When I was fourteen years old I joined a political organization called the Palestinian Communist Party, which later became the People's Party.
But when I went to America I started to see things differently. I began to see the shortcomings of Marxism and the limits of its applicability to our situation. Beyond that, I myself didn't want to dedicate myself to working for the goals of Marxism. The only reason I had joined the party in the first place was that it was the only party at that time that called for popular, nonviolent revolution. That is the belief that I grew up with, even before I came here and started working with Dr. Sari Nusseibeh.
Of course, I had heard a lot about Dr. Sari Nusseibeh as a leading figure in the first intifada and as a leading Palestinian intellectual. I read many of his articles, even when I was a child. And that's how I came to adopt the principles of nonviolence and popular work. When I was in America, my activism was limited to attending lectures, participating in raising awareness, and working to promote peace and the principle of two states for two nations. I went to the US in 1990. In 1994, the Oslo process began and gave us all a push. I decided to finish my studies and come back here in order to contribute to building my homeland. When I returned, I was shocked by the reality that I discovered. The Palestinian revolution had turned into institutions of government, but I didn't think that transformation had happened in the right way. There were so many problems: management problems, financial problems, political problems. The collective vision had become blurred. There began to be internal squabbles over positions and influence that we never even knew existed. Maybe that kind of infighting had existed in Lebanon or Tunisia or Jordan.
For us, for the generation that was 12 and 14 years old during the first intifada, our leaders outside were like gods. When a leaflet was published, we looked at it as if it were coming from heaven and we followed it word-for-word. If there was a strike, then everyone went on strike. There was no doubt that the call would be observed. When the political organizations gave instructions to write slogans on the walls, we did it. When there were instructions to hold a march in the streets, we participated. We never questioned why or how.
But when our leadership came back, we saw many practices that we didn't like. I'm not talking about the top leaders, but about the second or third-tier leaders. I'm talking about people whose names we had never heard of before. That's why a lot of us decided to keep our distance from politics. Some people decided to work in civil society. They figured that they could best start the process of state-building by contributing to civil work and the building of various institutions.
The Jerusalem Open University has special significance for me. The effort to establish the university began in the thirties, but it didn't take on its current form until much later. It was established in 1984, and it acquired a Board of Trusties a few years later. But it only became the institution that it is today after Dr. Sari Nusseibeh took charge in 1995. When I came back to the country in 1998, I became convinced that this institution provides a great service to the country. I decided to get involved because I saw it as a kind of work that was national, but not political. Working with Dr. Sari opened my eyes to many things. It convinced me that I had been wrong when I decided to stay away from politics out of fear of corruption. I came to realize that my impressions had been incorrect. Most of our people are not corrupt. Most are patriots working for the good of the country. Yes, it's true that there is corruption. But we often exaggerate its extent. Besides, if all the people who are against corruption simply withdraw from public life, then corruption will spread and spread. If we leave, then those who are corrupt will be free to do whatever they please.
That's why I decided to work for Dr. Sari on the Popular Campaign for Peace and Democracy. It represents the convictions on which I was raised. These are principles with which I've agreed for years - before I knew there was something called this campaign, and even before the campaign was established. I agree with the principles of the campaign and I think that many others do, too. The campaign offers a grassroots framework for people to unite their efforts to find a solution and build a state.
The campaign lays out its solution in the Nusseibeh-Ayalon Agreement,2
which consists of six points. In addition, it outlines a vision for the state. In just one year and a few months, the campaign has been able to gather the signatures of 150,000 Palestinians. This is a completely unprecedented event. Nothing like this has ever happed in Palestine or any other Arab country. On the Israeli side, Ami Ayalon is overseeing a parallel campaign. They use a different technique, and to date they have been able to gather 241,000 signatures. So all together, the Palestinians and the Israelis have collected about 400,000 names. These are all people who agree on one, clear solution.