Growing up, my family was badly impacted by the occupation. There was so much suffering all around me: my friends’ homes were being demolished, children were being put in jail without trial, lands were being confiscated and people were being killed. There was suffering all around me. My heart cried out for my people and I was determined to make a difference, but there was no peaceful way to do this; the only option was to join the violent struggle for freedom – so I did.
In 1986, when I was just 14 years old, I informally joined the “Fatah” movement. I threw stones at soldiers, wrote graffiti on public buildings, prepared Molotov Cocktails and more. At the age of 15, stones were no longer enough; I wanted to find a way to get a weapon. A friend and I decided to steal the weapons from Israeli soldiers.
In our attempt to grab their guns, we stabbed the soldiers. I was lost in anger and revenge; and I didn’t see the soldiers as human beings. The soldiers were wounded, but thankfully, no one was killed.
We were arrested and sentenced to 18 and 15 years in jail, respectively. During this time two of my brothers were also arrested and imprisoned; my mother’s heart broke. Additionally, the Israeli army invaded her home and barricaded off my room with concrete – which only added to her suffering.
During the first two and a half years of my imprisonment, I was placed in the juvenile section in the Hebron jail. The management and staff were extremely cruel. The use of torture was routine: beating prisoners, spraying tear gas into prison cells, and violently stripping prisoners were daily occurrences – and this was a jail for children.
There were many additional problems as well, for example, there was rarely enough drinking water and there was never enough water for showers. To improve the daily conditions in prison, I often joined hunger strikes, eating nothing and drinking only salt and water for 10 days at a time, sometimes as long as 17 days. It was through these hunger strikes that I first learned about nonviolent struggles and the virtue of patience.
As I continued with my sentence, I was transferred to the Janad jail, next to Nablus. There, I worked in the library and had the opportunity to read a lot. I never had a chance to get a formal education, but I educated myself in jail. We used to call prison, “The Revolutionary University.”
In addition to reading and watching documentary films, every day I participated in learning groups; I began to have new thoughts about the conflict and the means for resolving it. In an attempt to learn about the “enemy,” I studied the history of the Jewish people and taught myself both Hebrew and English. It was then that I realized there are multiple narratives to the conflict – for both our peoples. One day I had the opportunity to watch Schindler’s List. I was deeply moved, and it changed my life forever. I realized that these “enemies” were actually human beings who were suffering profoundly.
I reconstructed my worldview.
I realized for the first time that I had mistaken the enemy. I had thought it was the Jewish people, but I was wrong. Instead, we have a common enemy: hatred and fear. I knew that if we could somehow unite against these common foes, then together we could end this conflict
Our land does not belong to the Jews or the Palestinians; rather, we both belong to the land. There is no military solution to our conflict: it is imperative that we learn to live together in peaceful coexistence. The only possible solution is a joint, nonviolent struggle for peace, freedom, security, and human rights for all.
For the fighting to end, we need to stop fighting.
In 1997, after 10 years and 5 months in jail, I was freed. I joined with some friends, and we established the Abu Sukar Centre for Peace (later Alquds Centre for Democracy and Dialogue). A few years later, I helped to found Combatants for Peace. It has not been easy: we still face checkpoints, ever expanding settlements and now the separation wall keeping our two sides apart. But together we hold firm to our resolution of cooperation and nonviolence.
It is the combatants who fought in this war who must take responsibility for our part in perpetuating the violence. We are the ones with the power to end it. The change starts within us. There is no hero who will save us; it is ordinary people: it is you and me – together – who will end this.
Today, I stand with my brothers and sisters, both Palestinian and Israeli. I know there is a way forward to freedom and life for everyone in our beloved homeland; it takes only a little bit of forgiveness and a small amount of love. Together, we can bring peace, freedom and secure human rights for all.
Together we can be the change we wish to see.