RAMALLAH, May 30 (CGNews/Faisal Al-Khteeb) - As a Palestinian Arab from Hizma
, a village located between Jerusalem
, my life growing up was very different to that of the Jewish children who lived nearby. Rather than playing on the streets, I was listening to stories about the homeland – Palestine – hearing reports of the actions committed by the Israeli army, and how it took away the rights of my people. We heard these stories in our homes, in coffee shops, on the streets. Even our wedding songs were about resistance to the occupation.
Of course, there are many ways to resist the occupation – the more problematic ones entail violence. During the first Intifada
when I was 15, many of the youth around me took part in peaceful forms of resistance. I, however, decided to use force. At that time I believed that for my freedom, every Jewish person – soldier or civilian, man or woman, young or old – ought to be killed. One day I tried to take a person’s life. I did not know him. I just knew that he was Jewish, and I saw every Jew as a target. At the time I was just a child and did not understand anything about politics, or about the Arab-Israeli conflict. I wasn’t aware of the nuances of the conflict or the impact of violence on my own society.
I was arrested for my violent crime in 1987 and sent to prison for 12 years. In those days it seemed like nobody spoke about peace. Both sides only spoke about violence and the need to perpetuate it – either through armed uprisings or by continuing the occupation.
In prison, some of my fellow inmates suggested I go to the prison library. It was a big library. I began reading politics, literature, and poetry, and familiarised myself with stories from around the world. Interested in the occupation and ways of resistance, I read about Rajiv Gandhi and Martin Luther King - individuals who inspired me and gave me hope. I regretted not reading or hearing about them prior to my arrest because I learned from their experiences that violence only leads to more violence. I also used my time in prison to read about Judaism and Christianity, and of course about Islam. I learned about the religious history of the land, the significance of the legacy of Abraham and Isaac and the shared roots of Jews and Muslims. I realised that we both live in one of the holiest places and that our languages are similar.
Ninety-ninety-one brought the Madrid peace conference
and the dreams of Palestinians seemed close enough to touch – an independent state in which we might carve out our own destiny. For the first time an international process gave me hope that Palestinian life can be lived in peace and dignity. Almost 20 years have passed. With them have come disappointments small and large – but mainly a legacy of bitterness.
Yet the solutions to the conflict and the attendant dangers should we not resolve it, have not changed. In my eyes, a continuation of the current status quo will only radicalise the Palestinian people and contribute to the demise of Israel
as a Jewish and largely democratic state. Meanwhile the situation of Palestinians living within Israel appears to be deteriorating and with it Israel’s stated values, corrupted and twisted by the occupation.
Although mutual anger runs deep, and resentment is ever-present, the only possible outcome remains peace, creating a bright and dignified future for the two peoples. For the Palestinians, using violence will only delegitimise our cause, undermine the rule of law in Palestinian society and push away international support – necessary elements for achieving an independent state.
As former UN Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories Terje Roed Larsen once said “either the two peoples will succeed together or will crash together. For better or for worse...you are right next to each other and there is no chance of a victory for one side at the expense of the other”.
We live on the same land. At the most basic level we drink the same water, be it in Ramallah or in Tel Aviv
. We pray to the same God, be it in Netanya
. Our only hope will be to share this land – not necessarily as friends, as it is far too late for that, but no longer as enemies. Simply, as two states, side by side, providing a better future for our children.