After Israelis uprooted a 100 thousand-year-old olive trees north of Ramallah, Palestine, only to use them as an element of decor for a new highway, Professor Mubarak Awad got together a group of Palestinians and Israelis to replant these trees. After some hesitation, volunteers from the two warring nations even sat down together for a meal, which in Arab culture is a very meaningful step. “If you break food with someone, they become your brother, your relative. It was very hard and they did it,” said Awad in his lecture last Monday in the Science Center.
Awad is a Palestinian non-violent activist and psychologist. He is the founder of Nonviolence International, an organization that promotes non-violent action, the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence in Jerusalem, and the Youth Advocate Program in the United States.Currently he is an adjunct professor at the School of International Service at American University.
Dani Noble ‘12, said she attended the lecture because she was interested in going beyond the media the media coverage, to see what people were doing on the ground. “And also to get a sense, as a Palestinian activist, of his view of what non-violence is, because non-violence takes a different form depending on the national, cultural or political context,” said Noble.
“Palestinians have used non-violence, but they hadn’t reported it, wrote about it. And that’s why people think we don’t understand the concept of non-violence,” said Awad.
He was invited to Swarthmore by Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine (SPJP), at the suggestion of fellow non-violent activist George Lakey, professor of Peace and Conflict Studies. SPJP felt that in the context of the Arab Spring, it would be important to have someone talk about nonviolent struggle.
“It was a great time to have someone who talks about non-violence, someone with this much experience in non-violence techniques on the grassroots level and on a larger scale,” said Ayman Abunimer ’12 from SPJP.
The story about the olive trees resonated with many Swarthmore students.
“It really shows what non-violence can accomplish,” said Elliana Bisgaard-Church ‘13, an Islamic Studies minor who is involved with many Peace and Conflict initiatives.
The anecdote was one of many Awad brought up on Monday night. The lecture focused on his life and activism. He emphasized that everybody and anybody can be violent or nonviolent. “It’s a choice. (…) With that choice comes a commitment,” he said.
Awad ended up in an Israeli jail 40 times during his time as an activist. He said he loved going to Israeli prisons, because each time he would have an audience of Palestinians sitting around with nothing to do that he could preach to about non-violence.
“After 30 times the Israeli got smart and put me in a cell by myself,” said Awad.
One of the strategies Awad mentioned in his lecture elicited some apprehension among the students. Awad organized a boycott of Israeli products through touring Palestinian schools to convince youth and children, even as young as kindergarten-age, to use only local products. “I made competitions for who would eat only Palestinian food for longer,” he said.
Bisgaard-Church said she was very impressed by Awad, especially his adherence to to the tenets of non-violence throughout his entire life. However, she said she thought some of the points he made about the boycott were contradictory.
“That kind of indoctrination at such a young age in telling them that another people is wrong – because really that’s all you can understand at such a young age – is what leads to extremism when you get older, and is actually directly contradicting ideas of peace,” Bisgaard-Church said.
Awad offered advice and general strategies for non-violent actions. He said that in order to have a good strategy you need to know your enemy well. He also emphasized the need to get rid of your fear. “You have to have faith. To be an activist you have to have the concept within the mind and spirit that you are opposing injustice,” he said.
It was initially advertised that Awad would be speaking about the Palestinian bid for statehood, which he only mentioned after a question from the audience. Members of the audience, however, did not seem disappointed.
Antony Kaguara ‘15 came to learn about the Israeli-Palestine conflict which he remembers watching on television growing up. “I ended up learning more than I expected,” Kaguara said. He came out of the lecture with what he called “life lessons in trust.”
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