From Victim to Leader- Ali Abu Awwad

“My brother’s murderer wanted to bury me in the same grave. He wanted to bury me, my dreams and my humanity in the very same grave as that of my brother.”

Mr Awwad, a Palestinian activist and pacifist, and advocate of non-violent resistance in the Israel-Palestine conflict,  was a featured presenter at the QLC 2015. Born a refugee and belonging to a family of brave men and women, Mr. Awwad had a moving story and belief to share.
At the tender age of 17, Mr Awwad was arrested and tortured for years by the Israeli police to give information about his mother, herself a leader of one of the many movements against Israeli occupation. His story begins with a responsibility far beyond his age.

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Before his arrest, he was a dreaming youth. He belonged to a secular and open family and dreamt of being a pilot- a dream considered insane for it was dreamt in a land occupied. For Mr. Awwad and the likes of him, growing up in an occupied land was growing up without yourself, your dreams and your identity. His nascent dreams and identity were already struggling to survive and the subsequent imprisonment took away their last breath, but only for a short time.

Surprisingly, according to him the prison was the best university he could ever attend. He read and traveled around the world through books and thus, he said, never lost his years in prison.

During his imprisonment he was made to part with his mother;  he went on a 17 day hunger strike to draw attention to his plight and to force the authorities to allow him to meet with her. The Israeli forces could not resist the humanity in them, and this was Mr. Awwad’s first achievement through non-violence. This incident made him realize the power of humanity and how he could make a difference  through it and not anything else. The course of this epiphany led him to forsake all the other paths he had taken in hopes of achieving justice; he stopped blaming, himself and others, in the battle of  right vs wrong. This that made him realize the inner prison of hatred, judgement and rage and the impact it had created for him. He realized that he was in a prison of his own making, a prison greater than any state’s prison.

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The timely realization of this led to a decision to love and respect himself and others, and solemnly renounce everything that made him a victim.

His resolve was soon tested. Recovering from a gunshot wound, Mr. Awwad got to know that his brother at the age of 31 years had been brutally shot and murdered by Israeli soldiers. Anger, hatred and vengeance began to grip his mind and body once again. He wanted justice. He wanted his brother back. But he was stuck, and  his rage clashed with his newfound realization. He was stuck, as a fighter, a brother, and as a human.
He was stuck until he met a group of Israeli parents who lost their children to the war. Their tears were no different than his. But they were enemies. They were not supposed to have tears. These were  not the faces he saw at patrol borders. Those were enemies, except now Mr Awwad just did not know who the enemy was.  For him the only justice was to have his brother back. How many Israelis can I kill to have my brother back? Will killing them create justice?

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And then he asked himself: “What did my brother’s murderer want? My brother’s murderer wanted to bury me in the same grave. He wanted to bury me, my dreams and my humanity in the very same grave as that of my brother.” Again, his belief in resisting non-violently was tested. He took his case to mosques, to the authorities, even to the United Nations, only to be hit by another realization that he was still behaving like a victim.  This was the final lesson he needed to learn so that he could integrate non-violent resistance fully into his life.
This was the story of Mr. Ali Abu Awwad, a man who lived through both an internal revolution of his heart and mind, in addition to the turmoil around him.
Mr. Awwad says that on the path of non-violence, you have to fight yourself. You wage and conquer the greatest war which is with not a country or faction or political party, but with yourself. It’s easy to bomb countries but difficult to fight within ourselves. Hence, non-violence is not for the weak. When you are a leader, you fight yourself, you respect your life and your humanity,  even in the most miserable of times

By Shubhangi Kumari

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