Ali Abu Awwad chose nonviolence over revenge

It was the year 2000, and the second Palestinian intifada had just broken out. Ali Abu Awwad was in Saudi Arabia, recovering from an Israeli drive-by shooting, when he received word that an Israeli soldier had shot his brother Youssef in the head at close range.

“He left us a son and a daughter and this huge package of pain and loss and anger,” recalls Mr. Abu Awwad. Part of him wanted revenge. “Then you ask yourself, how many people shall I kill? What could be enough dead Israelis to heal this pain?”

Then his mother, a Palestinian activist who was close to iconic leader Yasser Arafat, did something extraordinary. She received a group of bereaved Israeli parents into her home.

“For me, it was shocking to see an Israeli crying,” says Abu Awwad, who had been given a 10-year sentence as a teenager for his involvement in the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising. “I couldn’t imagine that Jewish people have tears.”

Abu Awwad has since advocated nonviolence as the best way to end the Israeli occupation. For more than a decade, he worked with peace organizations, even touring the world with an Israeli mother whose peace-activist son was killed by a Palestinian sniper.

But in the past couple of years, he has come to the conclusion that peace will not be made by the Israeli left – anchored in cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, a world away from the conflict.

Many peace activists disassociate themselves from Israelis who live over the pre-1967 lines, the internationally recognized border of Israeli sovereignty. Some Israelis won’t drive in the West Bank, where the number of settlers has tripled since the 1993 Oslo Accord.

Abu Awwad understands the gesture, and sees the detrimental effect of settlements on Palestinian national aspirations, but he takes a different tack.


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