by Kristyn Komarnicki
I had the enormous privilege today of hearing the radical Palestinian peacemaker Ali Abu Awwad speak at a synagogue in Philadelphia.
The son of woman who belonged to the PLO, Awwad was raised in the highly politicized atmosphere of Israeli-Occupied Palestine and participated in the first intifada. But after four years of imprisonment during which he discovered, via a 17-day hunger fast, that nonviolent resistance holds a mirror up to one’s enemy, his journey to peacemaking had begun.
“It’s not about taking sides,” he said. If you are pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, you are not helping. You need to be pro-solution. “It’s not about being right. It’s about willing to succeed.”
After his release from prison, an Israeli citizen shooting at Palestinians from his car shot Awwad in the knee, leaving him severely injured. Hospitalized in Saudi Arabia, Awwad learned that his older brother had been violently murdered at an Israeli checkpoint, leaving behind two young children. The grief and anger Awwad experienced felt bottomless and “as big as a planet,” and he realized that no revenge—no number of Israeli deaths—could ever make up what had been taken from him. “I knew then that I couldn’t kill anyone,” he said.
One day several members of the Bereaved Families Forum asked his mother for permission to come see her. They were Israeli parents who had lost children to the conflict and wanted to meet with Palestinian parents who had survived similar losses. To Awwad’s surprise—”Israelis were always in Palestine and they were not welcome. Now here were Israelis asking permission to come see us!”—his mother agreed to receive them. He saw an Israeli person cry for the first time in his life, and something shifted within him. Awwad and his family soon joined the bereavement group, partnering with Israelis in spreading a message of reconciliation and calling one and all to the hard work of nonviolence.
The best revenge for his brother’s death, says Awwad, is to reconcile with the enemy. “The men who killed my brother wanted to bury my humanity along with my brother,” he said. By refusing to use violence, by working instead toward partnership and political solutions, Awwad and his friends of both nationalities are choosing a very different path.
Learn about the Roots project, of which Awwad is an important part. Roots seeks to build trust between trust and partnership between Israelis and Palestinians.
Read or listen to Krista Tippett’s 2012 interview with Awwad on Public Radio International.
(Special thanks to our peacemaking, bridgebuilding partners atDepartment of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College for hosting this talk.)