Ali Abu Awwad

Biography

Ali Abu Awwad (Arabic: علي أبو عواد‎, born 1972) is a Palestinian non-violence activist and pacifist. His life and work has been featured in three award-winning films, Encounter PointForbidden Childhood and Al Tariq. He lives in Beit Ummar, near Hebron.

At the start of 2014, he started to establish a Palestinian center for non-violence, and together with students of Rabbi Menachem Fromann and others, Awwad formed “Roots”, a group based in the West Bank area of Gush Etzion to promote dialog and eventually trust between Israelis and Palestinian as a path to peace. His main mission is to create with other community leaders a Palestinian national non-violence movement that he named (Change), which is aiming for reaching a justice solution, for the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

Awwad’s family were refugees from Al-Qubayba near Bayt Jibrin, who were forced off their land in the 1948 Palestine war and subsequently settled in Beit Ummar. Born in Halhoul,  Hebron Governorate in the West Bank, Awwad was raised in a politically active refugee family and, following in his mother’s footsteps (he saw her beaten up by Shin Bet agents when he was 10, and she was arrested several times and spent four years in Israeli prisons) became a member of Fatah. He served 2 years prison sentences. His first arrest occurred while studying for his secondary exams, after an Israeli helicopter observer reported seeing him throw stones. He refused to pay a 1,500 shekel fine, stating later that, while a stone-thrower, he had not engaged in that activity on the day and served three months in prison in the Negev. Eight months later, he took part in the First Intifada as a teenager, and was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison in Israel on charges of stone-throwing, throwing Molotov cocktails, and being part of a military cell. According to Awwad, his major crime consisted in refusing to cooperate with his interrogators who wanted information concerning his mother’s activities, and the charges were trumped up for this reason. He served four years and was released after the signing of the Oslo Accords

While he and his mother were in the Israeli prison after a 17 day hunger strike both managed to get their confiners to allow them to see each other. The success of their strike was a turning point, as he realized that non-violent protest along Gandhian principles might be a better way to defend one’s rights.

On 20 October 2000, after the outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada, during the Second Intifada, he was shot in the leg by an Israeli settler. He was evacuated to Saudi Arabia, where he received medical treatment. On returning, he learnt of his brother Youssef’s death. Youssef was an employee of a company that worked with the Jewish National Fund, and, according to his brother, was not involved in political movements. He was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier at a distance of 70cm after he was mocked by a soldier at a checkpoint, where he had managed to get nearby Palestinian children to stop throwing stones. In a further account, he says that the shooting arose from talking back to the soldier, a violation of a new regulation he knew nothing about.

Awwad is inspired by the teachings of Martin Luther KingMohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

In the fall of 2014 he toured the US with Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger discussing the how both Israelis and Palestinians can be “right” but that peace will require mutual understanding and honest dialog.

Challenged once by a Palestinian woman who called him a traitor who is creating obstacles for Palestinians who want to fight, Awwad is said to have replied:

“If you feel that the Palestinian airplanes and tanks are locked away in a warehouse and I am holding the keys to prevent you from using them, then you can kill me (So do you want to be right or do you want to succeed? It’s up to you)”.

Awwad is a friend of rabbi Hanan Schlesinger who has invited him to address the settler community at Alon Shvut.

David Shulman describes him as one of the leaders of a new generation of non-violent resisters in Palestine, and quotes him as arguing:

“The Jews are not my enemy; their fear is my enemy. We must help them to stop being so afraid – their whole history has terrified them – but I refuse to be a victim of Jewish fear anymore”.

David Shulman has cited him as one of three exponents of satyagraha active on the West bank, together with Abdallah Abu Rahmah and the Israeli peace activist Ezra Nawi. Some people think that satyagraha [Gandhi’s word for nonviolence] is weakness; they believe the angrier you are, the stronger you will be. This is a great mistake. … You cannot practice nonviolence without listening to the other side’s narrative. But first you have to give up being the victim. When you do that, no one will be able to victimize you again”