The following video presents my journey in pursuing peace at a National Geographic Symposium, where I was named a 2011 National Geographic Emerging Explorer and Cultural Educator.
I was ten years old when my brother Tayseer was tortured to death in an Israeli prison in 1990. Tayseer, 19 years old, was arrested from our bedroom a year earlier on suspicion of throwing stones at Israeli cars. He refused to confess, and was therefore beaten repeatedly until he signed a confession. By then it was too late.
Tayseer’s murder was one of the most influential events in my life. He had been my closest friend and confidant, and for long time I lived refusing to accept his death. I grew up bitter and angry at those who killed him. I joined the Fatah youth movement and was extremely active as a writer and organizer in my teens. I wrote extensively against peace, negotiations and the Israelis in general. To me, Israel was represented by the soldiers who killed Tayseer, and those who stopped me every morning on my way to school. I believed I was pursuing justice, but in reality I was seeking revenge.
It was only when I decided to learn Hebrew in an Ulpan that my views changed. Though I was 18 years old, it was the first time I had sat in a room with Jewish Israelis who were not soldiers or settlers. I was able to meet Israelis invisible to average Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Israelis who didn’t carry guns. Israelis who believed in the Palestinian right to self determination and freedom from occupation.
Since then, I have changed directions. I have decided to work for justice, peace and reconciliation. I have decided that it is not Israelis or Jews who I should be fighting, but rather hatred, fear, arrogance and ignorance. This didn’t mean that I compromised on seeking freedom for myself or my people. My dedication to ending the occupation has not changed. But I did change the tools that I use. I have become active in conflict resolution through education, business and nonviolence as alternatives to violence.
The restoration of hope and morality in a place savaged by conflict, oppression and injustice is a difficult mission and requires intensive work and perseverance of heart and mind. However, the alternative is bleak. I have decided to challenge the status quo. There is no reason a Jewish 18-year-old has to man a checkpoint instead of a desk at school and Palestinian 18-year-old spend his youth in prison instead of college.