Imad Amin Abu Nssar

 

Rocks at one hundred cars

I was born in 1972 in Bethlehem, one of eight sons and five girls.  My father, of blessed memory, was a kind-hearted man.  He worked in Israel as a construction worker and had good ties with Israelis.  However, he also hated Israelis.  Every night he would tell us, the children, how his wealthy family members had turned overnight into refugees who were forced to hide in caves. 

We are from the village Al-Kabu (today's Moshav Nes Harim).  We had a gristmill back in village and 450 dunams of land; in 1927 my grandfather owned the only truck in the whole area.  The Israelis destroyed the whole village in one night, including the cemetery.  Whenever my father related this part of the story, he would burst out crying.

At first my childhood was a normal one.  I was mainly interested in soccer.  At age ten I became aware of the conflict with Israel.  My brother held a responsible position in the Fatah in Beit Jala, and so all the brothers were active in the Shabiba - the Fatah's youth movement.

During the First Intifada I gave expression to all the hatred and anger that had accumulated in me as a result of the stories told me by father, mainly those dealing with the lands and property which were stolen from us.  At that time I was responsible for the Shabiba at our school.  It was then that the "Shock Groups" were created.  Their mission was to hurt any Jew, settler or soldier, using rocks or Molotov cocktails.  It was activity aimed against the occupation, but despite our hatred and rage we tried staying human.  For example, when we saw a vehicle with babies, we would not attack it. 

I turned into one "wanted for questioning". The soldiers who would come looking for me would vandalize the house, but still they not find me.  Finally my father and four brothers were arrested as a means of pressuring me into turning myself in.  My father was very sick and was unable to sit in detention, so I turned myself in.  They charged me with endangering the lives of soldiers and settlers and throwing rocks at one hundred cars.  A few settlers testified against me in court.  They recognized me because I am a redhead. 

 

Jews into the sea

I was a boy of 17 when I entered prison; and I came out a knowledgeable man.  In prison, I learned about everything: the history of the conflict, the history of the Fatah movement and the movement's principles, how to build up leadership and how to lead.  After five months in the Ktzi'ot Prison I became responsible for the prisoners in my ward and absorbed new ones.  I taught them how to resist occupation, and I taught the younger ones current affairs.  Our vision was clear: to have one state comprising the entire area of Palestine and getting rid of the Jews - into the sea!

I was 20 when I came out of prison.  The Oslo Accords had been signed.  I was one of those opposing - this was not what we had been taught and not what we had wished for all these years.  The Oslo Accords were not satisfactory as far as I was concerned.  However, despite our objection, we honored the decision and put an end to any sort of anti-occupation activity.  I married in 1994 and was recruited to Force 17 - the elite unit of the Palestinian forces.  I underwent three months of training in Gaza and Jericho, and it was then that my first son was born.  After six months of serving as a soldier I resigned.  This lifestyle did not suit me.  I became active in organizations and NGOs. 

When the Second Intifada broke out, I was placed in administrative detention (with no trial) because they knew I was active.  My activity was mainly social e.g. helping families whose sons were in prison etc.  During the Second Intifada the prison wasn't as organized as it had been during the First Intifada.  Each man vouched for himself, and just waited to complete serving his time and be released. 

The Second Intifada became military of nature, and I and other activists thought it would ruin what we had built thus far.  So we refused to take part in violent activity however, I did continue with my social activities till 2005-2006, when the popular resistance began.  At the same time I earned my living as head of sales for a textile plant in Beit Jala.  I later worked in a hospital, and since leaving that job, I have been working for the Lutheran church, as the one responsible for the remedial teaching project. 

 

 

 

A friend in spite of myself

For many years I was among those who strongly opposed any encounter or dialogue with Israelis.  It was considered a crime, collaborating with the enemy.  We excommunicated anyone who had ties with Israelis.  For us all Jews were part and parcel of the occupation. 

Once, friends of mine suggested that I join a demonstration in Bil'in protesting the Security Fence.  The first question I asked was: Will there be Jews?  They told me there wouldn't be any, only some foreigners who identified with us, some Brits and Americans.  So I joined them, in order to experience a non-violent demonstration.  It was then that we reached the conclusion that perhaps we should consider changing the method we had used to resist the occupation.  We had been resisting violently for forty years.  It is true that it has put us on the world map, but in actual fact it has brought about zero results.  We understood that we needed the empathy of the world, and we took lesson from and were affected by the fights for freedom in Africa and India. 

As always, I walked up front in the demonstration in Bil'in.  If one sees oneself as a leader, one belongs right up front.  With me were sixty people from Beit Jala and Bethlehem.  All had previously been active members of the Tanzim.  The demonstration turned into rock-throwing.  The army tried to arrest me.  A group of demonstrators acted as buffer and I felt how they were taking the blows instead of me.  After things calmed down, we - all those who had participated in the demonstration - sat down in a circle.  It was then that I discovered that those who had protected me with their own bodies were Israelis.  For me it was a big surprise.  It was the first time that I met Israelis who were not interrogators or soldiers or settlers.  It sounded strange when one introduced himself as a university lecturer, the other as a student and the third as an engineer. 

 

 

It was a whole new notion for me to discover that there were Israelis who were for a Palestinian state.  I thought it was an exceptional four or five people, but later I took part in activities in the village of Ma'asra and in Susya, where I met people from Taayush and Breaking the Silence. 

With time I shared with my friends the discovery that there are those among the Israeli people who object to the occupation and support our rights, and that working jointly with them could serve as a good basis.  At first many of my friends objected to my opinions.  They all wondered how Imad, who had always opposed this idea fervently, could turn into a supporter. 

I tried convincing all of my friends that the objective of our ties with the Israeli was putting an end to the occupation, and not a relationship reflecting any sort of normalization; after all, I was opposed to having normal ties so long as there was occupation.  And, yet, I must confess that in spite all, I have managed to create true friendship with Israelis. 

 

 

 

The Narratives Workshop

After spontaneous and sporadic activities with Israelis, I joined Combatants for Peace.  We worked together in this framework, Israelis and Palestinians, but without a great measure of trust between us.  Until we joined the narratives workshop organized by the Parents Circle Families Forum, that is. 

The question that was given most expression in the workshop was why and how the Jews could behave in such a way.  In the workshop I understood that the answer to that was the fear the Jews had of a second Holocaust.  We had heard previously of the Holocaust, but we didn't really know much about it and didn't delve too deeply into the topic.  When one hears of the Holocaust from a person whose father or grandfather experienced it firsthand, it is very difficult.

After the narratives workshop, a very high level of closeness, trust and understanding was formed between the two sides.  For me it was the first time I heard Israelis speaking from the heart.  In wake of this new-formed trust, our joint activity in Combatants for Peace increased by 80 percent.  I believe that after this workshop, if I were to invite any of the participating Israelis to join me to the far corners of the earth, they would follow me, no questions asked. 

Do I no longer wish to throw all the Jews into the sea?  There was an Israeli in the workshop who asked me: "Do you, as a refugee who has lost his land and property, understand that the price for peace is that you will never return to your land?"  My answer was that for peace I was willing to pay that price, even it meant losing my land and never returning to my land. 

 

 *Imad Abu Nssar  participated in the " Combattans for Peace" group.

* Upper photo by Uri Leshem

 

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