by Huda Abuarquob, Regional Director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace
Interview by Michele Lipori (Confronti Editorial Staff)
The Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) is a coalition of over 160 organizations and tens of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis who have come together to facilitate interpersonal cooperation, coexistence, equality, a shared vision of society, mutual understanding and peace between communities. Founded in 2006 and headquartered in Washington (USA), ALLMEP envisions a Middle East in which its community of Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers leads their societies towards and beyond sustainable peace.
To this end, great effort is put into increasing the financial and human resources of its members and providing a global platform for their visibility. In the Middle East region, ALLMEP’s team is committed to supporting the organizations that are under its umbrella with programs and services designed to increase their impact on people’s lives. An important part of ALLMEP’s work is the promotion of projects between organizations and individuals that become tools for resolving conflicts with the aim of unhinging the sense of fear, hatred and violence, promoting economic growth and greater understanding of others are indispensable tools for imagining a shared future. ALLMEP’s challenge is therefore to transform not only individuals but also communities and ultimately entire societies. We talked about this vision of the future with Huda Abuarquob, a Palestinian activist and regional director of the organization.
What is ALLMEP’s main job?
The main purpose of our organization is to facilitate the organizations that have chosen to join our network in seeking solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, directing the popular demand for peace and empowering the constituencies of both sides to promote real change. It is important to remember that each of the organizations associated with ALLMEP has a different theory of change, of how to end the status quo, of how to achieve peace and justice in Palestine and Israel.
One of the most important issues we face is the structural violence of the Israeli military occupation but also perpetrated by Hamas and other armed groups. The most tragic thing is that individuals who most of the time have no connection or affiliation with any political party or armed group are paying the highest price for this violence. In recent months, for example, we have seen an increase in the number of killings of innocent Palestinians: I am talking about people who have been killed crossing the street or who may have made a wrong move at a checkpoint. And this makes us think that there is a directive, which plans to hit any Palestinian with the utmost severity, even before verifying whether or not it may represent a threat. This, in my opinion, also reveals a certain fragility of the governments that – more and more frequently – succeed one another in Israel.
However, there have also been attacks by Palestinians.
It is true, and I do not condone such acts, however it is good to point out that some of these attacks were carried out by Palestinian citizens of Israel, who have no affiliation with the resistance movements. And this is something that Israelis need to deepen, especially as the whole structure of coexistence has shown strong signs of abating since May 2021, when Muslim Palestinians were prevented from praying at the Haram al-Sharif [the “esplanade of mosques ”] during Ramadan. Jerusalem is at the center of the conflict. Although I am opposed to describing the conflict as a religious issue, I am convinced that some actions taken by some extremists who are in the Israeli government – especially the indiscriminate growth of construction around Haram al-Sharif or Jerusalem – is also causing extreme reactions to personal title, i.e. without any political or military affiliation.
What should the institutions do?
I think the time has come for the Israelis to realize that the military occupation of Palestine must end. Consequently, it is necessary that the government in Israel find its own stability, which can no longer be founded on the “scapegoat” policy towards the Palestinians. On the other hand, unfortunately, even the current Palestinian Authority is weak and absolutely not engaged in any form of negotiation, in building peace, in building its own institutions. The Palestinian people can take it no more and now consider the process started with the Oslo Accords to be non-prosecutable.
To demonstrate what I say, just consult a recent survey conducted by the Palestine Center for Policy and Survey Research, in which 33% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip said they support a one-state solution. There is still a slight majority in favor of the two-state solution, but the decline is driven by the fact that Palestinians feel they cannot trust Hamas in Gaza, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
And this cannot be blamed on the occupation or the international community. I think that the increasing confiscations of territories, the lack of vitality of a Palestinian state and having no connection with Gaza are all elements that are leading young people in Palestine to believe that the two-state solution is no longer viable. Added to this is the fact that the Palestinian Authority has failed to govern and, above all, has failed to respond to people’s needs. Palestinians are very young: the average age in the West Bank ranges from 20 to 23 and in Gaza from 16 to 18.
The youngest member of our legislative council, which is also not in office, is almost 80 years old. Our president is literally at the end of his life and is surrounded by old people and also very disconnected from reality. So, if we think about these factors and how the world is becoming a global village and how social media is connecting Palestinian youth with young people around the world, we understand how much change is needed. This is what prompts many young Palestinians to believe that perhaps a one-state solution is the only viable solution. But they are also “savvy” enough to understand that even if this road were to come true, it will not be a One State Dream – a “dream” – because an apartheid-like system would inevitably be established and they will have to fight for their rights.
The model Palestinians are drawing from, because they feel it is somehow succeeding, is that of Palestinians living inside Israel. Although Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are not yet “equal”, they have worked hard within the system, formed parties, became very strong in legislative indicators and managed to bridge the gap in terms of social justice. This is, in part, the explanation why many Palestinians believe the two-state solution will no longer be viable.
Do you think this solution would be accepted in Israel?
No. Israel as it is now, with its government increasingly to the Right, would never accept it. At the moment, their goal is to establish a 100% Jewish state. As Palestinians, we are dealing with an Israel that is different from what it was in 1948, 1967, or even in the early 1990s. I think the Palestinians are trying to adapt to this new situation, trying to find resilient solutions. Even for those who want to leave – the desire to leave Palestine is increasingly widespread, especially among young people – there is the awareness that as Palestinians we do not have access to the world. We also know what it means to be refugees, especially in recent times with the war in Syria, where Palestinians have only one option: to stay and die, because they do not have a status of citizens and therefore the possibility of traveling or being recognized as refugees in another country. Yes, there are many young Palestinians who want to leave, but they all think it is a phase and they will come back. But will they come back for what? This is the question. And I think that the idea of a national state that favors only one ethnicity, one nationality and one religion, to the detriment of the others in the area, is detrimental to any form of coexistence.
What are ALLMEP’s proposals to foster the peace process?
First, a long-term investment is needed for a different kind of leadership. To create a new ruling class we will need from 20 to 30 years: we are told by the social sciences. What we need to do now is to try, through our channels and partnerships, to alleviate the pain caused by the military occupation: Palestinians must have times and places where they can breathe a sigh of relief. Then there are actions that are valid for both Palestinians and Israelis: engaging directly in dialogue within their own communities as well as at the inter-community level. Palestinians and Israelis are able to recognize each other’s rights, such as that to existence, and also the fact that there are different views and narratives on the conflict. The hardest part is when you return to your community. In Palestine, for example, we need a unifying language when it comes to the future of Palestine and the Palestinians.
Fragmentation is very deep in Palestinian society and a tool to overcome this condition is undoubtedly dialogue, but it is also necessary to be able to carry out political activities in safety: too often the occupation is used as a pretext to limit freedom of speech and ‘political commitment. This fragmentation I speak of is also forcing Palestinians to leave politics completely, reaching a point of apathy that they no longer want to engage in anything to do with Palestine. A situation that is occurring in similar ways also in Israel: this is why intra-company dialogue and that within individual companies are also so important.
What should be the role of religions?
In the imagination of many, religion is linked to violence. Whenever there is a threat to any “holy place,” violent clashes are generated. But instead of saying, superficially, “God is part of the problem,” I think it is important to give space to another point of view, which is that “God could be part of the solution”. And for this it is necessary to go back to the origins, to the foundations of religions and to claim God as “God of peace”, treasuring the teachings that come from nonviolent battles: a front on which, like ALLMEP, we work a lot. Including religious people, especially those with a certain power in their respective communities, is very important: because they have the authority to speak to people. We need religious people, we need to invest in them.
What did the death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh mean for the Palestinian community?
I knew Shireen personally and it is a great pain for me to have to talk about her in the past tense. First of all, it is important to remember that an independent monitoring by the United Nations Human Rights Office found last June that the shots that killed Shireen on May 11 were fired by the Israeli army and not by Palestinians, as was initially the assessment supported by the Israeli authorities. Shireen is a woman who, with her work – and even her death – has been able to unite the Palestinians in a way that our leaders have not been able to do for years.
It is a pity that her death was the alarm bell for us Palestinians to reflect that fragmentation goes against our existence, but her example of a calm but determined woman is really important for young Palestinians. I was present at her funeral and the violence that took place that day in Jerusalem has exposed police brutality in a way that not even thousands of reports could have done. Yet I have never seen Palestinians so proud of themselves as that day.