Israel and Palestine: ‘Discovering the Heart of the Other’

Megan Fischer

Video by Megan Fischer.

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More than compliments on the food and laughter at short stories, two people from different cultures and backgrounds came together to share stories of living right next to each other but not really knowing the other side.

Ali Abu Awwad, of Palestine, and Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, of Israel, have chosen nonviolence as a way to bridge the distance between the two nations that live right next to each other, but that do not understand each other. Together, they are a part of Roots, an organization that is about a year and a half old. Abu Awwad is co-director of the organization and Schlesinger is director of international relations.

Ali Abu Awwad (left) of Palestine and Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger (right) of Israel have chosen nonviolence as a way to bridge the distance between the two nations that live right next to each other, but that do not understand each other. Together, they have co-founded the Roots organization to help bridge the gap. (Photo Credit: Megan Fischer)
Ali Abu Awwad (left) of Palestine and Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger (right) of Israel have chosen nonviolence as a way to bridge the distance between the two nations that live right next to each other, but that do not understand each other. Together, they have co-founded the Roots organization to help bridge the gap. (Photo Credit: Megan Fischer)

Awwad and Schlesinger spoke to two groups in Fort Collins as part of their speaking tour on nonviolence. 

“Fort Collins has a strong reputation of having a very vibrant interfaith community,” said David Reid, director of Adult Faith Formation and of the Northern Colorado Faith Library.

Reid said the talk took place as part of an interfaith effort that runs across Fort Collins.

“This is a serious world-wide problem,” Reid said. “The violence has gotten worse in the last two weeks. It has stepped up dramatically.”

The speakers presented on nonviolent solutions to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, two states that are neighbors, practically on opposite sides of a fence.

“Transformation is so important because both sides have never met, they don’t now each other,” Abu Awwad said. “The minute you humanize the other, you start having some kind of empathy.”

Abu Awwad’s brother was killed by Israeli soldiers, and he spent some time in prison. His family has experienced something that many have during the conflict.

“We cannot keep living this way. We cannot keep killing each other,” Abu Awwad said. “No one will be left if we continue this way.”

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Schlesinger said that even though the two groups of people live so close together, life is very different for each. Towns, legal and school systems, languages and media are different.

“Everything is separate, and we’re so close to each other,” Schlesinger said. “And in a situation like that where you’re so close and you know nothing of the other, there’s obviously going to be ignorance and resentment, suspicion and stereotypes, and then add into the mix that there’s violence.”

Schlesinger said that right now, the organization’s goal is to help people move from simply knowing of each other to understanding one another.

“At this point, both sides believe they’re the only ones who deserve to live in the land and (are) fighting or dreaming that the other will disappear, and under those conditions, there will never be peace,” Schlesinger said.

The two talked about the idea of two states living on land that both claim belongs to them and the hope that the price of peace is greater than the price of war.

“It’s a conflict about land that both (groups of) people belong to, and it is not an equal situation,” said Abu Awwad. “By the end of the day, it’s about the occupied and the occupier.”

Ali Abu Awwad (left) of Palestine and Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger (right) of Israel have chosen nonviolence as a way to bridge the distance between the two nations that live right next to each other, but that do not understand each other. Together, they have co-founded the Roots organization to help bridge the gap. (Photo Credit: Megan Fischer)
(Photo credit: Megan Fischer.)

Schlesinger said he first interacted with Palestinians about a year and a half ago, and it is not unusual for Israelis and Palestinians not to interact.

“Where we come from, Israelis and Palestinians don’t know each other, they don’t met each other, they have no contact,” he said.

Schlesinger said he is not advocating for one side or the other, but wants to work toward a solution.

“What we’re trying to do is to convince people to not be just pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, but to be pro-both nations, pro solution,” Schlesinger said.

Abu Awwad said it is important to work toward a clear vision that will benefit and respect both sides. He added that only with mutual understanding and acceptance will the two sides be able “to work together to create some kind of political design for peace.”

“If you are not a part of the problem, please be a part of the solution.” Awwad said. “But if you cannot be a part of the solution, please don’t be a part of the problem.”

Collegian Reporter Megan Fischer can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @MegFischer04.