PEACE with Penny: Penny S. Tee interviews Noor A’wad, a Palestinian Peace Activist who works on Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the West Bank with Israeli settlers!
Peace with Penny Interview with Noor A’wad Transcript February 2, 2021
Penny S. Tee: Hello and welcome to Peace with Penny S. Tee and I’m your host. Israel signing Peace agreements with Bahrain the UAE Sudan and Morocco have been great steps in the right direction, yet we always hear what about Israelis and Palestinians? Well, I’m here to tell you lots has happened with incredible peacemakers between them you just don’t hear about it here. I’m hoping my video podcast will change that. Often, we’ll be speaking with grassroots Israelis and Palestinians truly making a difference who realize that they love the same land, but they have very different narratives. Sometimes I’ll also take a break from the intensity of these important narratives and discuss peace from varied facets of life―don’t we all need some relief from stress these days?
So why did I get involved? It was the summer of 2014 and for my son’s Bar Mitzvah present, just like many Jewish parents, we wanted him to bond with the Holy Land. Oy, it worked―perhaps too well. My husband had stayed back at the hotel and our friends my son and I had just stopped in a pharmacy…
“Run! Run to the bomb shelter Sweetie! Please, please hurry! I didn’t hear the sirens at first, but the Israelis did. They’re used to hearing these things!
We ran to the back of the storeroom. It was a 12×24’, windowless bomb shelter. My heart is pounding. Boom! Boom! I hear and feel the percussion of the exploding bombs. I’m trying not to get sick. I look at my thirteen-year-old son and think I’ll never forgive myself if something happens to him.
That’s an excerpt from a speech I gave to the Orange County Jewish Bar Association it was the first, but not the last time we had to run to bomb shelter. Our adventure and my transformation is also the subject of my book, “BLASTED from COMPLACENCY: A Journey from Terror to Transformation in Israel.” There is no chapter in a parenting book on what to do when a war starts, and you are on a family vacation. Think touring extraordinary and sacred sites mixed with cowering in bomb shelters. I’m still trying to get over the Jewish guilt of taking my son to war for his bar mitzvah present.
The impact of being human targets helped me understand the plight of Israelis living like this, and it also made me want to work on Peace. How Israel is often described on the news is not what I had seen with my own eyes. And I felt Palestinian parents also preferred their children playing safely in their backyards.
The missiles exploded just near enough―to blow apart my world as I knew it, forever changing me, and you’d never recognize my life today with what it was like then. I believe I found my life’s purpose.
Penny S. Tee: Hello everybody and hello Noor. How are you today?
Noor A’wad: I’m good thank you. I’m very happy to be here today.
Penny S. Tee: I’m very happy to have you as well. So, I’m talking today with Noor A’wad, who works with Roots. An incredible organization working on peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. But before we go on let me say if you have any questions you can type them into the chat box on Zoom and we will be answering them at the end of the interview. Thank you for the questions that I already received.
To give you a bit of background on Noor. Noor’s grandparents were refugees from Malha in southern Jerusalem in 1948. Noor was born in Amman, Jordan in 1991 two years before the Oslo Peace process. In 1995, Noor’s family moved back to Palestine when he was 4 years old. Noor grew up in Bethlehem south of Jerusalem.
His experience of Israelis was as IDF soldiers of an occupying army.
In 2014, at the age of twenty-three Noor became a tour guide licensed by the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism. After meeting Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Ali Abu Awwad who are co-founders of Roots-Shorashim-Judur in 2016, Noor joined Roots.
Currently at Roots, Noor organizes joint Palestinian-Israeli activities and speaks to visiting groups about his personal experiences living through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a Palestinian. He has seen much tragedy, and in such conditions is motivated to work toward a political solution.
Noor resides in Bethlehem today, where he guides English speakers on geopolitical tours of the region.
Thanks for joining us Noor! At first I’d like to get into some more details in your background and growing up as a Palestinian some burning questions I will add and then we’ll get your piece work at Roots, okay?
Noor A’wad: Hmm, sure.
Penny S. Tee: So, you had told me that you came to live in Israel from Jordan at 4 years old. Why did your parents move?
Noor A’wad: So, my parents moved back because they wanted to live in Palestine. They didn’t want to live in Israel. I mean, you know my family is originally from Jerusalem. And in 1948 my grandparents they had to leave their house in Jerusalem during the war. And they end up refugees, in a refugee camp. So, my parents were born in Bethlehem. And you know for most of their lives they had seen wars and conflict and occupation. Both of them, both of my parents at some point decided that there is no future, or there is no hope to stay here, so that’s why they originally left. Because they were hopeless that they can have a future. And when the peace process was started when the Oslo Accords were signed, that was a big sign of hope for them like many people at that time, to come back. And they were coming back because they understood that this Peace initiative will basically end the occupation. There is no occupation anymore and soon there will be a state of Palestine in our homeland here and they will have a stable life. So that’s why my family, my parents moved back from Jordan because anyway for them Jordan was a temporary, wasn’t to stay there forever. And they knew that it would be like at some point they would go back. So that’s what happened 1995. My parents decided that they wanted to move back and rebuild life for us here.
Penny S. Tee: So, what was it like growing up in the West Bank?
Noor A’wad: So, when I, when I lived here I mean 1990s when I grew up as a kid, I don’t remember so much of the conflict, at the beginning. At the very beginning years of my life here. I mean most of my childhood memories was about my father who used to work in Jerusalem. Who sometimes took me with him to his work there in Jerusalem. How easy it was to travel from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, unlike today. We as a family, when we wanted to go to the beach, and it was also very possible and easy for us to do that. And as a 7-years-old kid, and in general, I didn’t understood the complexity of the reality around me, of what is the occupation what is the conflict. So that’s how I grew up in the beginning. That’s before you can say the 1990s, before the year two thousand, and I thought and I think about how I feel about it, that this was a normal life. Now I’m not saying that in those years there was no conflict, of course it was there. Umm, but as I said, for me, it was like, I was a kid. It was complicated to realize what’s happening around me. But then you know, the situation developed. The Peace process from our experience, failed miserably, and came to like a dead end with no hope. And the Second Intifada started, the second Palestinian uprising. That was a very violent time, that affected our lives here. And all of a sudden what I experienced as a normal life, it turned into a life under occupation, a life in a conflict, um, in different in different ways, my life was affected. And I grew up in this conflict since then.
Penny S. Tee: What, excuse me, what made you choose being a tour guide?
Noor A’wad: So, for me, I think it was like maybe a couple of reasons. One, is that I live in Bethlehem. Like here southeast here of Jerusalem and Bethlehem is a touristic city. I mean many of Christian pilgrims they come to the city of Bethlehem because of its religious importance. I always, when I was a kid I would encounter tourists and internationals. And as a teenager I had a chance to even to speak to them. And I started to develop this interest from a young age and um, that’s one reason.
The second reason for me, when I graduated high school, and I thought of going to study something, I had a problem basically with high education. I had a challenge with it. I mean, many people here who go to high education, to university, uh, they don’t get a job after that, after they finish their education.
That’s because of the economical difficulties. Because of the difficult economic situation. Uh, most of the graduates from universities and colleges, they end up unemployed. So, when I thought about actually studying something, I wanted to study something that qualifies me or gives me the chance to find a job.
And there it was, I mean tourism. Is like there is a chance for me to work in tourism sector, and I am already interested in it, and I spoke English. So that’s why I choose to study to be tour guiding. And I also looked at a program that included like History and of course, Politics uh, I wanted to actually study Political Science, but then I saw that this program actually include different topics that I like so that’s why I took it.
Penny S. Tee: Um, when you were younger did you participate in any of the protests?
Noor A’wad: Definitely. I, how you say, I say it in a short way, the Second Intifada started, and that changed my experience, and I grew up in this conflict. And I went through different experiences in the conflict having to deal with the question of who am I? What I’m doing here? Where am I? Why I live under these circumstances? What does it mean to be Palestinian? And so, in the process to find answers for all of these questions you deal with engaging with the reality and you become engaging with this reality. And I felt that at some point that my generation have responsibilities to improve the situation. To fight for our cause, to fight for our liberation. And the occupation for us is a huge obstacle, especially for my generation. I mean, we were born, we opened our eyes, and we see the occupation around us and so the idea of resistance against the occupation, is something very, very important to us.
Even though that today many people are tired from the idea itself and what can we really do? But I joined protests. Uh, different ways, different types of protests against the occupation, yes.
Penny S. Tee: When I see an Israeli soldier with their guns, I see someone armed for good reasons, because of the multitude of terrorist attacks, but I’ve heard you say, you see humiliation. Can you explain that?
Noor A’wad: Ya, definitely. For us, experiencing Israeli soldiers is experiencing humility, or humiliation. Because when we see Israeli soldiers they are not our soldiers. They don’t speak our language; they are controlling our lives and they are forced on us. And you know it’s the individual experience. I can talk about different stories and examples of mistreatment by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints or in different situations. And I also could talk at the same time of actually good experiences with soldiers, I mean like at the end of the day, I know that they are humans, but what I see is the uniform, the gun. What it represents, the system that I live under, as a non-Israeli, as a non-Jew, of course as a Palestinian, I live under their control, under their superiority. They are superior they are controlling my life. And this sense of lack of freedom is what I feel when I see Israeli soldiers. And also, at the same time I can say that me and of course, many Palestinians even more than me, would be frightened when they see the soldiers. Because for us, it definitely doesn’t mean security for us when we see soldiers.
Penny S. Tee: What made you want to work on peace?
Noor A’wad: It’s actually a long story, but I’ll try to cut it short. To be honest when I started guiding in general, I was always interested into the kind of groups or clients who wanted to learn about the reality. Not just to see the stones but to know the stories of the people, of the place and what’s happening today. I saw it as part of my responsibility to resist the occupation, to resist this reality and to change it, to improve it.
So, I heard about these initiatives before. And my take on them was very negative. That’s how I think about it today. because I kind of grow up you know, I grow up in a generation where they saw the failure of the Peace process. And from our narrative, from our prospective, if we say that there is no partner for Peace and I encounter Israelis who also say that they have no partner for Peace, so I was convinced that there is no partner.
And that’s why I viewed all Peace organizations as just being a waste of time, there’s really nothing you can do there, until I actually was guiding a group and I came to meet with Roots. That day I had my group meeting with an Israeli settler before we met with Roots, and this Israeli settler, he wasn’t a member of any Peace organization, he was supposed to talk to my group and represent the Israeli narrative in the West Bank, and it was very extreme point of view that he actually shared with us. And it was difficult for me as a Palestinian who lives here to listen to him.
I even felt more angry and more frustrated after meeting with him. But on the way back with my group to Bethlehem, we had a meeting with Roots, and you know, I realized that Roots is a Peace organization, so I was hesitant about even like going, but I had to take the group there. And then I met Rabbi Hanan, an Israeli member of Roots, who talked about his personal story and his experience and how he joined Roots. And how he met Palestinians and what he was thinking about us, and how he think about us now. And Hanan’s story is a bit long but I can say that what I got from him that day was the sense of recognition. And the sense of reconciliation. Someone talking with reconciliation. Someone talking with recognizing me and recognizing my side, and recognizing our pain and suffering in this conflict, and that wasn’t expected for me at all. I wasn’t expecting someone from the Israeli side to be talking like this, the stories that I heard from him. And that made me interested to know more about what this Roots is, what this organization is, what the people who are there, who are they, what they are doing? After I discovered and I met with more activists, I decided to join.
Penny S. Tee: I had Shaul Judelman speak last week and he’s one of the co-founders of Roots, but if you could describe just a little bit about Roots just to catch people up who didn’t have the opportunity to listen last week, could you say what Roots is about, and we’ll go from there please.
Noor A’wad:. Ya, sure. So, Roots is a local initiative by locals here and by here I mean in the area of the West Bank in general and in the area south of Bethlehem, Gush Etzion and north of Hebron in particular. This local group of residents in this area, who are Palestinians and Israeli settlers, decided to create this group to build between us bridges of understanding, of political transformation, recognition and acceptance between us. And that’s as a way of creating reconciliation between the two people and their identities. And this concept of making Peace is beyond just you know, political or diplomacy work, it’s beyond you know two governments coming together and deciding to make a truce or make some sort of agreement. It’s a more genuine conflict. It’s people to people work on the ground people who are trying to find reconciliation and at the same time take responsibility toward this reality that we both live as Israelis and as Palestinians and see what we can do as a stable society. So that’s in my eyes that’s how I see Roots. That’s what Roots is.
Roots works on different levels. One level will be you know the meetings and sessions that we run of dialogue, learning about the other side, whether language, history, religion, culture.
But the second work, the second level of work that happens in Roots is activism. As people want to become activists in trying to change reality as I spoke. When people stand up against violence from both sides, when people stand up for equality and justice, that’s the most important level of work. And It’s very, it’s not what the people hear on the news. People hear on the news all the time negative news about the Palestinians’ side or negative news on the Israeli side especially the Israeli settlers, but the violence from settlers, or violence from Palestinians, the hatred that both sides have toward each other. So, we are giving a different example by doing this activism. We also are building bridges of trust which is hard to find between Israelis and Palestinians.
And the third level of work is where we come to change the discourse about the other in the conflict. From black and white, you know there is one side that is the good side, and the other side is the bad side. Talking about things in a superficial way but like going deeper, trying to seek this reconciliation between two identities and people who live on the same land.
Penny S. Tee: The fact that when Shaul last week was talking about how the Palestinians speak Arabic and the Israelis speak Hebrew and you live close together but there’s really no interaction, what’s it like living in that kind of atmosphere where you don’t speak each other’s languages and you don’t talk to each other I would imagine the divide is so uncomfortable. What’s that like?
Noor A’wad: The divide, yeah, is huge. It feels like we live in two different universe. But I realized this, and I saw it more when I joined Roots when I actually started to notice it more, when I start to look at it. That’s what I mostly realized how we have a huge gap between us but how it’s affecting most of the people who don’t have the chance to meet the other side? It makes the other side for them two dimensional. The other side is an ideology, an idea that they push against. It’s a fear. It’s a threat.
That’s how my people feel about the Israeli people all the time. It represents for us a fear, it represents for us an ideology, it represents for us a threat. People need to push against all of the time to be worried about. So, when I joined Roots I realized that this also you know is the same thing on the other side.
The Palestinians are perceived as two dimensional for Israelis. As a threat, as a cause of fear, and that’s I think that’s one of the outcomes of the separation that we have and that we don’t speak the same language.
Of course, there are people who on both sides, get at some point to learn the other side’s language for various reasons.
On the Palestinian side they can say mostly it’s not for positive reasons. Because like the places where a Palestinian can learn Hebrew, is either in an Israeli jail, if you are in prison at some point and that’s where you actually learn some of the words because you talk to guard or if you are working on the Israeli side, but mostly if you work on the Israeli side but mostly if you work, you work in lower jobs, in construction sites as a construction worker so that’s how you learn Hebrew.
Or if you have too many interactions with soldiers at checkpoints, then you start to recognize and learn some more, mostly it happens in a negative way. That’s how we learn and it’s still the language of the enemy. It represents what it, it brings with it a lot of negative feelings.
Penny S. Tee: You brought up the jails. What we call terrorists, in Palestinian society they are celebrated by naming schools and there is pride in being arrested and spending time in an Israeli jail. Can you explain why many people in your culture they are considered “Freedom Fighters” and how they are looked at, in your community?
Noor A’wad: Sure, I mean, in a national conflict, like our conflict, because I see our conflict as a national one. And yes it may have different dimensions as well, other damage as well, but it is mainly a national conflict.
Those people who are fighting and you know the word fighting could mean in a violent and could also refer to nonviolent as against the occupation are received as ones paying the highest price. If they are imprisoned and spend years of their life in Israeli prisons because of their work against the occupation, if they were killed, so that’s why people are celebrating these people. Or they look at them as the ones who paid the highest price for the liberation and the freedom of all of us.
When someone on the Israeli side say to me that you know, any violence that comes from the Palestinians’ side is terrorism, and it’s not accepted and it’s illegal, before I joined Roots I would, I didn’t tolerate this response at all or this comment.
I mean, because the idea that I would only hear is that this person is saying to me that it’s ok that you know that they occupy us. They take control of our lives, our land and our resources. But it’s not ok if we try to push back, if we try to fight.
But then after I met other Israelis, who are taking responsibility, who are admitting that there is a problem with the reality that we have, that they are admitting that the occupation must end and it’s not just, I started to also see the problems within Palestinian violence, within what I was raised to call “Freedom Fighting” or resistance because there are things that I cannot accept.
So, first of all, I’m a member of a nonviolent movement, that calls for change through non-violent civilian rights. And I’m committed to nonviolence.
In national conflict many times violence is used. And I see it as a huge difference between when you were target military with this violence, and when you target civilians. It’s maybe hard for Palestinians to see that Israelis and settlers are innocent. Or Israeli citizens who are in Tel Aviv who at the end, they serve in the army. It’s hard for Palestinians to also see them as innocents.
But they are civilians, they are innocent, and they shouldn’t be a legitimate target anyway. They are not and should not be a target of violence, anyway. At the same time, when there’s a war, there is a conflict like with Gaza, Palestinian civilians usually are affected. They are killed, they are targeted one way or another. They are being called co-lateral damage; we couldn’t avoid that. But you know, that’s also another problem for Palestinians. How we deal with that? How we feel about it because my people have a narrative that convinced themselves that the other side are also intentionally targeting our civilians. The other side has no red lights. That’s how many of my people feel. So, then they ask the question, why should we have red lights when it comes to them? But again, I don’t think everyone is extreme or feel like this ideas, but I think many Palestinians think that violence against Israeli civilians is wrong, but yeah, they are caught up in this idea that either praise resistance and support resistance with it’s good and bad, or be against it, and delegitimize it. And it’s dangerous for us to delegitimize resistance because we think that then we are giving up to the occupation.
Penny S. Tee: These are difficult questions that I came up with. I feel like you’re a guest in my house, but I need, I apologize, I need to ask these questions because people over here do want to understand because, it’s very clear that so much of what we see is difficult from our vantage point to understand. So, if I could ask you, I know in speaking with you before, the salaries as well, that are paid by the P/A or other organizations, if a Palestinian uh, oh well, I suppose the rude term is “pay for slay” is the Israeli term, I’m sure you’ve heard.
I know that you have a different perspective about the salaries, could you help us understand by explaining what your viewpoint of the salaries are?
Noor A’wad: Well, this issue is a bit complicated because it has to do with the way how our, in my opinion, how the situation that was created after the Peace process.
So, the Palestinian Authority is not an independent state, yet it basically administrates the lives of the Palestinians in Area A and Area B of the West Bank. It’s responsible for all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The problem in my eye is that the Peace process allowed the occupation to exist and at the same time to create a national authority that has to take care of its own people. And so, attempts to come to a final status agreement failed, then you have this Palestinian Authority that’s wanting to show all of the time that it’s national, supports its own people, stands for its own people you know, and that’s basically a way. The salaries you know, are paying for prisoners who are imprisoned in Israeli jails, and there is almost no house I can say in the West Bank, no family that has no one who was imprisoned in an Israeli jail.
The number of people imprisoned currently now are almost 7,000. That’s it, it’s a small number.
Penny S. Tee: That’s small?
Noor A’wad: 7,000, I mean comparing to maybe people think that there are more than this. That there are maybe tens of thousands of people. But yeah, 7,000 is not like a huge number from my point of view. But I wanted to say, to explain that all of the time there are people going in and out.
I mean, there is like an age group between eighteen years to mid-twenties where there is a high chance for Palestinian people to go to jail. You know, issues of occupation, politics, violence and you will end up in an Israeli jail. And I always say that I was lucky, some of my cousins and some of my siblings, we were lucky that they didn’t end up in an Israeli jail in that period of time, at that age.
However, what I wanted to say, is that the Palestinian Authority is paying salaries for Palestinian prisoners from the Fatah party, from the Fatah movement, I mean. Not all of the movements. So, prisoners who are affiliated with a group like Hamas, the Palestinian Authority does not see itself responsible for them, and they don’t pay for them.
Others who are following or affiliated with other groups like Islamic Jihad or PLO those are not also being paid by the Palestinian Authority.
Now this payment for the Palestinians as I say, for Palestinian prisoners especially inside the Fatah movement was a way to keep the Palestinian Authority in power and in a way to keep it supported by those people on the ground. But those people who are in prisons as well, in Israeli jails they play an important role in the Palestinian national movement. They are leaders of the Palestinian national movement. They have an effect on the Palestinian national movement. So, it’s in the interest of the Palestinian Authority to keep good connection and good control with these people.
The thing is that these payments have been going on since 1993. Since the first year that the Palestinian Authority was established, and we only start to hear about it recently. Now, do I think it’s problematic? I think most Palestinians don’t really see it as problematic. I think most Palestinians also, but maybe I’m mistaken, but most Palestinians are not aware of the talk in the U.S. or in the West, but the Palestinian Authority supporting terrorism, most Palestinians don’t think the Palestinian Authority is supporting terrorism by paying salaries for these prisoners because for us, these people who were in prison or who are going to prison, they are not going for these salaries. Despite what someone thinks, someone thinks that you know that I would go to prison for these salaries, for the money, no that’s not how people think about that here. There are more other reasons for someone to go to prison or end up in an Israeli prison, jail, and it’s not because of the money, the financial issue.
But we started to hear about it the last two years. And it’s part of the campaign between the Israelis and Palestinians trying to expose the other side who is really working for Peace, and who is not. Who is really doing an effort to make peace and who is not doing an effort to make Peace?
I think that during Obama administration it was a huge pressure on Israel because of the settlement issue and it was a precondition for Palestinians to reenter negotiations, we must stop building settlements.
And so in order to find someone that’s kind of like equal, in order to accuse the Palestinians’ side to say basically that the Palestinian Authority is not a Peace partner is not someone that we can trust, I think the issue of salaries was a good thing, a good case, to show and to say that the Palestinian Authority is not supporting Peace, it’s not a Peace partner and they are paying salaries to these people to do terrorist attacks, but again, when someone says that, they basically ignore the entire reality that I talked a little bit about it. And the national identity of the sense that we have to fight against the occupation and how this fight basically happened and how it’s being done on the ground, and what’s the circumstances of it.
Let’s say that the Palestinian Authority decides that it’s not going to take any responsibility toward any prisoner in an Israeli jail.
I think what will happen in a few years, maybe less, than years, maybe months, there will be a new national leadership that will arise from inside the prisons and accuse the Palestinian Authority of not being a national authority or being a puppet government to the occupation, and that will create a huge difficulty or problem for the Palestinian Authority.
And I’m not here to defend the Palestinian Authority. I think the Palestinian Authority is doing many wrong things when it comes to the Peace process and how to deal with the conflict and the situation, but rather, I’m trying to explain the situation and the dynamics.
Penny S. Tee: You went from being, I would say being very, well you still are, very supportive of the fight against the occupation, but how have you changed by, and what have you learned about Israelis and Jews as far as how you felt before your interactions and now, how long have you worked with Roots, now? 2016?
Noor A’wad: So, five years now.
Penny S. Tee: So, can you contrast how you felt before about Israelis and Jews and do you see Israelis and Jews as the same thing?
Noor A’wad: So, before I joined Roots, the way how I looked about the idea of resistance and the idea of dealing with Israelis or dealing with the Israeli side, I only saw the Israeli side as soldiers, because that’s what I saw. My movement is restricted. I mean from the year 2000-2013 I had no chance, no chance at all to leave the West Bank. To go to for example like West Jerusalem, or even East of Jerusalem. Anywhere behind the separation barrier I cannot go because I don’t have permission to allow me to go through. So, I mostly grew up and moved inside the West Bank, where the Israelis I see mostly are soldiers, and the settlers when I see them, there is no encounter with the settlers. They are in their settlements on hilltops around Bethlehem. And I don’t see them, I see houses of settlers.
If I saw settlers, then I’ll see them at the bus station, and when I’m driving on the roads of the West Bank, heavily guarded by soldiers. So, you could say for a long time for me Israelis were objects. I didn’t see them as human beings. I see them as the signs on the roads and as soldiers who are standing in the military towers, as part of the reality that I live, part of the image that I see all of the time that I refer to as occupation.
Until I met Israeli settlers at Roots. I started to talk to them and to deal with them and you know, I start to humanize these people in my eyes. And I start to see them differently. So, what’s the difference between me resisting the occupation and before I joined Roots and now?
First of all, I believe that the more violence between Israelis and Palestinians, the more there is fear and the more there is anger, and the more there is mistrust and it’s like a loop. You cannot break it; it would be continuous. It’s not going to bring us to a solution. It will be always like one side have to win; it will be continuous struggle with the other side.
So that’s why I don’t see really idea of violence today really as an idea that we can use to get to any solution in this land. So, I start to see nonviolent way. And in nonviolence there are much more people from this society that they can take responsibility and can do much more work than the violence can do.
Violence in a national conflict might you know, put pressure on the other side, achieve some sort of agreement with the other side because of this violence, but the work that we do, the type of resistance that I’m trying to do now, is to make people understand what’s really happening around them, and to try in a way to change them.
Not to give up on their rights as Palestinians or Israelis, but to find a way, how they can practice this identity without denying the other side identity without negatively effecting the other side.
And it’s a long way, long run. But definitely, it’s a way to save lives, and it’s a way to bring us to a much better place. That’s the difference, that’s what I see today. I believe today that Israelis and Palestinians can be partners, because I have Israeli partners. And I trust them for my life. And that didn’t came, that didn’t happen just like this, easily.
Penny S. Tee: Right, right.
Noor A’wad: We went through a lot together. That’s what I feel.
Penny S. Tee: When I look at the situation and I know when I was there and we ended up running to bomb shelters six times and that was enough, that was too much for me, but you have two peoples in a small nation, who I think everybody has PTSD, you know post-traumatic stress disorder, where you know all of these attacks on both sides continuously. It has to affect people, you know inside, psychologically, it’s you know as you said, you know there’s so much fear and anger and hate, what would you say to that? Do you agree that the nation is just filled with people who’ve been through these traumatic situations and how does that affect everybody being able to work together?
Noor A’wad: So that’s, I think this is the outcome of living in such circumstances, in this situation. And it’s maybe hard for people themselves to see that. They are you know; they have these problems, and they are going through this. I learn about it more when I joined Roots. I started to realize more. What are the problems within us, with my side, when I joined the work of Roots. And I understood the other side better, I understood myself better.
So, coming together, might be very difficult. And sometimes perhaps people raise their expectations you know. They have a high hope that things will happen, and they are frustrated, because of how slow things are. And, uh, but this is what I saw. When I joined Roots, I saw transformation on a micro-level. People-level. That’s why I started to believe also that the more separation we have, is the more bad, not the more good. It might feel it’s a relief you know? When we don’t have the other side in our life as much as we can, because the other side is always the cause of this anger and this frustration and these negative feelings. So, when we don’t have them, we think we have a normal life. But we are not. We are just running away from the problem. Once we start to engage more with them, I think we understand ourselves better and we understand them better. But I’m not a psychiatrist.
Penny S. Tee: Yeah, laughing in agreement (thinking: neither of us is, but Noor, you’re damn smart!).
Noor A’wad: It’s been a very personal experience to me. And I’m still learning and going through it.
Penny S. Tee: Can you describe any personal transformations that you’ve seen in other people at Roots who believed in one way and then now, a different way?
Noor A’wad: Yeah, sure. I mean, when I joined Roots, I remember several activists. Several people joined before they became activists. You know, our opinions were very different. Now I didn’t want them to think like me. To think how I think. How I see things. But I wanted to find if we can like basically reach a common ground. If we can agree on something. If we can hear and listen to each other.
It was very difficult at the beginning. It felt like almost impossible. But with more time, and with my going through the reality together, having to be there at the center, having to meet, I saw some of these people actually changing over time. Their opinion became more nuanced and more inclusive, and they understand now both sides better. They can have more like inclusive when it comes to making judgments or like deciding about the situation or trying to describe it. It’s just that they have more inclusive language and I think this also is what I personally gained.
Maybe it doesn’t appear like this at the beginning. Because I have to, like when I’m talking to someone I have to affirm my identity, who am I? because I don’t want at the same time I’m receiving a backlash from my society. The work that I do is wrong. I’m abandoning or giving up on the struggle for freedom by doing this. That I am “normalizing,” this is the word you hear a lot on the Palestinian side. That I’m normalizing the occupation by the work that I’m doing. I’m accepting it in one way or another. Oh so, no I’m not accepting it. I’m trying to change it in a different way than the typical way that people think we have to do.
Penny S. Tee: During times of heightened violence, or maybe just in general, what’s the reaction of your neighbors to the fact that you’re working with Roots, or do you talk about it?
Noor A’wad: I do talk about it, but also not all the time and I choose the right time to talk about it. I just want to make a notice that Roots is also perceived in a very controversial, you know Roots is controversial if I can say that, because most work between Israelis and Palestinians, most Peace organizations are officially working with Israelis from Israel proper. Usually, their politics are leaning toward the left, you know they are supporting left-wing politics. They are anti-occupation, anti-settlements, and all of that. And with Palestinians from here. So, when I started to work with an organization that basically brings settlers, Israeli settlers, many people around me got very angry with me, very upset and they didn’t understand what I’m doing.
You know they think that I am deluding myself, and maybe I don’t have awareness of how dangerous the work that I do. People accuse me definitely on my side that I am legitimizing the settlers accepting the settlers’ narrative. That I am accepting the settlement movement by the work I am doing. And so yeah, definitely I have people who don’t want to talk to me because of the work I do. Maybe behind my back also they will call me like a traitor, a normalizer, different names. But most people around me, honestly were very skeptical and suspicious.
I mean the questions that I get from people around me are like, “Why settlers want to have Peace? Settlers want to have more land to settle on and to drive us as Palestinians to push us to the corner.” That’s what we did, you know.
Or some people think, “You know these settlers that you sit with, the 1, 2, 3,10 persons, they don’t represent all of the settlers. And of course, they don’t represent all of the settlers community. But they are a voice of change. A voice taking responsibility inside this community.
But I can say that 70% of the people around me are skeptical and suspicious of the intentions of these (unintelligible). Because that’s what their reality tells them. That’s what they see. The bigger picture. Settlers don’t want Peace. Or the Peace for them does not include Palestinian rights, Palestinian national rights.
Penny S. Tee: What are three lessons you learned from working on Peace with Israelis?
Noor A’wad: I thought that I know about Israelis more. I mean, I thought I know them, but when I got to work with them, I realized how little I knew. And yet I still have to learn.
Another lesson that I learned which is very important for me is that there can be trust agreements. It’s possible that we have. Because there was a time when I believed that there cannot be trust between us at all. And the third lesson that I learned is that when someone says something against you like something that feels very, very against you, it might sound maybe ridiculous to you, and not really describing the reality, your reality that you believe in, sometimes try to listen, because what they are saying this for some reason, and you have to try to understand what’s the reason behind it. What’s the reason they are saying these things to you? Why they are saying these things to you? What’s their experience with you?
So, that’s also something that I encounter. I learned that affected how I encounter people in general.
Penny S. Tee: Of course, with COVID everywhere, is a big issue and there, there is a big controversy about whether or not Israel, why Israel isn’t supplying the Palestinians with the vaccine and that actually it’s the P/A who authorizes that and didn’t want Israel to provide the doses and so they were going to other countries like Russia, yet Israel is blamed. Do you think, is that your perception of the situation? And if so, what do you think most of your community thinks about these details. Do they also blame Israel for not providing the vaccine?
Noor A’wad: Most of my society, most of my community is not expected to be vaccinated by Israel. Because we were not expected to be paid salaries by Israel. Why is that? Many people when they hear this discussion they already say it’s the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority. And in the Oslo Accords the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the people in the West Bank and Gaza and they should be the ones who are vaccinating the people.
And yes, that’s true. Now the Palestinian Authority, did not ask from Israel to get vaccines from Israel. It didn’t ask Israel to help in vaccinating as far as I know. Because the Palestinian Authority when the vaccines came out they started to buy to contract some of these vaccines. And the first attempt was to buy the Russian vaccine.
Yesterday the Palestinian Authority was handed over about 50,000 shots of the vaccine and there will be another round of vaccines coming in the next few weeks.
Now my point of view on this. Israel will not try to vaccinate the Palestinian people even though this is important for the health of Israelis because at the end of the day, there is 120,000 Palestinians that work on the Israeli side, there are settlers living in the West Bank, and they encounter Palestinians living with one another, so you can’t really isolate when it comes to an issue like this health. You can’t really isolate the Palestinians from the Israeli society.
But I understand that with vaccinating Palestinians, there will be a political impact. My point of view on this is that Israel does not see itself responsible for the people in the West Bank. And I don’t see it this way because Israel signed an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, no. The agreement with the Palestinian Authority was supposed to bring us to a state and that state didn’t happen and we are not independent. We don’t have an airport; we don’t have control over borders or airspace. Our borders are controlled by Israel.
But if Israel were to vaccinate people in the West Bank, it’s admitting to its responsibility as an occupation power an occupied power and to the responsibility toward the Palestinians.
That might create a huge diplomatic, political problem for Israel I believe. I think people did as a humanitarian case but it’s not humanitarian, it’s political.
There was I think (Ion sai? Unintelligible) it was one of the LIkud members. He was interviewed on CNN, and he said something like that Israel would have no problem to vaccinate the females once it finishes vaccinating its own people. But again, this is not a humanitarian issue, this is not a humanitarian case. I’m one of those voices who say Israel should vaccinate Palestinians because it is an occupation power that controls our lives.
At the end of the day, it has much more power than the Palestinian Authority, because the Palestinian Authority itself is under occupation, and Israel has responsibility toward us. Because if the Palestinian Authority wants to say ok we don’t need help, of Israel, we are independent and we can vaccinate our own people, in reality we are not independent. You cannot you know, delude yourself. You cannot sell this delusion to the people. You are exempting Israel from its responsibility as an occupation power. So, Israel in my point of view, is having the occupation for free. They have the land, at the end of the day. They control everything. And they don’t have to take responsibility for the people.
So, my, just the last thing I want to add to this. My mother is a nurse, and she works in a hospital here in Bethlehem. So, she is part of this medical staff on the Palestinian side. And maybe me, myself, many people are still hesitant about the vaccines, not really sure about it, if they want to take the vaccine if they talk about it. But people on the front lines, with this virus, dealing with this pandemic, there is no question for me on a moral level or a political level or even military level you can call it whatever you want, those people should receive the vaccines.
So, I think two days ago Israel decided to get a few thousand vaccines to the Palestinian Authority for people who are working in the medical sector and that’s a wise decision because you cannot exclude people from this. This issue is affecting all of us. But again, it’s politicized like most things here are politicized.
Penny S. Tee: Right. The other big thing in the news of course is the Abraham Accords and their normalization with Bahrain, the UAE, Sudan, and Morocco. Of course, we hear what the impression is in the Palestinian community, but from a Palestinian, what is the impression on the streets about the Accords and also how has it impacted your Peace work?
Noor A’wad: So, what I’m going to say might not represent the official, you know Palestinian response, but I just want to clarify the official Palestinian reaction to these Peace agreements is that it’s actually moving the Peace further away not bringing it close to us.
Because we were using it as a condition that if Israel settles down this agreement with the Palestinians we find an agreement, then there are many states, there are 22 Arab states and 52 or 51 Muslim nations that are ready to normalize their ties with Israel. Once you know that there is a Peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.
So, like from a two-state solution, from the two-state mentality the Oslo mentality. The Palestinian Authority side that was like a way to leverage like negotiations to reach a solution with Israel. And actually, that’s the Arab Peace plan, Peace Initiative in 2002.
That showed the readiness of these countries to normalize ties once there was a solution with the Israelis and Palestinians. So, when individual states, when the UAE, when Bahrain, Sudan, when these states are going behind Palestinians’ back and signing agreements with Israel, they are like stabbing the Palestinian side in the back, they are betraying the Palestinian side. They are not taking their responsibilities toward the Palestinian side by signing these agreements.
And some people are negotiating, some people are saying, no it’s the opposite, it’s that when more agreements between countries, then there will be more understanding and that will improve the situation between Israelis and Palestinians.
But the Israeli Prime Minister had said several times in the last few years, that he will make Peace with Arab countries without going through the Palestinians. Meaning he wants to ignore the Palestinian issue by making Peace with Arab governments and Arab countries. That’s what’s happening now.
Now most people on my side, feel that the Palestinian Authority cannot blame these Arab countries of signing agreement with Israel. Because the Palestinian Authority itself is also has a Peace agreement with Israel or has a Peace Process or is supposed to have a Peace process with Israel or has a Peace process or is supposed to have a Peace process.
That’s like a very like simplifying way you know you know but at the same time I don’t think the Palestinian Authority is in a position, in a position to condemn or to criticize these criticize these agreements.
My point of view is that I have I have no disagreement with these Peace agreements as long as it’s going to improve the situation between Israelis and Palestinians as long as it is going to bring Peace. But I look at Bibi Netanyahu and what he is saying. It doesn’t seem like this is the intention for his agreement. At the same time, you know we see in these countries you know we see on social media that they are showing lack of support for this agreement. And saying that these governments are acting on its own.
It’s really, uh, that they don’t represent the people there, that Israel is acting on its own. That they don’t represent the people there. They don’t want to have an agreement with Israel. Israel is an occupation, and they don’t want to have an agreement with it.
There are different motives for these agreements, like for example between the UAE and Israel. When it comes to the war with Iran or the conflict with Iran and the fear from Iran and the power in our region and all of these politics, so these are not pure intentions.
This is not really Peace between people, it’s rather agreements between governments that feels like it’s not really representing what people want.
So that’s my point. My point is that I hope, but I know at the same time that these agreements are not made really to improve the situation between Palestinians and Israelis. I hope that somehow it will create like a single discourse that will bring more Israelis to be interested in Peace with Palestinians and that there will be more Peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the end. But it’s not going to be used for that purpose.
Penny S. Tee: I know part of your peace work that you’re doing at Roots is talking to the pre-military academies. What has that been like? What has been their reaction to what you have to say as far as the, I assume that you talked about the Palestinian viewpoint?
Noor A’wad: It was actually one of the most exciting or one of the most important groups that I talked to at Roots. Those Israelis who are 18, almost 18 years old and are on their way into the army. This is a very sensitive issue on the Palestinian side. I think no one can imagine him or herself on the Palestinian side to be talking to such a group. But I found myself with a chance to talk to them.
And I found out that they are 18 years old and this is the first time they hear a Palestinian, and they hear a Palestinian story. And they are in six months, they are going to be serving at checkpoints in the West Bank here. In the Occupied territories. They are going to be with Palestinians. And so, I try to leave a positive impact on them. By sharing with them my story, as a human, as a person, opening their eyes to a different narrative. A narrative that they always maybe saw as the other, as the enemy narrative. But now they can maybe humanize a little bit this narrative and understand you know, the suffering behind it. And I hope that this will bring positive results.
It’s actually a very tough moment for me as a Palestinian because on one hand, I feel like my responsibility should encourage them to not do the service. To not go into the army as a way of rejecting occupation. But they are going to do it. They are going to do this national service. And many of them I assume they want to do it. They want to serve their country. But I basically tried to teach them that serving your country shouldn’t happen on the behalf of the suffering of my people. And so, it’s really an amazing experience with talking to these kids.
Penny S. Tee: If you could tell the world anything that would help them understand your people better, What would that be? What do you think is missing in the general viewpoint of Palestinians in the world?
Noor A’wad: I think when I hear people from the rest of the world talking about Palestinians, they are either seeing us the most you know you know as the angels and they are the perfect ones and good ones and the victim all the time.
Or they see us you know, as the most evil, you know, very bad people.
We the Palestinians, are like any other people on this planet. We have our good side; we have our bad side. We, you know, we have the good things we do, we have the bad things we do. We are normal people.
We have our conflict you know; we have our situation that’s of course unique from other maybe situations in the world, but I just want people around the world to understand that we are also people, we are human beings. We have our dreams, our desires and yeah, that’s it.
Penny S. Tee: Well thanks so much Noor. That was really informative, and I understand your name in Arabic means “Light” and I want to thank you so much for shedding light on the incredibly complex Israeli Palestinian conflict from a human perspective. I know I learned more about the Palestinian-Israeli interactions and I’m happy to hear that there are an incredible people like yourself working so hard on Peace at Roots one person at a time. So, thank you.
I want to mention that we have some more interesting guests in the weeks ahead. Next Tuesday we will be taking a bit of a lighter turn and talk with Lior Eisenberg of Chess4Solidarity. He’s an Israeli who with the recent establishment of the Abraham Accords has been working on Peace by putting together chess tournaments with Arab countries such as Bahrain and Morocco.
Remember if you weren’t able to tune in at this time soon the recording will be posted at any PennySTee.com and to our listeners today and those listening to the recording later thank you, and May You Live in Peace, שלום, سلام.
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