Pair brings touring program of Middle East peace to Washington


Despite living in Gush Etzion for the past 34 years, prior to meeting Palestinian peace advocate Ali Abu Awwad about a year and a half ago, Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger said he had never met a Palestinian as an equal.

His previous encounters with Palestinians involved checking documents during his time in the Israel Defense Forces.

“Where we come from, Palestinians and Israelis have no contact,” Schlesinger said of his home in the West Bank.

Speaking to about 25 people in the Capitol Visitor Center, Schlesinger and Awwad, who lives near Gush Etzion in Beit Ummar, discussed their efforts to promote co-existence and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

Last year, Awwad and Schlesinger helped found the Roots/Judur/Shorashim project, which aims to promote peace
by bringing together Israelis and Palestinians residing in the West Bank. The two speakers have been on a talking tour throughout the United States since late May.

The program last Friday afternoon in Washington was co-sponsored by the Episcopal Church, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Islamic Society of North America.

Schlesinger said that after meeting Awwad, he had to make adjustments to what he considered true in his personal narrative. He described being taught that the land of Israel was empty when Jews first settled on it in the late 19th century.

“We didn’t see that in consummating God’s promise for us, we were conquering and bringing under the thumb of our control far over 2 million people who did not want to be under our control,” Schlesinger said. “We didn’t see, and I didn’t see. It’s a curiosity of human perception that you can see and not see that so much of what goes on in front of your eyes and in the presence of your ears, doesn’t register because its not part of your narrative.”

Awwad, a prominent Palestinian activist and pacifist, spent four years in jail after he was arrested in 1990 for his participation in the first Intifada. He said he first encountered peaceful resistance while participating in a 17-day hunger strike while in jail. After being released, Awwad continued to promote nonviolent efforts for peace.

“Our main mission was to transform the nation, the Palestinian nation from running our life by values of revolution to values of citizenship, where we could consider violence as an illegal action regarding the Palestinian law,” Awwad said.

Awwad said both Jews and Palestinians have strong ties to the land; however, he said, the peace movement is stuck because of a lack of engagement between Palestinians and Israelis.

“Because there is deep belonging to the land, to the whole land, for both nations, any political design that will not include these roots will fall down,” Awwad said. “It will surely fall down. Because we are not courageous enough to face that reality, we won’t have peace yet.”

Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, director of D.C. government and community relations for JCRC, said she first saw Schlesinger and Awwad speak while on a trip to Israel earlier this year. She said listening to their narratives provided her with a new perspective on the conflict.

“I saw the country and the conflict through new eyes,” Steinlauf said. ”I was able to feel everyone’s frustration and still be inspired by so many projects and individuals who are working for peace. They are really making a difference and working together despite all the pessimism and all the frustration.”

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