Mr. Abu Ayyash, who has made dozens of lecture trips to Israeli schools from his home in the West Bank village of Beit Ummar, knows well by now that Israelis view him, the brother-in-law of two fugitives killed during the recent Palestinian uprising, as the enemy. He also knows his own Palestinian countrymen may consider him a collaborator for speaking in Israel.
But that has not stopped Abu Ayyash from telling his story about how his wife’s brothers went from being gainfully employed to being in the cross hairs of the Israeli security forces as accused terrorists. More important, it’s also a story about how Abu Ayyash and his wife, Sara, overcame their grief and became activists in a group of bereaved relatives promoting reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.
“I believe in the personal story: Bereavement helps open the doors to talk about the situation,” Abu Ayyash says.
In the nine years since his brothers-in-law were killed in Nablus, the psychology major-turned-truck driver has visited numerous Israeli high schools, and has even faced chants of “Death to Arabs.”
His goal, he says, is to humanize the conflict for audiences in which many may never have come in contact with a Palestinian before. “If they start thinking how to put themselves into the shoes of the other, things will change,” he says.
Four months ago Abu Ayyash’s appearance at a high school in a Tel Aviv suburb stirred up protest from parents and right-wing figures against allowing a relative of Palestinian militants to speak to Israeli teens. The Education Ministry disqualified him from speaking at high schools.
Abu Ayyash denies his lecture is political. His appearances are part of a program by the Parents Circle Families Forum, an organization that brings together Israelis and Palestinians whose immediate family members have been killed in the conflict.
“We find the [Israeli] youths an important crowd, especially youths in high school prior to the army service,” says Nir Oren, an Israeli and the director of the group, who lost his daughter in a Palestinian suicide attack in the 1990s.
“At this age, most have opinions. They grasp something [about the conflict] from school, at home, and the media. But it’s not rigid. They still have the capacity to listen to the other side,” he says.
Abu Ayyash tells how his wife’s brother vowed to take revenge after waking up in a hospital â€“ Israeli soldiers had beaten him unconscious. When he bought a gun and began searching for the soldiers, he became a wanted terrorist. After he was killed by soldiers, his brother began plotting revenge and he, too, was killed.