Nonviolent Resistance in the Holy Land

By Metta Spencer (interviewer); Mubarak Awad (interviewee) | 1988-12-01 12:00:00

Mubarak Awad, a Palestinian Christian psychologist, was educated in the United States at a college run by a church that teaches nonviolence. One of his professors, John Mecartney, remembers the young Mubarak as, of all his students, the one who argued strongest for the necessity of using force.

But he changed. In 1982, Mubarak Awad published a paper proposing nonviolence for Palestinians and in 1985, he returned to his occupied homeland as Director of the Palestinian Centre for the Study of Nonviolence. Some of the less publicized direct actions now being carried out in the intafada (uprising) are nonviolent ones that Awad organized. So effective were these actions, and so challenging to the Israeli regime, that Mubarak Awad was expelled last summer from his own country. From the United States, he and his American wife continue to support the intafada and to seek ways of returning home. In October, Mubarak Awad spoke in Toronto at a conference organized by Jains. The audience was moved by his gentleness and his obvious commitment to peaceful ways.

His centre, said Awad, was meant for research. But when he looked for books in Arabic and Hebrew about nonviolence, he found not a single one. He published translations of writings by the Muslim Gandhian, Badshah Khan, as well as works by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Gene Sharp. He expected to work as a therapist, but he discovered that no one was interested in therapy. They were interested in politics. Awad startled his people by publishing an article saying that, if anybody has a problem - even the problem of being oppressed - but doesn't work on it, he chooses to have that problem. You have to work the problem on a daily basis, he said, to get rid of it.

Children are the great experts on nonviolence, Awad pointed out. Children don't kill their parents, but they do resist them. If they don't want to eat, they just refuse. If they don't want to go somewhere, they delay as much as possible to avoid it. If they want to upset their parents, they choose when visitors come as the time to make a nuisance of themselves. Awad taught his people just such principles.

One day a farmer came and said he needed nonviolence. His land had been taken by Israeli settlers and he wanted a way to get it back. Awad suggested that the simplest way would be to take down the fence that had been put up around it. He agreed to help the farmer, on condition that the participants not run away, even if they are shot or arrested, and not throw, or even pick up, stones. Within two days the man had assembled 300 people for the action. The settlers and soldiers started shooting, but no one ran away. Finally the military governor came and gave the land back to the Palestinians, who still have it.

More and more people kept coming to the Centre, asking for help with their problems, so it became a place of action, not research. The action empowered the Palestinians by giving them something they could do themselves. Palestinians have been dependent too long, said Awad. After depending without success on the United Nations and the Arab world, they feel they have no other choice but to help themselves. That requires a lot of sacrifice.

To be occupied is evil, added Awad. It is to feel less than human. For example, if you are a Palestinian, your car must have license plates of a different color; the police will stop you and make you change your tires, back and forth, for two or three hours. It may take you ten or fifteen years to get a phone in your home. If you need to build a house, you will not get a permit. You will get no justice in an Israeli court or when you go to the police. If a settler's car hit you, don't bother complaining because he is always right and you are wrong. You can go to jail for six months without trial, then be released for a few days, then be put back into jail for another six months. If you have land, Israel will use all kinds of laws to take it from you. If Turkish law doesn't work, they use British law. Or Jordanian law. Or Israeli law. Or military law. Your home can be destroyed, just for being Palestinian, whether or not you are involved in an action or demonstration.

So the people knew they could not continue that way. When they started confronting the Israelis without guns, they started sensing their own power. That power created unity. People started sacrificing for each other. If your neighbor is in jail, it becomes your responsibility to see that his family gets food. Through civil disobedience, Palestinians found they could have discipline. Leaflets told the Palestinians that, if they had been cooperating with the Israelis, they should go to their church or to the Mosque and ask forgiveness from their fellow men and women, so they would be free again. Lots of people began to do that.

Then Palestinians stopped paying their taxes. Their police started disarming. The jails started filling up. They started sending back letters to the government that were written in Hebrew instead of Arabic. They started telling the children: never sign any document in Hebrew. Make them translate it, even if you know the language. Be proud of your language! They started refusing to buy Israeli products. The movement started with young men confronting soldiers. And then women were in the streets, walking behind their sons in case they were shot. Then the men began to close their shops. Palestinians formed committees to handle their own affairs - for health, for finding food, for teaching children underground, because the schools are closed now and education is forbidden to Palestinians. If you teach kids underground, according to the new law, and you are caught, you will get ten years in prison and your house will be demolished. But the Palestinian teachers continue, and are willing to accept any consequences.

One aspect of nonviolence is to speak, to talk - but not just to your friends. You have to talk to your enemy. This is not easy. For example, in one action, Israeli and Palestinian peace activists were going to work together planting trees. Awad told the Palestinians to cook lunch for the Israelis. It took them two days to decide to do that. Then Awad said they would have to eat with them too. Impossible: Breaking bread with the Israelis meant making peace with them. It took four or five days to decide to do that. Then Awad went to the Israelis and told them not to bring their own food. Some refused, believing the Palestinians might poison them. This is the kind of mistrust that exists even between peace activists! But as they talk to one another, they are seen as human.

Palestinians asked themselves: Are we willing to sit down with the Israelis and accept peace? Yes, we want a two-state solution! The uprising isn't against the Israelis, but against fear. When Palestinians started confronting the Israelis in every way, they found themselves capable of peace. A million and a half Palestinians are fighting for their rights. They are creating a parallel government of their own. But justice, says Mubarak Awad, is not only for them. "If I want justice, I have to want it also for my enemy. So I support the intifadeh for peace and justice."

Peace Magazine Dec 1988-Jan 1989

Peace Magazine Dec 1988-Jan 1989, page 5. Some rights reserved.

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