palestinian women from Israel, although I am an advisor, and I myself am from inside Israel.

  • What have you noticed during the meetings between Palestinian women from Israel and Palestinian women from Palestine?

    One thing I have noticed during the meetings between Palestinian women from Israel and Palestinian women from Palestine is how open they are in sharing their thoughts with each other. These meetings are characterized by a calmness and forthrightness that is difficult to achieve in the Jewish-Arab meetings. This took me by surprise. It seems to me that, as Palestinian women from Israel, our position in society makes us stressed and nervous. Palestinian women from Palestine speak with amazing frankness about things that we, Palestinian citizens of Israel, do not dare to mention. The Palestinians in the West Bank have more self-confidence than the Palestinians living inside Israel. This is because as a Palestinian citizen of Israel you always feel that there is an Israeli around you, reminding you that he or she is better than you are, and that you are something less. When the discussion revolves around politics, the Palestinians talk and talk and talk until the Jews find themselves in a very uncomfortable position. The Jewish women, feeling a need to change the atmosphere in the room, then request to switch the topic of discussion from politics to social issues. The Palestinians agree, and the discussion turns to societal concerns. Then Palestinians say that their society may be backward and may suffer from a number of problems, but unfortunately they cannot improve this situation as long as they are under occupation. They say that, if Israelis ended the Occupation, perhaps Palestinian women would be able to focus on improving their conditions as women. This leaves the Jewish women in a state of shock. In my opinion I think that such openness is a vital part and demonstrates the awareness and strength of the group. It is important for the group to always talk about the facts and to not hide information. After meeting with many different groups, furthermore, I have noticed that Palestinians from the West Bank are more open than are Palestinian women from Israel. In my opinion, this forthrightness is a very good thing.

  • Do you think that your work promotes peace? If so, how?

    We are an occupied nation. No nation in the world would accept being occupied. In order to affect change, we must try to influence people's consciousness. Some might say that they are under Israel's rule, so there is little that they can do. Although it might seem like they have no means of expressing their dissent, I believe that there are many things that can be done. I wish that the Occupation could end without a single drop of blood. Unfortunately, that is not how the world works. At times I wonder about the value of education, culture, universities, and the developed world, given that war continues to be war. It is really just unfathomable. You see what has been done to women in the Iraqi prisons.1 It seems like only barbarians would be capable of doing such things, but it was the "civilized" Americans who did it. It is impossible to remain silent when you look around and see all of these things .You begin to think that maybe education is the key to making change. I believe that the only way to change a person is to raise his awareness. It was only when I became aware of the fact that I was being oppressed that I was able to start resisting it. I denounce all oppression, whether it is carried out by Arabs or Jews. Once we become aware that there are people living under occupation, we can work to end it. This is our work; it is centered on consciousness-raising. Change, however, will not be achieved easily or quickly. Ideas that are deeply ingrained - the ideas on which people have been raised - cannot be uprooted overnight. I have also been working to promote awareness among Palestinians in Israel because this is a way of bringing about change among Jewish Israelis. Israel is able to do the things it does because we are too weak to stop it. The stronger we become, the less power they will have over us. If we gain power, Israel will not dare to continue with the practices that it carries out today. We work on making people aware of their rights so that they can stand up to those who claim to be democratic and humane, but whose practices are not.

    • 1Refers to the prison scandal at the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib, which made headlines in the Spring of 2004, that exposed abuse and maltreatment of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers. While most of the images and abusive practices that gained widespread attention where those of US soldiers (both male and female) mistreating Iraqi men, it is believed by some that Iraqi women prisoners also suffered abuse. According to Scheherezade Faramarzi of the Associated Press, rumors of the rape and subsequent pregnancies of Iraqi women prisoners are widespread, although unsubstantiated. Additionally, while sexual abuses of Iraqi female prisoners may have occurred, it would be very unlikely for them to speak publicly. See Scheherezade Faramarzi. “Cultural Taboos Would Prevent Former Iraqi Female Prisoners to Speak of Any Abuse,“ The Associated Press, International News, 14 May 2004. According to Huda Alazawi, an Iraqi woman formerly held prisoner at Abu Ghraib; neither she nor any of the women prisoners at the time of her imprisonment were sexually assaulted. However, in his report into the scandal, US Major General Antonio Taguba “found that at least one US military policeman had raped a female inmate inside Abu Ghraib.“ See: “After Abu Ghraib,“ The Guardian, 20 Sept 2004 .

  • What is your plan for future activities?

    The School for Peace holds encounters at universities and has offered training courses at four universities, as well. Over time, we have become well known for the facilitation training that these courses provide. More and more, when the facilitators who take our courses go on to work in the field, people ask them where they obtained their training and they say “School for Peace”. This makes us feel that we are having an impact. We have also published a book that details the methodology that we use.1

    • 1Srour is referring to Israeli and Palestinian Identities in Dialogue: The School for Peace Approach. Rabah Halabi ed. Translated by Deb Reich. (Piscataway: Rutgers UP, 2004).

  • In your opinion, is this a way of promoting peace?

    Yes, it promotes peace - genuine peace. For us, peace is based upon equality: not you in a position of superiority and me in a position of inferiority. Even during Oslo, the feeling of superiority on the part of Jews was something unbelievable. How can that be considered to be peace? Peace is achieved by the same principle we use in our work here, namely that both sides are equals. When both sides are equals, they will look into concessions. Peace can be reached only after making those concessions, apologizing and trying to fix the damage. Not every peace is genuine peace.

  • What challenges do you encounter?

    We face challenges on a daily basis, especially those of us who live in the Waha. It is not at all easy, and at times it can be exhausting. Sometimes I wonder why I came to live here. One challenge comes from the fact that we are undertaking a double mission; we are working to bring about change both within ourselves and within the other side: among the Jewish Israelis. The Israelis' feeling of superiority comes through in everything, all the time. They have a sense that they have the power to control things because they were raised with the idea that they can have it all. So we have to make a two-part effort: we have to work on ourselves and also on them. This is no easy task. To be completely frank, I do not feel comfortable here. Peace does not come for free; I am paying the price. I want Israeli Jews to have to pay a price in order to achieve peace, as well. We, the Palestinians, have already paid more than enough. You cannot be a leftist and at the same time send your son to the army. It was my dream that the people who came to live here for the sake of peace would refuse to join the army. I still hope for peace, at least from the people who live here. What bothers me most is that Israelis do not refuse to join the army. They claim to hope for peace, yet they send their children off to war. How can this be? This is extremely painful for me. And what hurts even more is the fact that they do not understand that this hurts us. It surprises me that I have lived with them for so long and they still do not know what hurts me. The Jewish residents of the Waha think that they can live here, yet continue to be like Israeli Jews who live elsewhere. I believe that if you come and live with Arabs, then you are choosing to become a part of an Arab community. And in that case, there are compromises and sacrifices that you must make. You come from a state that has all the power, and you choose to come live with a minority that is not only weak and oppressed, but is oppressed by your own army. It is simply a contradiction for you to choose to live here and continue to partake in that oppressive power. Unfortunately, to this day the Waha is yet to set forth conditions for families that request to live here. The Waha has still not opened a dialogue on this issue. In my opinion, there are two main issues in this regard. The first issue is language. When you decide to live with another community, you need to know its members' language in order to be able to interact with them and get to know their culture and background. Otherwise you do not show that you really care about them and care about coming to know who they are. The second issue is military service. In my opinion, families that want to live in the Waha should be in agreement on these two issues. First, they should agree to learn the language of the other community. Second, they should agree that their children will not go to fight in the army.

  • Do you think they should not join the army at all, or just that they should not serve in the West Bank and Gaza?

    I think that, at the very least, they should not serve in the Territories. Defensive service would be OK. Some young men and women from the Waha have refused to serve in the army, but not all of them. This is a personal choice and a choice that I deeply respect. But I also think that the Waha should make it a rule, and not leave it up to the discretion of individual families. They have to know that living with another community means joint-participation, and joint-participation means giving up certain things. I cannot give up anything, because I have nothing left to give up. Everything has already been taken away from me. Today what I want is to reclaim what I have been deprived of: my language, my identity, etc. That is what I am working for today; to win back that which has been taken away. They, on the other hand, should give up the things with which they oppress me.

  • One can argue that parents cannot tell their children how to think or behave - just because parents made a decision does not mean that they can impose their views on their children.

    That is Israeli democracy! Israelis are democratic when they want and not democratic when they do not want to be. I have heard this line so many times before: "I cannot stop my 18 year-old from doing what he or she wants." My response is that, if this is the case, then that 18 year-old is old enough to make his own decision about whether he wants to continue living in the Waha or to live independently elsewhere, regardless of the beliefs of his parents. He can say "OK, with all due respect to my family, I choose to go in another direction". If the young man is free, he has to think things over and make this decision. When one refuses to serve in the army, he is no longer free. How can they criticize Arabs for being backward and lacking individual freedom? Where is their individual freedom? The security situation puts an end to individual freedom? I simply do not buy all this Israeli propaganda about freedom and democracy.

  • Did you ever doubt that you were on the right track?

    I do not feel that the way I live is wrong. But it takes a long time for a person to change. We need to be stronger. The Arabs in the Waha are not strong enough. This seems to be the dynamic among most minority groups; they must unite as a group, and not simply act as individuals, if they are to determine their collective needs. What I'm saying is that we need a political transformation. We need a clear political vision that will offer us a basis on which to work.

  • How has the Israeli-Palestinian conflict influenced your life?

    At times, I envy the lives of people in other parts of the world. We, on the other hand, go to sleep and wake up to politics. We eat and breathe politics. Politics plays too large a role in our lives; even in our homes, we are never free of politics. For example, when I came back from a demonstration at the checkpoint in Rafah on Friday, my child asked me if I asked the soldier if he would like to be to be treated the way that he treats us. I was in shock. My little baby, what does she know about all of this? I told her that I did, so she asked, "Why didn't they listen to you then?" I said, "Because we're weak." Here in the Waha there is a Jewish-Arab elementary school. I had to decide whether to let my children attend this school or take them back to Ramle. Making decisions is the hardest thing. It is so hard when my children ask why they do not attend the school here, since this is where we live. The school here is supposed to be bi-national and bilingual, but in reality it is not. So I do not want my girls to be there. There is a huge gap between what they claim this school to be and what it actually is. How can I let my little girl fall into that trap? I want her to learn proper Arabic. I want her to study in Arabic.

  • Why have you decided to raise your daughters in a bi-national atmosphere, yet send them to a uni-national school?

    Living in the Waha is something of an experiment for us, which means we try many different things and give up those things that do not work. In my opinion, the Waha's attempt at creating an Arab-Jewish school have not succeeded. Here in the Waha, we asked for a bi-national school that does not deal at all with religion. We wanted to put the religious issue aside. The Jewish residents objected, however, because for them religion is part of their national identity. In the end, what we have here seems to be a typical Jewish school, with some Arabs added in. If we want a genuinely Arab-Jewish school, on the other hand, we must create it from scratch, from its very foundations and basic principles. I cannot put my daughter in the school here, attending this school would be at the expense of our language and our nationality, something which is totally unacceptable for me. I have made the choice to live here, but I cannot allow this choice to be at my daughters' expense.

  • What do you see as successes in your work?

    Today the number of Israelis that refuse to join the army is increasing. I think that if these families were living outside the Waha, they would not think of refusing in this way. Unfortunately, I am someone who always sees the glass as half empty. This is exhausting, and maybe it is a flaw. But it also pushes me to work to make things better. I see the daughter of my colleague Michal getting her draft notice from the army. She is in 11th grade, and she is now working hard to form a committee of people interested in refusing military service. This gives me assurance. It gives me the feeling that at least some people stand by us.

  • Did you meet people through this work whom you would not otherwise have met?

    In the outside world, you can avoid people if you want to. If there is someone with whom you don't want to speak, you don't have to. Here we do not have this option because we always have to make some decisions which makes it very hard for us to avoid each other. There are 50 families living here, and everyone knows each other. Some five years ago, a young man from the Waha was killed in a helicopter that crashed on its way to Lebanon.1 This was one of the most difficult moments of my life. It was one of these moments in which you have to separate between reason and emotions. On the one hand, he was just 20 years old. You can imagine how painful it was. On the other hand, he was on his way to fight. For me, the most difficult thing about the incident was that it came as a complete surprise, because I had not realized that someone here joined the army in order to participate in combat. I knew there were some who joined the army, but I never imagined they would become fighters. I felt deceived and betrayed. These are the worst feelings to have. It was just too much to bear. People here wanted to build a monument to the young man in the playground of the village. The idea of a monument was extremely painful for me. I felt like I was being strangled. It was not a cultural issue, but a nationalist one. It hurt me as a matter of national and political identity. In the end, the monument was built even though 80 percent of the Arabs were against it. Now we have to be reminded of all of this each time we look at this monument. Why should my children and I be deprived of enjoying this playground? The problem is that the young man's parents still do not understand why this is painful for me. They do not understand where my pain is coming from. For them, this was simply their son. I have compassion for them and I cried too. But I have feelings, as well. I feel for my father and for my aunt in Lebanon. I cannot forget them, either. This whole incident was terrible, and I hope that I never have to face such a situation again. That is why I believe that they [Israeli Jews from NSWS] should not go to the army. The betrayal is too difficult to bear. If you are 18 years old, you have enough awareness to understand the situation. You can choose to go and fight, but if you do so then you cannot live here. It is a contradiction to live here and also to participate in war. The two things cannot go together. Why should we be forced to tolerate such a contradiction?

    • 1On February 4, 1997, two Israeli army helicopters collided in Northern Israel killing over 70 soldiers. One of these soldiers who died was a member of the Neve Shalom/Walat al Salam community, Tom Kita’in. See http://www.nswas.com/people/tom.htm. Also, Hilary Appelman. “Unique Community of Peace Mourns Soldier Killed in Crash-Together,” The Associated Press, International News, 5 Feb 1997.

  • What are the most important lessons that you have learned?

    If I am weak, then I will not achieve a thing. I must become more powerful in order to make change. This is not a lesson, as much as it is a given. I cannot expect a tyrant and an occupier to act humanely all of a sudden: to apologize and ask to make amends. I wish it were that easy, but it's not. So the lesson we learn is that we must increase our own strength.

  • What do you strive to achieve for your country and your people?

    I want my people to be able to enjoy their humanity and their rights, and live in freedom and equality within a state. When I say that we want equality as a minority, I do not mean that we also get to join the army. This is not what equality is about. I mean that, as a minority, we should be respected. Our feelings of inferiority before Jewish Israelis has reached unbelievable proportions. Our lack of confidence in our own identity is dreadful. Our elementary schoolbook depict the Jews as sophisticated and cultured and the Arabs as backward.

  • Can you elaborate?

    According to the Israeli Ministry of Education, the educational goals set forth for Arabs are different than those set forth for Jews. For Jews, the goals include strengthening identity and taking pride in nationality, language and culture, and so forth. For Arabs, on the other hand, the goals include increasing tolerance, peace, and things of that nature. What peace am I supposed to love if I am always afraid for my life? They raise us to be forgiving and compromising, but not to discover our identities, language, and history. Why can't I learn about the history of 1948? Isn't it my right to learn about what happened to my family in 1948? Isn't it my daughter's right to learn her own history? Why do I have to learn about other nations' histories but not about my own? It is forbidden to talk about 1948 here, even at the universities. My father lived through 1948; I need to know what happened in order to be able to understand him and deal with him. I need to know what happened in order to know myself. Why do they keep that information from us? I need to know the truth in order to build my own identity. When we talk to Israeli Jews about this they say, "Why do you always focus on the past? Let's start from now and look forward." But if they don't think the past is important, then why do they keep teaching their children about the Holocaust? Why can they teach the history of the Holocaust, when Arabs cannot teach their children about 1948? I studied about the Holocaust in school, but I was not taught about the things that my own father went through. Where is the equality and justice in this? In school we also had to celebrate Israeli Independence Day. What is it that I am supposed to be celebrating? That you took my land? Where is the logic in this? How is an Arab child supposed to develop his identity when he has to wave the Israeli flag? Independence Day is a day off from school and work. I remember that my school would be decorated with Israeli flags and we had to sing Israeli songs. We had to celebrate it as if we were Jews. It was forbidden to tear the Israeli flag, of course, and we were afraid to speak up and express ourselves. There was no freedom of speech; they would not talk about why we might have the desire to tear up the flag. All of these feelings were covered up, suppressed, silenced.

  • Is there any hope?

    I have hope, because things cannot remain the way they are. History has shown that no occupation can continue forever. If I did not have hope, I would not be here today. I also gain some hope from the fact that people are becoming more and more educated.

  • What does the word "peace" mean for you?

    Sometimes I do not like this word at all, because we always learned that peace means making concessions, being patient, and so forth. Peace is a beautiful word, but it is a difficult road, filled with thorns and obstacles. For that reason, it scares me sometimes.

  • Which international community has the greatest influence on the region, and what would you like to say to it?

    I am not sure that I want to tell them anything. It is strange how the entire world becomes blind when it turns its eyes towards the Palestinians. It is ironic how the world claims to reject occupation, yet silently watches as one nation occupies another and pushes its people out of their homes. Today countries around the world donate money to fund our peace organizations. There are times when I want to tell them to stop, and instead to use their money to build factories that will provide Palestinians with jobs. How can I expect a man to be good to his wife when he does not have a job and cannot feed his children? How is he supposed to be able to live? A starving nation will not be capable of achieving anything. We need to build schools and educate our people. First and foremost, however, our people need food to eat, because it is only then that they will be able to think about other things. A starving nation will think only about aggression. I want Palestinians to work in their own state and not in Israel,1 so we need to build more factories. My goal is to for Palestinians to be proud of their identity, culture, and homeland. I want them to live with dignity.

    • 1For information on Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who work in Israel and the restrictions on their employment and movement, see B’Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) http://www.btselem.org/english/Workers/Index.asp.

  • What misconceptions do people have regarding the work that you do?

    When I first came here and people asked me about my work or about where I lived, I would immediately jump to explain that we are not another one of those peace organizations that just wants peaceful relations, co-existence, and other such delusions. I was very worried about the misconceptions they might have of our work. I am not so worried anymore, because we have become better known. Even among Palestinian organizations, the School for Peace has a reputation for being radical and revolutionary. Our methodology is well-recognized, and it follows the teachings of Freire, Helms,1 and others. It mirrors methods used to help blacks and whites deal with each other, develop their identities, and so forth. I have no doubts about my work, and I feel no shame when I mention the name "School for Peace."

    • 1Janet Helms is an American psychologist and educator known especially for her work on racial identity.Helms, J. (1990). Toward a model of White racial identity development. In J. Helms (Ed.), Black and White racial identity: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 49-66). Westport, CT: Greenwood.

  • Does fear play a role in the Israeli Palestinian conflict? Are the fears of the two peoples, Palestinians and Israelis, similar?

    I am not sure that our fears are equal. The fear that we Palestinians have is clear: the fear of being kicked out. In this sense, I am afraid of something real. Their fears, on the other hand, are imaginary. I wonder what it is that Israelis fear, given that they have all the power in their hands. They easily came to this land and took advantage of the simple people who opened their hearts and homes. They just came in and took over. There are times when I feel like telling them that they are afraid of their own consciences for what they have done, or they are afraid of the possibility that one day they will be treated in the same cruel manner in which they have treated us.

  • You said that Palestinians' fears are real whereas Jews' fear are imaginary. How do you respond to the claim that their fears are based on the Holocaust and Jewish history?

    What Jews have experienced is a horrific calamity. There is no doubt about this. But this catastrophe was carried out by the West, by the colonizers, and by Christians. I understand that this has given rise to their fears. When they came here, however, they took over land that belonged to a peaceful people - otherwise it would not have been so easy to take. The Jews cannot put another nation through what they have gone through, even if they are doing so out of fear. I do not want to live in fear just because they have fears. Our people were not born launching intifadas. We were neither born throwing stones nor do we want to throw stones. This is a deprived nation that only wants independence and the minimum requirements for a decent life. This is something that we must be allowed, but we are not. Consequently, the people react. The Israelis are the ones with power. I say that only the weak should be afraid, so why are they afraid? They have power, and they also have America standing by them. They have weapons, perhaps even nuclear weapons. So what are they afraid of? We are the helpless ones with stones. It is those that have no weapons with which to fight who go and blow themselves up. We have reached the point at which our struggle has become blowing ourselves up. I do not know of any other people that would do this. This only happens after you have gone through complete hell, only when you have no other options. Palestinians do not have guns, but the Israelis do. Israel has airplanes and weapons, and they used them to destroy the Jenin Refugee Camp. We are not the ones with that capacity. So who should be afraid of whom? Must I continue to live this way because of what the German Nazis did to them? These days people should have enough awareness to correct their behavior. If they do not, then this situation will go on and on. No nation is willing to remain under occupation. I understand that they are afraid. I am also afraid of them, but I am dealing with it by living in Wahat al-Salam. The way they deal with their fear is by fighting. But war leads only to more war, and fear leads only to more fear. You can seek a peaceful solution or a military one. There is no power balance here. There is a powerful party and a weak party, and it cannot remain like this. There should be equality: two states for two peoples. We cannot give them more than that. We have already accepted their existence, and now it is time to allow the Palestinian people to have a state. It is always the powerful side that must come up with a solution, not the weak side. Of course, the solution must be one that the weak will accept. I do not want to deny or belittle their fears - on the contrary, I stand with them. I have taken part in demonstrations against the Nazis. I simply believe that they should not build their lives on the basis of that trauma. They should be able to cope with it in a way that does not cause harm to others, no less create a catastrophe for others.

  • What do you think is the root of the Israeli Palestinian conflict?

    The struggle began as a struggle over land. Israel came and occupied us without caring about the killing, and destruction it caused or the expulsion of the people who were already living here. For example, when we were at the checkpoint in Rafah the other day, the soldiers told us in the simplest and most direct of words: "Go live in other Arab countries." They said it as if it were nothing, without stopping to think about the kind of effect this would have on us. They say whatever they want, and you just have to deal with it. The truth is that I am sometimes afraid that what happened in the year 1948 will happen again. My father died two years ago, but when he lived through the October War, he felt like the year 1948 was being repeated. Imagine: An 82-year-old man afraid that he would be expelled for the second time in his life. This is how we live. End