Palestinian activist Ali Abu Awwad spent four years in an Israeli prison. In 1993 he went on hunger strike for 17 days demanding to see his mother, who was also in jail. His protest worked, and he realized that non-violence can be an effective weapon. Since then he has, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, been working to create a non-violent national movement in Palestine. Awwad set up Taghir (Change), where he teaches Palestinians the principles of non-violence. He is convinced this will be more effective than violence in ending the Israeli occupation. Breaking a boycott, Awwad meets with Israeli settlers, because he is convinced that you need to talk to your enemies. He lives in Beit Ummar, near Hebron, surrounded by Israeli settlements. On a visit to Geneva, he spoke to JusticeInfo.net.
JusticeInfo.net: How do you see what they call the “intifada of knives”?
Ali Abu Awwad: These are young people who often do not belong to any movement. They are part of the Oslo generation which has lost hope, the product of decades of occupation and humiliation. Anger, hatred and despair are what’s driving them, to the point where they also think about dying themselves before wanting to kill. When I threw stones during the first intifada, I wasn’t so different from them. But gradually I learned that you have to make choices in life. I refused to become what the Israeli soldier who killed my brother wanted me to become, that is, an angry person obsessed by thirst for vengeance and willing to die for it. Instead I freed myself from the real occupation, which is being reduced to a victim and remaining a prisoner of hatred.
JusticeInfo.net: What do you say to young Palestinians?
AA: I tell them my humanity is a stronger weapon than violence in the fight for my rights. Not only because it is a moral cause but also because acting morally makes me more efficient, the other side is obliged to listen. I upset its stereotypes and clichés. We need to get out of this vicious circle where 18-year-old Israelis let pregnant women die at roadblocks and after the army go off to take drugs in India, while Palestinians of the same age are ready to die as they kill others.
JusticeInfo.net: Are you not a traitor to the cause?
AA: If my non-violent struggle for the liberation of Palestine helps us move forward, I will be proud to be called a traitor. My Israeli partners also get called traitors. I know the road ahead is long. I don’t expect anything from the Netanyahu government. But the important thing is that we must stop this victim competition. When I talk to members of my family who belong to Hamas, they always repeat the same thing, that it’s the fault of the occupation, of the Israelis. That attitude leads nowhere. Violence only strengthens Israeli right-wing nationalism. Both sides are killing civilians while Palestine remains occupied. So we need to talk, not with the nice people who frequent the cafés of Tel Aviv but with the settlers, it is they who are occupying our land.
JusticeInfo.net: But aren’t you violating the boycott decided by Palestinian organizations?
AA: I am not opposed to the boycott in principle, because it is a means of non-violent struggle. But I think we need to do lots of work beforehand. I think the Jewish people are the ones in the world who are the most afraid. The Israelis are walled in fear, and non-violence can break down that fear. All of us need to realize that the other is not going to disappear. We have to live together. The Palestinian people and the Jewish people both have rights to this land. Both of these peoples need to live in their State in security and dignity. It’s up to the politicians to find the best solution.
JusticeInfo.net: What is your goal?
AA: I want to build a national Palestinian pacifist movement. We have dozens of good organizations in Palestine, but they are often in competition with each other. I want my organization to bring them together in a network. Former prisoners, former fighters and many other people agree with me. Next year I am going to organize a big non-violent rally in Palestine. Many Palestinians today are not ready to talk to Israelis, even non-violent ones, because their sense of injustice is too strong. But they will come, and you will see, our action will be continued as far as Tel Aviv within the Israeli population. My ultimate goal remains the same: the liberation of Palestine.