Empowered by Nonviolence

Text of interview published in http://www.globalonenessproject.org/

Sami Awad


When I talk about nonviolence, and when I discuss nonviolence with people, the first word that comes to mind related to nonviolence is the word empowerment.  And this is, for me, what nonviolence is all about.  It is to empower individuals, empower families, empower communities, empower nations to deal with issues of injustice and oppression that they face in their lives on a daily basis.  It is both a strategy of resistance, and also a strategy for moral and ethical growth within society.  As a Palestinian, for example, living in this land, nonviolence becomes a core value for me because it is how we as Palestinians need to deal with oppression and resisting the injustice that we are facing, to be empowered not to be victims of the circumstances, not to give in to the circumstances but to deal with them in direct and effective ways.  The power of nonviolence is for me also creates a situation where barriers are broken down between nations and between peoples, and even again within individuals themselves and the things that they go through in their own personal life.  Nonviolence does not threaten the other, does not threaten the existence of the other but threatens the structures of injustice that are created that prevent that relationship from developing between you and those who are doing injustice to you.  And the result of engaging in nonviolence is not in the fact that it stands on resistance one, nonviolence is powerful because it goes beyond resistant. It goes to creating the future that you seek with the other.  And this is where equality becomes important—nonviolence really creates that foundation that premise where you can build that relationship of mutual trust and respect with those who have treated you unjustly that is founded on equality between you and them.

A New Global Identity


I think what’s very important is that people who are talking about ethnic and religious and national identity, they start creating sort of a negative interpretation of that.  As if it’s the other, as if it’s something against me and so on.  The challenge for us is not to put these identities into sort of a negative sphere, but how can we take these identities, respect them, honor them, understand them, learn from them, because they created what we are today and we need to respect that in us but to allow these identities to remain in their place.

When we talk about the future, to build a future that again respects that identity respects me as being a Palestinian, respects me as being an Arab, respects a person who is being a Jew or respects a person who is being a Buddhist.  But create a future that has a sense of independence from that ethnic past.  And that’s where the challenge becomes, in creating this new global identity.  Because an identity that encompasses everyone and has no value in it of being against anything else or anyone else.  To create a worldview like this I believe you have to start locally, and at the most basic local level, which goes to the individuals themselves.  IT is creating this awareness and this possibility for awareness and for transformation to take place within individuals where they begin to understand the power to distinguish things that happen around them and how they interpret things from the realities that they say.


So for example, living in this land as a Palestinian, I have in growing up I have created and been taught different assumptions, different interpretations, different analysis of what an Israeli is and what an Israeli should be and what my reaction to an Israeli should be.  And these experiences have never even been taught to me, or at least this education has never been taught to me from personal experience.  IT is just growing up as a Palestinian you are taught to fear the Israelis, you are taught to move away if an Israeli soldier says anything or to obey them if they order you to do anything.  And that rationale is what I think we have to address. And it, again, begins with this personal transformation.


So for me, it is the ability to distinguish what is happening now from my interpretations of what is happening now.  So an Israeli, for example, stops me at a checkpoint.  Immediately, I begin to put all of these interpretations– from my past, from his past– into what is happening at this moment when an Israeli soldier stops me at a checkpoint.  But the reality is that what happened happened, is that he just stopped me at a checkpoint and I have to deal with that situation based on what the facts are for me at this particular moment.  And for me as we develop this learning to create distinction within individuals to distinguish how their own present is affected by their narrative, by their history.  How my own present identity as a Palestinian is affected by everything I’ve experienced in the past as a Palestinian.  And how to put the past in its place and put the present in its place and look for that future, that for me is a challenge.


And, as you said, it is our biggest challenge because it is very protective to remain in the narrative, it is very safe, not a challenge that cover around you again, as a Palestinian, which is being a victim and getting the sympathy and pity of the world for what is happening and how the world is supposed to come and help you, and the world is responsible for the agony I’m in.  It is much easier to be the victim than to be a proactive individual in a community, ready to address and challenge the issues that make you a victim.  But it starts, as I said, at that very basic level.  And when we engage with individuals, now, we’re engaging at that personal level of creating that personal transformation within the Palestinian community of individuals that are truly able to see the future of their community, of their family, of their nation, of their region, and then eventually of the world with new eyes to create that story that we all dream of and all aspire for—to be leaders, leaders to inspire hundreds and thousands of people to follow that story and see that we all want to be a part of it.


The Future is Void and Empty

It is in a sense of taking individuals and having them stand on the groundless ground of nothing.  That’s what the future is about—to recognize and to realize that our future as humans is completely void and empty.  There is no future that can be predictable, there is no future that can be set that can be written.  Our future is void and empty.  And as leaders of this global movement it is our responsibility to write that future, to write that dream that will be so inspiring to millions of people that they will say that they want to be part of that future.


I think the power of what we are talking about is the ability and the desire to create transformation.  And transformation has to take place from one setting into another setting.  And that setting is that core identity that people are born with, and this is the reality.  I was born as a Palestinian; I have an identity card that says I’m a Palestinian.  I cannot even, even if I personally claim to be a human being, part of the human family, the first checkpoint or airport or border crossing immediately throws me back into this one identity which the world now has placed upon me and recognizes me.  But the challenge is, and this is where the power to distinguish becomes very important.  And I always say that distinction alone has the power of transformation.  It is to be able to distinguish your identity and what makes your identity from the interpretations that have caused you to create animosity and conflict and tension with other identities as well.


I think the world will be a very boring dull world if we are all just one identity in order to be one people living in this world.  I think there’s creativity, there is art, there is culture, there is talents, there is philosophy that is presented.  By combining all of these different identities, recognizing them, respecting them, engaging in a discussing of the quality amongst identity, not that there is one ethnic identity better than the other, one religion better than the other, one society better than the other, that we are all equals, and equality at the premise, as I said, is what will create an opportunity for this new global identity to be developed.  And what we are doing here I would say for example in Palestine, it has reached the situation now where local small identity circles have completely taken over even the national identity.


So you talk to groups now, or you talk to individuals, and they tell you what they are and instead of even saying Palestinian they will probably tell you, I am Hamas.  I am Fatah.  I am Christian.  I am Muslim.  I am from this refugee camp.  I am from this clan, from this family, from this political party.  And then they get a second or third identity will be that sort of national identity, and then even talking about a human identity, it might not even be on their list.  So the challenge for us is how to prioritize the identities within an individual where they recognize that the first identity level that they are in, not that they should be, but that they are in because that’s how they are is that human level of identity, that before anything, we’re all humans.  We’re all equal.  And then from there go to the second identity, as a human I’m also proud to be a Christian or I’m proud to be a Muslim and I have certain spiritual connections that connect me with the entity I worship, and I want to worship in this way, but I also respect you as a fellow human, as people you need to respect and worship in your way and well.  And then from there go to a different identity, the national identity, ethnic identity, and so on.  So it is again through distinguishing, distinguishing alone has the power of transformation.  To distinguish where you are now, how to relate to the rest of the world, and creating that vision for the future where it is non-threatening, it is non challenging to your identity, but it encompasses you and builds your identity with other identities as well.  It is not an issue of balancing one or the other; it is creating this real transformation between these two aspects, and building and creating something new.


Abrahamic Principles


One thing that we are working on, and have been involved in several sessions and workshops now, is the core values of what we call the Abrahamic principles.  Father Abraham is non-Jew, non-Christian, and non-Muslim.  But all of them claim Father Abraham to be their father and they all denounce their brothers who are also sons of father Abraham.  And the challenge is how to create this common thread of values where Jews Christians and Muslims begin to see that what is common between them outweighs tremendously what makes them different from each other.  And again in this power to create distinction to be able as a religious individual to distinguish your faith, your spiritual practice, your spiritual belief, from the political narrative and political stories that have also been taught to you as part of this religious faith as well.  And that is, it’s not easy, it’s very difficult because now you begin to address ideologies, you begin to address religious teachings that have become in their own right even now a core value within each religion.  But it is again, through distinction, how to take individuals back to the core essence of their faith and their religion.  And in that core essence, in that core value, we are all one.  And we’re all common.  WE come from the same father, we worship the same God, and these basic values that are taught in every religion, are part of the Abrahamic religions as well.  And we have this challenge, it’s not easy, you have to challenge the schools and ideologies that take advantage of religion to achieve political and ideological desires that are destructive, that create racism, that create discrimination, create inequalities in society.  And that as I said is not easy but it becomes very important because as you said, religion is very important in this land and you cannot take religion out of this equation, we have to see how religion then becomes a player for peace builders than a tool for creating animosity and enemies between people.


The transformation of Israeli society and community and to engage in healing with them, in my opinion has to be the responsibility of Palestinians.  And it starts with Palestinians, any act of resistance and defiance to the occupation has to be linked and paralleled to be an act of healing as much as it is an act of resistance.  Nonviolence when used should not just be used for the sake of saying; we’re just engaging in resistance.  So we can have demonstrations against the wall, we can have demonstrations against illegal settlements, but the end goal of engaging in nonviolence has to focus on that core trauma and fear that lies within Israeli society.  And I say if we are not able to heal Israeli society from the trauma and fear that they have faced for hundreds of centuries, there will not be peace in this holy land at all.  And we have to take Israeli society through a transformation—it’s a very painful, very difficult process that has to go through Israeli society like any addict that has to go through a healing process and any addiction that he has.  And now there’s an addiction on fear that exists within Israeli society.  There is an addiction on security that exists within Israeli society.  So every act of resistance that Palestinians engage in has to acts that address this issues.  Acts of nonviolence that enforce the fear and the trauma within Israeli society are similar and equal to acts of violence.  If Israeli society interprets acts of nonviolence to be a threat to Jewish existence, then peace acts are not any better than acts of violence that place where hundreds of people are killed.  That’s why every single act of nonviolence that has to take place has to even go beyond just doing the act itself, and that is not easy, but I think this is how real transformation will take place in this part of the world.


What is the Salt?


Leadership is very important, and leadership that is fully committed to nonviolence, committed to creating the transformation in society, that is able to inspire thousands of people around which becomes a key component for such movements to take place.  As important as leadership is, it is also to have a very clear and very strong and very encompassing strategy of engaging in actions and activities as well.  So you could have leaders that talk about the dream, you could have leaders that talk about the future, that are inspirational public speakers, but if they are not able to present a plan, an action, of how to mobilize people and what steps people need to take in order to move this thing forward, than these leaders will be as good as any individuals else that lives in this world.  This is why for me when people ask me, for example, where is the Ghandi of Palestine, I say, this is important to talk about the Ghandi of Palestine, but as important if not more important the question should be, what is the salt in Palestine.  What is that one act, like Ghandi did in the salt march, what is that one act that once we said it and recognize it and build a strategy for it, can be so inspiring to hundreds and thousands of Palestinians to say we want to be part of this, we want to get out of this feeling o hopelessness, or resignation, and say this is what we want.  And you need leaders, of course, to say that, but at the same time you need that salt.  You need that Montgomery bus that we still did not find here in Palestine that will be that inspiration for everyone else.


A New Fairy Tale


The challenge is when we talk about standing on a groundless ground of nothing and that future and knowing that the future is void and empty, the challenge becomes, what can we do that honors and respects every single individual that lives on this land, in their history, in their identity, in their own narratives, and at the same time, with this respect of their narratives and their identity, create a future that they will look at and they will say, I don’t just easily fit this, I want to be part of this, and my own personal identity and my own belief system will be even enhanced to greater respect by me buying into this new story and this new narrative.  And then this is what leaders are all about.  They are tellers of fairy tales.  And we need to create a new fairy tale for the people of this land that will be so inspiring that everybody will want to join in this.  And of course, initially, you will have many people that will challenge you that will even, as Ghandi said, that will mock you that will ridicule you, who will ignore you, who will fight you, and then you win.  And I think the great thing about the statement that Ghandi said is that at the end you win.  He could have said, they ignore you, they ridicule you, they fight you and then they lose.  Because that would have made sense, the them, them, them, them.  But then at the end he said, you win.  And there are no losers in this new narrative.


And for me, it is really going back to the essence of this land, we all call this the holy land, we all feel spiritually and religiously connected to this land,  and you cannot deny anyone’s connectedness to this land.  You cannot say that Jerusalem is mentioned only a few times in the Qu’ran and more times in the Torah so that means that we have more claim to this land than the other.  In each identity there is this strong claim and connectedness to his land.  And the premise of the narrative of the future is one where in my option has to be based on this recognition of the equal rights of all those who live in this land.  It is for Palestinians to recognize and to respect the equal rights of Jews to live on this land, it is for the Jewish community to recognize and respect the equal rights of Muslims and Christians to live on this land.  And for me it’s really not about that political solution of a one-state, two-state or ten-state.  Ultimately what I want to see is no borders between any states in this world we live in.  But if it means to go through that two state process, as a process to achieve that future goal where a two state process is a process that will only help in building mutual trust and respect between the people and not to divide and separate people form each other, and then I am for that.  If it’s the one state solution, where again there is equality, there is respect, there is dignity for all, within a one-state political system that will help transform us into greater global vision than I’m for that as well.  So everything that we need to be engaged in, everything we need to be moving on, even in creating a narrative for this land, has to be part of that greater and bigger narrative of that global narrative that we all seek.


One thing that I think is very important, and it’s again a process of learning and developing, is to understand that as part of the human body, any act of violence that any part of that body suffers, immediately is felt by the entire body as well.  The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not isolated, is not any more special, is not in a vacuum from any other conflict that takes around the world.



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