HENRY CHAVEZ ’17
AMR ARQOUB ’18
On Monday March 3rd, Hillel and The House of Peace invited Palestinian peace activist Ali Abu Awwad to shed light on a non-violent solution between the state of Israel and the people of Palestine.
Ali began the nuanced discussion with a personal story about being incarcerated for participating in the First Palestinian Intifada – the first Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation – in 1987. According to Ali, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison because he refused to give information to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) about his mother, who was also arrested and sentenced to multiple years in prison. He was later released under the provisions of the Oslo Peace Accords negotiations- an agreement wherein the State of Israel recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization as valid representatives of the Palestinian people.
Ali described the atmosphere of the prisons in Israel; contrary to popular conceptions of prisons, Ali believed that Israeli detention centers were also, surprisingly, educational institutions. According to Ali, these Israeli prisons were not full of criminals but rather of patriotic and educated Palestinians seeking to learn more about their identity. “Prison was the best university I could have been enrolled in at the time,” said Ali, describing his four years of imprisonment. Ali and his fellow prisoners tried to put pressure on the Palestinian leadership to agree to the Oslo Peace Accords. During his time in prison, Ali started reading about Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr., and learned about what it means to be a true advocate for non-violent resistance. This would serve as a pillar of his later philosophy and a major theme of his presentation at Trinity.
After being released from prison, Ali woke up one day to very painful news; his brother had been killed by the IDF at a checkpoint. Ali struggled with his anger against Israelis until one day, when an Israeli family decided to visit him and his family. Not only was Ali surprised that an Israeli family was politely knocking on his door, since Israeli soldiers usually forced themselves inside, but that they came to talk about the loss of their son to Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic organization. This story resonated very strongly with Ali, and would shape his convictions and desire for peace.
After listening to the Israeli family’s story, Ali and his mother both came to the realization that they want to be successful in brokering peace, not righteous in taking revenge. This meant that Ali and his mother no longer wanted to take revenge for the death of Ali’s brother, but rather sought a successful solution to the ongoing violence between both sides. This change of perspective led him to his life’s work, trying to build understanding and peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Acting on his newfound desire for peace, Ali built a center for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue near Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Ali has been working on creating better relations between Israeli settlers and Palestinian civilians by creating safe spaces where each side can learn from the other. Ali’s open dialogue center receives visitors of many different nationalities eager to hear different perspectives on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The discussions conducted at the center are important and engaging, helping to further the prospect of peace.
Ali brought the same energy and lively debate to Trinity, and established a welcoming atmosphere for the discussion. Although most discussions surrounding this topic end in heated, unproductive debates, Ali made this talk engaging for everyone. Ali remained unpartisan, not supporting one person’s opinion over the other. Ali believed that the solution entailed both freedoms for the Palestinian people and security for the State of Israel. The only way this could be achieved was worldwide education about the issue and an emphasis on practicality as opposed to partisanship. Moreover, Ali redefined justice as “just us” and that “just us” meant that citizens of the world are the only ones who can make change in the region.
Zach Bitan, the president of Hillel says: “Ali was a great speaker and he cultivated the audience. When listening to him speak you can see how much he wants to resolve the issue. He has amazing ideas and I would love to see him succeed and bring peace. I found what he said extremely interesting. Both sides need to stop instilling hatred in their young towards the other side.”