The  International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (check up on the FIFDH site if you’ll be in Geneva when it happens next year) meant I saw a bunch of great documentaries, a couple of fantastic concerts, and a handful of talks ranging from so bad half the audience walked out to so great that I will actually write about it here.

Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian peace activist, mover and shaker, charismatic speaker who occasionally punctuates his sentences by pounding his fist on the table, has had an extraordinary journey that I will not summarize here. Check out his TEDxJerusalem talk, it’s only 10 minutes! You can google Ali Abu Awwad to connect with several of his (and his brother’s) initiatives and organizations.

Ali’s talk reminded me that it’s one thing for me to research and write about refugee testimonies, and it’s really quite another to sit in a room and hear a refugee testify about their experience in front of you for an hour. I’ve never cared much about seeking out live music, but this, I really get. It reminded me of one more reason why funding for arts and humanities is so important: these programs put us in contact with people, ideas, and their self-expressions that we wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. It might seem like an exorbitant expense to fly someone from Palestine to Switzerland but that auditorium, like nearly every auditorium I sat in this week, was packed completely full of people eager to learn about someone else’s reality.

I’m tossing below some snippets paraphrased from Ali’s talk. Paraphrasing allowed me to take quick notes in standard American English, although quotes indicate Ali’s exact words at the time. Comments in brackets are my own, those in parentheses are Ali’s. My own comments are limited, as I have just finished clogging my brain with a delicious mix of bacon, granny smith apples, and gorgonzola. Put a pan on the stove, medium heat, and try it.


Reflections from Ali Abu Awwad:

There’s a competition of suffering [in Israel and Palestine], and we’re all good at acting as victims

Peace is not to be able to find common ground with the other (ie. talk about how much we all love hummus) but to be able to live with each other

You don’t need anyone to teach you how to hate when you grow up on the Israeli side with bombs falling down around you, or on the Palestinian side seeing your mom being beaten before your eyes

After the 1993 Oslo Accord, Ali and those he knew grew their hopes for a ‘new level of life’ and wanted to change the place where they lived from one of resistance and revolution to a place of citizenship. For instance, Ali recalled actually being excited when they had to start wearing seatbelts. Somebody cared!

[This struck me as really different from the way I see many Americans conceptualize resistance currently. It’s valuable to remember that while ‘resistance’ and ‘transgression’ are exciting buzzwords in the US right now, for some people in some circumstances these are a means to achieve a safe, stable state in more basic ways. Sure, that’s not the end goal, but it can be quite ambitious enough to start with.]

In situations where violence isn’t seen as strictly illegal, then people who choose nonviolence can be seen as traitors

The only true justice is to bring back [killed] loved ones. Since that’s not possible, we have to stop seeking ‘true justice.’ Nonviolence doesn’t mean forgive, forget, and give up your rights. It only means giving up your just right for revenge, as Ali sees it.

If you’re dialoguing with people who agree with you it’s just a monologue.

Dialogue should have the end goal of changing peoples’ behaviors, not their identity.

[a great push for tougher family dinner table conversations…]

“We can be right forever, but the question is, do we want to be right or do we want to succeed?”

[This one is tough for me to swallow. I love to be right.]

Ali wants people outside Israel and Palestine to know that “most people aren’t directly involved in violence, but most people are also silent”

You don’t need millions to build a bridge, you need strategic professionals to build a bridge that millions will cross

“The price Israel is paying for the occupation is much higher than it will pay for peace. Much higher!”



That’s all for today. May Ali’s talk stick in my mind for a long time so that I continue to remember to travel to meet people whose realities are different than mine, and so that I support organizations that sponsor those who travel and speak about their experiences. May you too find yourself changed and engaged by meeting real people who have lived really different lives than yours.

For reference:

Conference UNIGE

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

12.15-13.45 UNI MAIL MS 160

The Global Studies Institute (GSI) of the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the FIFDH in collaboration with JCall Switzerland

“Non violent resistance in the israelo-palestinian conflict”

Conference by Ali Abu Awwad