BETHLEHEM: It is not easy to be born a refugee, not only away from your land but also away from the object of your hopes and dreams. It is not easy to be a citizen only in the country of pain, where everything around you blocks your growth as a normal human being. This is the reality I was born into.
The suffering of my early life first led me to pursue freedom through violent resistance. That’s how I found myself spending four years in an Israeli prison.
A few years later, my pursuit of freedom led me to support the Oslo Agreements, which I had hoped-as most Palestinians did, would enable me to exchange my "resistor" identity for a new "citizen" identity with the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Unfortunately, this dream was not fulfilled for many reasons. And when the second intifada began in 2000, it destroyed something that was even more important than this dream to me: My 32-year-old brother Youssef was killed by an Israeli soldier in the West Bank while I was in a Saudi Arabian hospital recovering from an injury inflicted by an Israeli settler.
Now I had to stop and assess two options: revenge or renewed hope? The choice was between asserting that I was right and justified on the one hand or succeeding in realising my dreams of freedom on the other. It was the hardest decision of my life.
It took me a year to decide. I chose to destroy the pain instead of letting it destroy me. That’s how I found myself in the peace camp-a place in which I never imagined I would belong.
But despite its merits, there are several problems which continue to plague the peace camp; and these must be rectified if we want to make a real difference.
First and foremost is the lack of understanding towards the Other and its narrative, culture, history and needs. For this reason, reconciliation programs must accompany political resolutions.
Second is the absence of an overarching strategy within the peace camp and the tendency to respond to events rather than initiate and act proactively.
Third, we are dealing with two unequal parties and the same tools will not work within both societies. The Israeli citizen is a master of him/herself under the rule of law. But Palestinians haven’t reached this stage of citizenship yet, nor do they plan for the future in a free, open-minded and success-oriented way-whether because of the occupation or the degree of control that Palestinian political parties have over ordinary people. The joint peace camp must consider the implications of our everyday reality.
Fourth, the various political initiatives-regional and international-can easily transform the area into a bazaar of different policies and ideologies. This tendency is already manifest in the propensity of some non-governmental organizations to gear their work towards pleasing the international community rather than focusing on the grassroots.
Fifth, are the problems with the process of conducting dialogue. Dialogue is the art of reaching truth; it is not the art of condemning the other; it’s not a rivalry over victimhood. Furthermore, dialogues should not be funded by large budgets and conducted in five star hotels. When dialogue takes place in these spaces, it is likely to fail in the real world, as it ignores the true nature of the participants’ daily realities.
Sixth, the peace camp too often shies away from direct action, such as attempting to stop settlement building or standing up to violence. Fearful of being considered a traitor by either society, its field of action is circumscribed, and remains within very narrow political lines, which renders it ineffective.
Finally, the peace camp is under a great deal of pressure from both peoples. On the Palestinian side particularly, it is repeatedly accused of either normalization by meeting the other side, or weakness, by not taking militant action or confronting violence. On the Israeli side, it faces similar accusations of not addressing violence adequately.
A public grassroots movement must be created to avoid these potholes. Gathering Palestinian and Israeli activists, from former combatants, to student leaders, to NGOs, under an umbrella movement to discuss practical ways of overcoming the problems facing the peace camp, must be the next step. Without a comprehensive review of this situation by the various actors involved, we will be unable to proceed further and create change.
Ali Abu Awwad is a Palestinian activist for peace through nonviolence. He is actively involved in Bereaved Families Forum where he is active in spreading a message of reconciliation and non-violence. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).