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Sovereignty, security and dignity

Israel and Palestine have grappled with enduring territorial disputes and complex geopolitical tensions across generations. Peacemakers insist the “side” we’re called to support isn’t exclusively pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, it’s “pro-solution”.

In the wake of Hamas’ brutal October 7 attack, as Israel’s retributory assault was gearing up, Ali Abu Awwad, an activist who lives in the West Bank, wrote: “Now more than ever, we all must refuse to use violence to justify more violence. We should not allow our pain to blind us to what is most needed: mutually guaranteed sovereignty, security and dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Awwad has been an advocate of nonviolent action for 20 years. The founder of Taghyeer (an Arabic word meaning “change”), he was recently awarded the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development for 2023.

“The anger is there,” Awwad says. “The challenge is not to be led by it. I’m angry, and I can be humiliated at any time, at any checkpoint. The question is, what do you do with it?

“[W]e have to create a place where we will no longer be prisoners of the anger that this situation creates every day.

“The role of nonviolence is to speak to people’s despair – not to tell them they are right, but to show them a way out.

“[W]hen you open up your heart and you see the other, you begin to see the truth is complex – that my truth is true, but it’s a partial truth and there’s another truth that’s also partial and I have to learn to put them together and make the larger truth. I believe we can do that.”

Awwad is not alone in recognising the humanity of all involved. For instance, some Israelis who suffered terrible loss in the Hamas attacks have been among the strongest proponents of peace.

Noy Katzman’s brother, Haim, was killed on October 7. In her eulogy, Noy called for the end of the killing of innocents. “I call on the government and all of us not to use our death and pain to cause death and pain of other people or other families,” Noy said. “I demand to stop the cycle of pain, and understand that the only way is freedom and equal rights.”

Israeli peace activist Maoz Inon, whose parents were killed by Hamas, implored Israel to stop its war on Gaza. “Revenge is not going to bring my parents back to life,” Inon wrote on Aljazeera.com. “It is not going to bring back other Israelis and Palestinians killed either. It is going to do the opposite. It is going to cause more casualties. It is going to bring more death. We must break the cycle.”

“The Jews are not my enemy; their fear is my enemy,” says Awwad. “We must help them to stop being so afraid – their whole history has terrified them – but I refuse to be a victim of Jewish fear anymore.

“Nonviolence is the art of practising your humanity, it is the art of being a human being. Peace is a place where we can live by accepting our differences and respecting each other’s rights.

“The nonviolence movement I’m leading is not about hummus and hugs. It’s not about good intentions … Dialogue is not the goal. Dialogue is a tool for a bigger goal. We need to build a new political reality that can speak to both sides … We need to guarantee that these two identities can be practised in a fashion that no one has to pay the price of their dignity, land, rights or nationality.”

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Draws from articles by Ray Suarez and Jim Rice, Sojourners, January 2024.

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