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On this episode of Unlocking Us

The Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF) is a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization of over 600 families, all of whom have lost an immediate family member to the ongoing conflict. In this podcast, we talk to their spokesperson and bereaved mother, Robi Damelin, and Ali Abu Awwad. Ali was imprisoned by Israel for his resistance, bereaved of his brother by a soldier’s gun, and is the founding leader of Taghyeer, a nonviolent movement for social and political change.

About the guests

Ali Abu Awwad

Ali Abu Awwad is a former prisoner of Israel from Palestine who now works for nonviolence as the only path forward to freedom for both Palestinians and Israelis. He currently leads the international nonviolent activist group, Taghyeer (or “Change”). In 2023, he was awarded both the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize and Luxembourg Peace Prize.

Robi Damelin

Robi Damelin, spokesperson and director of International Relations for the Parents Circle – Families Forum joined the organization after her son was killed by a Palestinian Sniper. All her work on the ground both in Palestine and Israel and internationally is geared towards non-violence and reconciliation as a means to end the occupation. Robi was named as a 2015 Woman of Impact by Women in the World. She regularly contributes to media outlets in Israel and abroad. Robi was invited to brief the Security Council at the United Nations in May, 2022.

Show notes

Learn more about the American Friends of the Parents Circle – Families Forum. You can financially support them here (US and Canada).

Learn more about The Parents Circle – Families Forum. You can financially support them here (non-US/Canada).

Learn more about Ali Abu Awwad and Taghyeer on his website.


Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I’m Brené Brown and this is Unlocking Us. So before we jump into the podcast today, I want to give you a little bit of context about kind of what’s going on and what we’re doing. I came back from the holiday, I took a couple of extra weeks, many of you know that my mom passed away on Christmas Day after a long and awful dementia journey, and I’ve also been off social for I think maybe a year. So I came back, got back on social, and planned to release kind of new podcasts with Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead this spring.

BB: One of the things that happened when I got back on social is a collision of me wanting to address what’s happening in Israel and Palestine, and a call for me to do that, and a really reasonable call because I share my beliefs and thoughts about these kind of issues all the time, both globally and domestically. So I think it was a really reasonable question about “Where’s your voice on this?” So I wrote a piece and I posted on the website and the reactions were swift and there were some people that were supportive and thank you.

BB: And there were a lot of people who thought, “Man, this is a huge disappointment. You missed a lot of things that you should have gotten right here.” And so I’ve spent the last, this was probably a week and a day ago, maybe eight or nine days ago. We left comments open for a week. I just want to say for the people who commented on the website, we did not leave social media open. We just did the website because we have a new platform on the website. The comments were smart, exacting, challenging, critical, impassioned, painful. And so I’ve spent the last eight or nine days reading every single comment, talking and probably more importantly, talking directly with friends whose opinions are completely different than mine, and people who challenge me in big ways. And a lot of learning, a lot of unlearning, and a lot of clarity about what I actually do believe and what I don’t believe.

BB: And so I asked our new podcast partners at Vox if we could hold on the new podcast launch and if they would be willing to let me do three podcasts on these issues, commercial free, no monetization, no revenue tied to them. And they said, “Absolutely, this is important. Do it.” And so in addition to a follow up essay on, I’m releasing three podcasts, one today, one tomorrow, and one Friday. And I’m going to talk to activists on the ground in Israel and Palestine. I’m going to talk to Jewish Israeli activists, Palestinian Israeli activists. And I had an amazing conversation with a Middle East analyst who studies Palestine and mostly really looks at US involvement in not only failed attempts at peace brokering, but US involvement with Israel and Palestine. And so I have learned a ton and I’m continuing to learn and I want to give you the context of what these next three podcasts are going to be like.

BB: So let me jump in a little bit and tell you about the episode today. I’m talking to two guests, Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad, and let me just tell you about each of them. So Robi was born and raised in a progressive family in South Africa during apartheid, her family was politically active in the anti-apartheid movement. Her uncle defended Nelson Mandela during the 1956 treason trial. The pressure from the South African authorities due to Damelin’s vocal opposition to apartheid, led her to moving to Israel in her 20s as a volunteer during the Six-Day War in June of 1967. The war ended soon after she arrived. She settled into a kibbutz attending a Hebrew program to learn the language. And soon after that, she got married and had two sons, David and Eran. She worked at the Jerusalem Post, then with immigrants. And then after her divorce, she relocated to Tel Aviv where she ran a public relations company.

BB: Damelin’s son David was in the Israeli army reserves and was stationed at the Ofra checkpoint. He was killed by a Palestinian sniper on the third of March, 2002, at the age of 28. Robi is the spokesperson and director of the International Relations for the Parents Circle-Family Forum. It’s a grassroots organization made up of hundreds of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families working together for reconciliation to end the occupation and for peace. And just a disclosure, I think it’s helpful context how I met Robi and also the, I guess, the birthplace of my beliefs around peacemaking. I met Robi at a Middle East Peace Conference in 2007. I was asked to facilitate the panel with Palestinian and Israeli bereaved family members. And this is when I was introduced to the work of the Parents Circle-Family Forum. And it very much informed my ideas and my beliefs about the ability to hold space for humanity across polarizing ideas and how we can hold people accountable for injustice while at the same time not diminishing their humanity as mothers, sons, sisters, brothers. And so that’s Robi. Our other guest is Ali Abu Awwad. Ali was raised in a politically active refugee family. He’s Palestinian. As a young child, Ali witnessed Israeli agents beat and humiliate his mother for her political activism. She was very involved in the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

BB: Seeing his mother subjected to this and his daily life under occupation stirred the embers of resistance within him. And during the first intifada, Ali was arrested by Israel for his leadership in the resistance and for refusing to supply information against his mom who had also been arrested. With the Oslo Accords in 1993, Ali was released and began serving in the newly created Palestinian Authority security forces. But Ali quickly became disillusioned with the political process being forced to arrest his fellow Palestinians for their continued resistance to Israel, despite the PA’s ability to guarantee the rights of citizenship due to Israel’s ongoing occupation. In 2000, three years after his resignation from the Palestinian Authority security force, Ali was shot by a settler while he was changing a tire on a West Bank road. Sent to Saudi Arabia for treatment, he received there the news that would change his life forever.

BB: An Israeli soldier had murdered his beloved brother Youssef, shot at point blank range at the entrance to his hometown in the West Bank. It was after this loss that Ali’s mother began inviting bereaved Israeli families from the Parents Circle into their home. They believed there had been enough bloodshed. She realized this she wanted to save her other children, and those meetings changed the trajectory of Ali’s life. From 2002 to 2009, Abu Awwad toured the world as the Palestinian spokesperson for the Parents Circle Bereaved Family Forum. And actually you’ll see, you’ll listen and hear I think in this interview, that a lot of the work he did was with Robi. They shared the mutual grief and understanding built between Palestinians and Israelis who’ve lost people to this conflict. His life and work were featured during that time, during two award-winning films, Encounterpoint and Forbidden Childhood.

BB: In 2016, he had fully turned his activism to the priority of developing a mass independent movement on the ground of Palestinians organizing Palestinians to take nonviolent responsibility for self-development and forging a path to end the occupation. That movement, Taghyeer, which means change, is dedicated to fostering Palestinian national nonviolent identity in action through which communities, leaders, and organizations come together to address social development needs and work to end the occupation. As an activist, Ali believes that non-violence is the only path forward to freedom for both Palestinians and Israelis. In 2023, Ali was awarded both the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize and the Luxembourg Peace Prize. I’m going to jump right into the conversation with Robi and Ali.

BB: What an honor to have both of you on the podcast. I’m so deeply grateful for the work you’re doing. I’m so hungry to learn more about it and hungry to learn what support looks like for your vision. So let me just start by saying thank you for being here.

Robi Damelin: Thank you for inviting us.

BB: We always start the podcast the same way, which is asking our guests to tell us their story. We believe that stories and narratives give power to understanding each other. So Robi, would you like to start and tell us your story?

RD: Probably everybody will notice within a minute that my life started in South Africa, but I’ve been in Israel since 1967. I think the main part of my story is the loss, actually. I mean, I could tell you a lot of naughty stories along the line, but I think when the Army came to tell me that David had been killed by a Palestinian sniper, one of the first things that I said was, “You can’t kill anybody in the name of my child.” So it was very clear somewhere along the line that I was going to do something to prevent other mothers from experiencing this pain. And it didn’t matter which mothers, Palestinian or Israeli. I understood almost immediately that my life would take a completely new direction. It’s your life before and your life after. And what do you do with all of this pain? And for me, sort of almost connecting to today, I see my behavior after the seventh of October is very similar to what happened to me after David was killed.

RD: I had this immediate urge or desire or mania almost to change the world. And something like three months after David was killed, I found myself at a huge demonstration saying that we had to get out of the occupied territories. And what was so extraordinary, I recognized that after loss, there’s no fear. I have no fear. You can actually put me wherever you like and I don’t care. I will talk and I’ll say what’s in my heart. So what happens is I never prepare anything. And after I spoke at this huge demonstration, the Parents Circle found me and invited me to come to a weekend in East Jerusalem with Palestinian and Israeli families who’d all lost an immediate family member. And I can remember sitting around the table and looking into the eyes of the Palestinian, particularly the mothers, and realizing that we shared the same pain.

RD: And that was like almost the beginning of what I was going to be doing because I understood that if we stood on the stage and spoke in the same voice, reconciliation and non-violence, then surely that would be an extraordinary example for anybody else in the world. And that weekend changed my whole life. I closed my office, I started to travel all around the world, and I thought I was amazingly important and could speak English. And I was very pleased with myself. I spoke wherever, together with the Palestinian partner, wherever I was invited. Concerts, hip hop concerts, I don’t know, Congress, all kinds of extraordinary places that who would’ve believed.

RD: And one night when I was home, I was sitting next to my computer and there was a knock on my door, and I opened the door and there were three soldiers standing there. And when there are three soldiers, it can only mean one thing. So I kept slamming the door in their face and they kept knocking, and I thought, “If I lose another child, that’s the end. I can’t.” And then eventually I opened the door and they said, “We came to tell you that we caught the man who killed David.” That’s when it became difficult because you can go around the world and you could talk about peace and love, and read bad poetry as most NGOs do. Or what was I to do now to remain in some form of integrity and actually Ali is connected here to this part of my story, and I was wandering around for months not sleeping.

RD: And one morning he said to me, “Well write them a letter,” to the parents, which is what I did. And in the letter, I told them about the Parents Circle, we are now 700 families with all Palestinian and Israeli who have all lost an immediate family member. And I told them about David, my son. He was a student at Tel Aviv University studying for his masters in the philosophy of education, and he was part of the peace movement, and he also was part of the student uprising. I can’t imagine where he got that from. And he played the French horn, which I deserve a medal for. And he was this extraordinarily lovely kid who used to cook with me and drink with me and we had so much fun together. And I told them that I thought we should meet because we owed that to our children and grandchildren.

RD: So Ali can probably fill you in later on, together with Nadua, a Palestinian formal group, delivered the letter to the family. You can imagine how shocked they were. I immediately, not being the most patient character in the Middle East, imagine that there will be a letter the next day. Well, of course that didn’t happen. And it took three years. And I got this message of a website to say that I’m crazy and I should stay away from his family and that he killed, this is from the sniper, he killed 10 people to free Palestine. But I knew, and this is something also connected with the war now, is I want to talk about understanding why people do things. And from his parents, I understood that when he was a small child, he had seen his uncle violently killed by the Israeli army, and he lost two uncles in the second uprising.

RD: And so I think this was an act of revenge, you know? And so what happened is when I got this letter, it was like giving up being a victim. I was now free. I’m no longer contingent on what this man says. And I felt I could continue with the work. And I went off to South Africa and we made a film, which is called One Day After Peace, and extraordinarily so it’s also very relevant today. There’s a soldier called Gilad Shalit. Gilad Shalit was a young Israeli soldier who was captured and kept as a hostage in Gaza five years. And I said then that they should free the prisoners even if it would bring Gilad Shalit back, and certainly to free the man who killed my child. Of course, I cannot speak for other parents. I can only speak in my own voice.

RD: And I went to the television, and I said that openly, and you can imagine how popular that made me. But I thought it was important, and so I actually recently in the war now, I just wrote an Op-Ed, to say, “Please free this man if that’s going to bring even one of the hostages back.” So everything is kind of tied up, one thing to the other. And in South Africa, I met this extraordinary woman. Her name was Ginn Fourie, and she’d lost her daughter and she’d gone to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and told the people who killed her daughter, “I forgive you.” And I wanted to understand what the meaning of forgiving is. Everywhere I talk, everybody I ask, “What do you mean when you say you forgive?” Everybody comes up with a different answer. And I went to meet Ginn and we became sisters immediately, which happens with all bereaved mothers. And she said, “Forgiving is giving up your just right to revenge.”

BB: And then I met the man who actually sent the people to kill her daughter. And I thought I’m going to meet this monster. And here comes this man who says, “By her forgiving me, she released me from my inhumanity.” I thought that was an extraordinary statement. And I came back to Israel and tried to meet the sniper. This is a long story, but the law here actually says that he has to ask to meet me. So I’ve tried via letters and via his lawyer, but it’s not working and it’s really not all that important for me now. And that’s where the story is. But there’s so much bigger things than Robi Damelin now.

BB: Thank you for sharing your story with us and I hold it very tenderly and with a lot of love and a lot of grief.

RD: Thank you.

BB: And hope.

RD: Hope is the most important equation in peace.

BB: Ali, would you be willing to share your story with us?

Ali Abu Awwad: Well, from the human and emotional side of my story, it’s not so different than Robi’s story. We are the consequences of this madness. We both experience loss. I lost my brother in the second intifada in 2000, but all of my life was about loss. I grew up as a refugee, was born to a very political family, was raised by a very political mother, and we both end up in prison in 1990 serving a few years. And the first encounter with non-violence actually was in prison. When me and my mother decided to go for a hunger strike to see each other after three years of being in prison. And we succeed. We succeed after 17 days of starvation and we succeed to see each other.

AA: And that moment I felt strength that I have never experienced before. It was not just about our success, it was about discovering something really powerful inside me, but I also discovered the blindness of my truth because all what I felt was true, but I was blind to the most powerful thing that I have never met or used before, which is my humanity. Anger was a blindness for that humanity to rise. And then, I was released by Oslo Peace Initiative and trying to achieve and support the peace process as a leader and a son of a leader.

AA: And the process has failed for many reasons, but I think the biggest reason that politicians were not really aiming to achieve the vision of the process because the challenges were huge and there was no real engagement to practice what we sign on papers on the ground. There was no difference. We couldn’t, we Palestinians couldn’t see difference between peace or conflict because we couldn’t achieve our freedom or independence. At the same time, Israelis still live under threat by suicide bombers’ attacks. So the whole process has failed, including my son, my, my brother in 2000, Youssef. He was 31 years old, and he had an argument with a soldier in the entrance of my town, Beit Ummar, near Hebron, that cost him his life.

AA: Then I was in a hospital in Saudi Arabia having medical treatment because I was wounded by a settler. My mother was with me. I mean, I experienced loss before, but losing him was different. I was totally broken until we came back. We tried to live, but this is not the same life. These are not the same enemies, it’s not the same family anymore. Many people has offered revenge to my mother. She said no, but she couldn’t give any practical step for us to do. And I think she was seeking for the art of the motherhood, which end by meeting people like Robi and Israeli parents who have lost someone. She invited them to my home. And for me, that was the other non-violence lesson that I have to learn that the devils are not exactly devils. They are humans. They’re even victims like me.

AA: Yes, we’re not equal by life conditions, but we’re equal by this loss that we’re sharing. We’re not able to share what is on the ground. That’s why we are sharing just what is underground, which is the bodies of our beloved ones. My life has changed. I mean, I have never had an opportunity to go to university or learn. Even my English came from prison. I didn’t waste time there. And a good part of it came from Robi because I toured the world with Robi for a few years, and I have learned a lot from her, from others, and from my mother and myself. And I end up joining the Parents Circle with my mother, with my family. Then I went back to my people struggling, launching crazy initiative with Israeli settlers, called Roots. And I remember there was a time that Robi even said, “We have to speak to settlers,” because the Parents Circle was very careful, by any criticism, you know.

AA: Then I launched this initiative. Then a few years ago, I went back to my people and I said, okay, “Every side has to take responsibility for their own act and towards the others.” I created Taghyeer in Arabic, change in English, as a Palestinian non-violence movement that has 100% DNA Palestinian, for my people to adopt non-violence as an identity and to deal with the confusion between the two identities that we struggle with daily as Palestinian, the identity of being part of revolution against Israel, and the identity of being citizens without a state. So how can we practice law? How can we build our society without independence, but also how can we resist the occupation without causing anyone a price of his life or his dignity? This is all what Taghyeer is about, that the answer is just by non-violence. And I think non-violence activism for many people, sounds silly, sounds weakness. And I do believe that if the war need anger, peace need courage, reconciliation need truth. We have to be truthful to ourselves and to the others. And today, I envision a place where these two conflicted identities can fit in a political model that each truth of them will be practiced in a fashion that will not come at the expense of anyone, and we can do that.

BB: Thank you. I can’t stop thinking about David and Youssef, life before they were gone and life after they were gone. Different lives. It seems to me that there’s, that courage Ali that you talk about, that’s necessary for peace, is so often born of grief and despair. Is it a choice where the grief and despair is going to go? And does the level of your compassion require an experience of grief?

RD: Oh, I really hope not.

BB: Yeah, me too.

RD: Because how many people will have to die then for people to think in another way? So, I think I’m the same person as I was before David was killed, only I’m not the dictator that I was, and I’m more compassionate. And I think it was a choice. It wasn’t even a conscious choice, because if I said, “You can’t kill anybody in the name of my child,” I wasn’t looking for any kind of revenge. And I keep thinking about the revenge of the war now, of the humiliation of the Israeli army, of being beaten on the seventh of October. What that humiliation creates is revenge. And I don’t have that because if I had that sense of revenge, look there are parents who decide, who die with their children when they die.

BB: Oh, yeah.

RD: Not physically, but they disappear. There are parents that build libraries, monuments, I think everybody must do the thing that would give them some solace. And for me, because David was so into education, for me, education of peace seemed to be the most logical thing. I don’t know. It’s very difficult. We had a meeting the other night, and this is not all together connected with what you said, but some of the women from our group said, “Look there have been so much deaths now on both sides. That is the death that we experienced as important. Do I have the right? No. Yes. It’s a very interesting… I was so shocked, do I have the right now to go to these people?

RD: And I know for sure that the people who gave me the most solace were the bereaved mothers, they understood. But there’s also a fear, and I couldn’t believe that they were willing to negate a loss in order to feel that they were doing the right thing. And if it happened 50 years ago, is it still not there? I think it is. Your life changed forever and it’s generations of suffering. I watch my grandchildren, they’re so involved with David, Mia sang songs about David. You can’t run away from it. And even if it happened 20 years ago, it’s as painful except you learn to live with it next to you. And what do you do with that pain? And Ali, sorry, I got carried away.

AA: Yeah. I mean, I will add to what Robi just said. My activism does not depend on the label of bereavement. Because beyond bereavement, there is a huge machine inside me that is called humanity. On the other hand, I don’t think neither me or Robi or anyone else in the Parents Circle or other bereaved parents who are joining the reconciliation process has healed their pain by joining such initiative. I think it’s the opposite.

RD: But then you know it’s extraordinary Ali, I can tell you that now people who experienced terrible, terrible things on the seventh of October, like Maoz Inon whose family were burned to death, his parents were burnt to death on seventh of October for speaking out for peace and speaking out to stop the bloodshed. And the son of Vivian Silver, who was this wonderful activist, who I was sure was a hostage and would come back and she would lead a peace movement. Her son has joined the Parents Circle now as well as Maoz and many others. And that’s an extraordinary thing because this is like four months, it’s not years. And that gives me such hope to see these people who can be the leaders in the future of this organization. We can’t have the old bags like me only, we need to have new people who will take this organization in other directions.

RD: And it’s so extraordinary that they’re speaking out so quickly. So that gives me an immense amount of hope. The Bedouin community gave me a lot of hope. We spoke about hope being this important equation. The Bedouins from an unrecognized village came to the music festival and saved hundreds of kids and 19 of them were killed and some of them were taken hostage. Just think about that. They didn’t have a stake in this whole madness. So there are extraordinary people everywhere and that’s what brings me to continue to get up in the morning to do this work.

AA: Yeah, yeah. The point is, I used to say that my life was quite easier when I was one-sided. I live with my story, with my loss. I used to have my people on my shoulder and my brother on my heart. But after I joined the Parents Circle, before I had another nation on the other shoulder, and I had other stories of my enemies who was supposed to be my enemies. And this is where responsibility starts. And I always have said, and I keep saying to be a change maker, you don’t need to be either bereaved or to be Mandela. You just need to be a responsible leader who thinks about the future. Because one of the things that we suffer from, we do have politicians, but we don’t have leaders. Politicians are just managers of this reality. Leaders who envision the normal future and change reality for that. And this is what we need.

RD: And we need the storytellers. I am a great believer in storytelling. I’ve seen how that creates an emotional breakthrough in even the hardest of hearts. So it goes together. And I’ve been telling a story, I forgot all about this, and suddenly I remembered Ali, about the jacket. Do you still have it?

AA: I do have.

RD: So you’ll tell the story.

AA: We were invited to very important event, and I don’t have a jacket and I don’t like to have jackets.


AA: But Robi came up with this jacket, this beautiful jacket, and she said, “This jacket used to be for David, and I want you to have it.” It was hard. It was hard because I know what it means to let go, for Robi to let go, but it was so strong. On the other hand, how the world is so, so weird. This man who used to be a soldier serving a system that he struggled also against it at the same time, but he does his duty, and now there is a Palestinian wearing his jacket. What explanation on earth can describe that? There is no description.

RD: But there’s kind of for rest of the story, when you came through the checkpoint and the soldier asked you, do you remember that? Asked you where you were going, and you told him, and he started to cry.

AA: Yeah, I have many stories, especially…

RD: All of us.

AA: Especially with soldiers, because I like to speak to soldiers and I tell the stories of others, not just Palestinian, Jews, and others. And yeah, the power of these stories that you see, the humanity of the other who is trying to blind himself to see your humanity. I always said my weapon in non-violence is not my humanity. It’s the Jewish humanity. This is my weapon. But for me to succeed, I have to do the reflection. So non-violence is not just to show how human you are, but to be able to see the humanity of the other. This is non-violence.

BB: Oh God, that’s hard.

AA: Yeah.

BB: Everyone’s pretty clear on their own humanity?

RD: Yeah. Well…

BB: Yeah. Everyone’s really clear on the depth of their own humanity, but it seems to me, and I would love to get checked on this by both of you. Can I read something, Ali, that you said recently?

AA: Please.

BB: You were in an interview with Ami Dar and you said, “We need recognition. We need to see each other. We should stop arguing each other’s identities and switch to an argument about behaviors. Because occupation is a behavior, violence is a behavior. So if we feel secure enough to change, to see and recognize identities, we’ll be able to change these behaviors that causes this ignorance of ignoring each other’s identities. This is a fundamental need and foundation for a peace process.” Like everyone’s so clear to me, even here in the US, the activism has a very certain narrative. Everyone’s clear on their own humanity and believes their activism depends on diminishing the humanity of others. That’s what’s happening here.

RD: Well, but that’s terrifying. I’ve been to the states twice since the war began and listened to what’s happening on the campuses all over America. And we were invited by the World Bank. Now I thought to myself, the World Bank has to invite me because they’re not talking to each other, though they are taking sides. The importation of this conflict is so dangerous. It’s creating hatred between Muslims and Jews. It’s creating madness. What has some Jewish kid studying at Georgetown University got to do with the decisions of Netanyahu and his band of hope and glory. And so this excuse that’s being used, when we were at Georgetown, now they’ve been our mentors for many years. They are working with us on a module of dialogue meetings, which will be sent to all the campuses all over America with questions and answers. Because I tell you Brené, thousands and thousands of people are turning to us because they need some help. And so this is a way to do it. And thanks to Georgetown University and to the teachers’ union who will distribute the module online, something we can get to a much larger audience.

RD: I couldn’t believe when I was in London what was happening. I have family in London, and I have a little cousin, she’s 13 and she wears a star of David inside her shirt, which already tells you something. And then she got on the train and it came out of her shirt and the guy came up to her and said, “Die you bloody Jew.” This is how the importation of our conflict is affecting the rest of the world. It’s mad. If you can’t be part of the solution, then please leave us alone.

BB: Ali, tell me about when Robi says, “If you can’t be part of the solution.” One of the things that really has moved me so deeply about Taghyeer is pro solution, pro focus on behaviors. It seems to me that you’re the most pragmatic peacemaker that I’ve ever read. Like, it is not rainbows and unicorns in your world.

AA: Yeah. Listen, everyone speak, many peace activists and organization, even politicians, speaks about two-state solution and speak about peaceful agreement and trying to engage the war to put pressure on those or those. But for me, any peace efforts will not be successful if we don’t create the environment for the agreement to happen. We need that environment and those who will create that environment are not the politician, it’s the grassroots. It’s people like me and Robi and many others. Because when the environment is ready, politicians believe me, will jump before us to sign the agreement because they’re not courageous as the grassroots leaders.

BB: Can you Ali, paint a picture for me about two or three qualities this environment must have, this grassroots environment. What are two or three of the foundational prerequisites for this environment of non-violence and peace?

AA: Well, first of all is to believe that non-violence is the only solution to create that belief. As Robi said, we need education. Education is so important for people to understand what non-violence is about. Because I’m not sure that many people understand what non-violence is. People think it’s silly, it’s weakness, it’s giving up. But it’s the opposite. It’s the art of our humanity.

AA: Because everyone’s a human, but I’m not sure that everyone is practicing that humanity. That’s the issue. Number two, the environment is about creating alternative systems to the system that we are trying to change. If anger, violence is the answer, it creates damage. So what are the alternatives that we produce and we apply to people. And don’t forget that we’re not equal. I mean, it’s not about healing. It’s not about transforming people, heart and mind. People also need bread on their table.

AA: People need water resources. People need access to resources. People need the freedom of movement. People need security. People need to heal this huge pain that is endless and keep… So what alternative we changemakers are offering our communities. People ask me sometimes what I do, I always say I collect garbage of politicians because they produce garbage on communities and we changemakers has to collect that garbage. And believe me, Jews and Palestinians are the most human people on earth. There is enough humanity for non-violence to work, but it cannot be just through dialogue and hummus and hugs. We need practical steps on the ground for people to believe that non-violence can be the answer. It’s not about good intention. It’s not even just about hope. We need hope, definitely. But it’s more about the belief, the ideology of change. This is where we need to be. The minute that Palestinian will stop acting as victim, the same like Jewish people here, the minute that the whole earth will support us, both of us, and the minute that we stop investing our pain and victimhood in one side’s actions, the minute that both sides will be able to go forward.

AA: Robi said once “It’s the competition of suffering.” We are competing over suffering. Who suffers more? By the end of the day, we are all suffering. And the world is very good players on that because the world is creating more divide and it needs us to go all over the world to explain that stop, stop, be pro solution. Because whomever you are supporting is not taking over the other side. Jews and Muslims, Christian, Palestinian, Arabs are not going to disappear. It’s a fact. So how do you manage it? How do we envision solution? How do we stop talking about the typical solution for two-state, one-state, and jump to practical solution that will allow everyone to practice their identity without causing the other a price of their dignity and their identity? That’s a big question.

BB: Oof.

RD: But I also said that you need to prepare people for reconciliation because if they don’t know why did the Oslo agreement, why was it a failure? It was political agreement without thinking about the people on the ground. Were they prepared for anything like this? Do they know what a framework for reconciliation process should look like? Did anybody ever tell them there was such a thing as reconciliation? And so what we want is, we are like these ants on the ground, who are creating the situation to create this framework for a reconciliation process to be an integral part of any political future agreement. Because without that, all you can expect is another ceasefire until the next time. And so the combination of non-violence, but also of people understanding that there will have to be this process of reconciliation because without that, we’ll have a ceasefire maybe, which is good. Ireland has a ceasefire. They don’t really have peace. I’d like to have the ceasefire as well.

RD: So, it’s a combination of both attitudes, and it’s allowing the dignity of the other. The night before I went to America, I had a Zoom with many of the women, the Palestinian women from the Parents Circle. I’m very interested in women coming to the table. And I asked them to tell me what their daily life is like in the West Bank. Because people are not looking at the West Bank, they don’t realize what’s going on there. That’s a cauldron just waiting to blow up. And each of them told me that their children were stuck at home, their husbands couldn’t go to work. So there’s, of course, domestic violence. Why wouldn’t there be?

RD: And I promised them that wherever I went in America, I would talk about the West Bank and the life that they are leading. And people must know that. People must know and understand what the settlers are doing, and how dangerous that is, and how we’ve got to find a way. We’ve got to find a way to talk. Yes, Ali, I agree. We must talk to the settlers.

BB: One of the things, Ali, that I recently really learned from you that just, it was about normalization, Israeli normalization, normalization of Israeli relationships with Saudi Arabia, other countries. And you spoke so powerfully and I felt so schooled by the time you were done about real normalization will never happen in the context of occupation. That the gateway to real normalization is Palestinian and Israeli peace. If you do that work, it sounds like things will fall away and make roads to normalization in many ways. Is that a fair assessment of what I learned?

AA: Well, this is part of it. I mean, if I think as a responsible community leader, I will say the following; Israel can have any effort or do successful steps toward normalizations with the Arabs denying the Palestinian fight. But this bomb will blow up in any event, on any table, and everywhere.

RD: Absolutely.

AA: That’s number one. Israel can successfully make normalization with Arab governments, but it will not succeed to make normalization with Arabs.

BB: With the people.

AA: That’s number two. Yeah. And this is not the normalization that I am aiming to. Number three, I think we are the best gate for Israel to the Arab world, the Palestinian. Any normalization effort has to pass through the Palestinian normal life toward Arabs. Because no Arabs will dare to have a serious, deep normalization process with Israel as long as Israel is laying on the Palestinian in West Bank and Gaza. Finally, I want to be a part of a dignified solution. This normalization is without dignity because we live without dignity. And we are the key to the Middle East peace, the Palestinian fight, and the Jewish security as well, not just the Palestinian freedom. And I can understand the deep need for security for Jewish people and Israel is here. But I do believe that the only security for Israeli future is the Palestinian freedom, as I do believe that the Palestinian freedom will not be built on Jewish graves. It will be built through Jewish hearts. And that’s why this is the dignified freedom that I want.

BB: As we’re sitting here talking to one another, catastrophic violence is being perpetrated against Palestinians. I woke up this morning and just the news, the images. What would you tell me, other people here in the US, people listening to the podcast, what would you tell us is the most helpful thing we can do? I’m writing to everyone that will listen about not just a ceasefire. And I learned this too from you, Ali, a cease conflict, a ceasefire is not enough, a cease conflict. I’m writing, I’m calling. What can we do that’s helpful? And what are we doing that’s absolutely not helpful?

RD: I think you’re importing our conflict. And instead of that, you might ask your government to invest the monies, these huge amount of sums of money in all peace movements as well. The percentage that is invested is so small that it’s laughable. And without the peacemakers, this place will just be shared by two graves. And stop taking the sides to create, don’t stop saying, “What is happening?” It’s very important that people know that there are people living in tents in the south of Gaza in this terrible weather, and that there are mothers running away with their children. And one of the most poignant pictures that I saw were Palestinian kids holding on to their cats, and that nearly broke my heart. And this one little boy who stood on, I saw a clip, and he said, “I can’t go away unless you let me take my cat to the south.” And he paid, I don’t know, 60 shekels or something, his family, so that he could take his cat.

RD: Think about the mothers and children in Gaza, and think about why. Do you remember when I said right in the beginning, why? Why do people do these things? Why, if you were a kid growing up in Gaza, and every two years there’s a war, and you have no shelter and you are bombed, and you have nowhere to run, and you have no freedom of movement, and no hope, what kind of an adult are you going to become?

RD: And then I look at the kids on the kibbutz who thought they were invincible, because the rockets, I mean there were thousands of rockets, okay, but they had safe rooms, unlike the Palestinian mothers and their kids. And now, suddenly after the attack on the seventh of October, they are in trauma. The whole two nations are in a trauma. And then I think about the kids that live in Sderot and Ashkelon and Ashdod, on the border of Gaza.

RD: Those kids have been bombarded with rockets since they were small children, they’re wetting their beds at the age of 12. So what kind of adults are they going to be? So the work of Ali and Robi is cut out. There is so much to be done to heal these two nations. And I will do anything that I can to be with the families in the south now, and the people in the West Bank have lost children too, and also many of them have families in Gaza who have been wiped out. And so what are we doing? How many more people have to die?

RD: In the morning when I hear the announcements from the army about the soldiers that are killed, and I think to myself, for what? And I see these tiny little square pictures of beautiful kids. What the hell are they doing there? What is the end of this madness? How many more people need to die? How many more? When are the hostages ever going to come home? So who are we going to talk to? Just the people we like? No. It’s got to end. This is mad. I can’t bear it. I tell you, when I see those pictures and all these people have become just numbers, all the people in Gaza are numbers, but the people in Israel are also numbers, all these people who were killed. For what? What is the end goal?

RD: Nobody knows. So one can just hope that people will start to understand that the Palestinians deserve the dignity that they deserve. And the Israelis, that heart, I like the idea about the Jewish heart and the Palestinian heart, because I think it’s the same heart.

BB: Ali, you said in the same interview with Ami Dar, you said, “I believe in one God and that God made both of us, the Israelis and the Palestinians.” Sounds very much what Robi is saying right now.

AA: Yeah, listen, my call on everyone is not just to stand for a solution, but even to work for it. What is happening in Gaza has to stop immediately, immediately. When Israel says, we need to take over Hamas, we need to finish Hamas, it seems like the rest of the Palestinians are…

RD: You can’t get an idea.

AA: Yeah.

RD: You can’t.

BB: Okay, so what does that look like?

AA: So it seems like the rest, if you take over Hamas, the rest are Mandela’s. No, as Hamas was created, there will be hundreds and others. Why we deal with the leaves, leaving the roots of the problem? On the other hand, if we Palestinians create threats on Israelis, we’re just pushing them to be more aggressive and more fearful. And I have always said that my real and biggest enemies are not the Jewish people, it’s their fear. And this fear can be overcomed by Jews themselves, but also we Palestinians has an important role for that. We didn’t create all the disasters on Jewish people, but we’re not able to deal with any disaster because everything is a disaster around us. So what is the world expecting that will happen in Gaza in a few days, few months, few years?

AA: Nothing will happen. It’s just more broken hearts and angry people. That’s all. And this is going to be the only consequences if this continue. So my call on everyone to stop this madness and to focus in the cease conflict. We need a solution. I will not say find a solution because I have learned, even that I have learned. What does that mean? We need a final agreement. We need something to be committed to because where we can commit ourselves, what we can commit ourselves to, what are we calling people to do after tomorrow?

AA: What kind of election that Israel will have? What kind of system and leadership that we will have as Palestinians? Is it Hamas going to rule everyone or win the election because Hamas was the language to prove that the only language that Israel understand is force and violence? Is it Bibi who will succeed after destroying millions life in Gaza to release bodies of Israelis, that I hope not. So what are they aiming for? So I believe that we need the world to invest in the process for the solution and not to wait for the agreement to be signed.

AA: Just to start doing even small steps on the ground to create hope and to create commitment. Number two, we need international conference that all the representatives, all the parts of the problem will be not just a normalization with Emirates. I want normalization with the Palestinians as well because I want my relation with my Israeli neighbors to be normal. We want a dignified peace that we’re not ashamed of because many activists are hesitating today to speak to their Israeli partners as well or to represent with them in public, because they’re afraid of criticism. You are traitors. You are normalizers. No, we want something that people can identify with dignity. So all of that will not happen if we are the people who are here on the ground will not take the lead. That’s it. So that’s why if you are a pro Palestine, secure Jewish life, if you are a pro Israel, free Palestinian life. This is how I see it. I don’t see it any different.

BB: I’m going to get super practical and people don’t talk about this a lot, but I just feel compelled to ask, is it helpful to financially support peacemakers or peacemaking organizations where Palestinians and Israelis are working together? Like the Parents Circle-Family Forum, like Stand Together, Taghyeer. We just have all kinds of financial machinery to support war. Do peacemakers have funded systems to wage peace?

RD: We have to.

BB: I’m asking, do you need money to build the systems to wage peace? Yes?

RD: Can you imagine how many more people we could get to, how much more work we could be doing on the ground, how much more we could create movies. We could create so many things that would change people’s idea of who’s on the other side. What is the problem? We don’t know each other. Do you know that when you go into a school, by the way, we’ve been banned from the schools by this charming government, but when you go into schools, a Palestinian and an Israeli talking about their loss and their transformation to a 17-year-old kid, and you will ask the classroom, “Who of you have ever met a Palestinian?”

RD: It’ll actually be nobody. And who speaks Arabic? Nobody. And who’s been overseas? The whole class. So what do you expect? There’s a total cutoff which creates fear, which creates hatred. And the women’s group in the Parents Circle does a lot of work in the West Bank. Going to houses. When I go into a house with a Palestinian partner, they look at me in the beginning quite suspiciously.

RD: But once I’ve told my story, and once they’ve realized that there are other Israelis, because who have they ever met? Soldiers and settlers. Why would they think I’m any different? So it’s breaking through this whole madness so that we begin to know each other and respect each other and we don’t have to love each other. It’s a side benefit, but we have to respect each other.

AA: Yeah, we do need a lot of money, but even more than that, we need a plan and we need a coalition. Recently, I start working in creating a coalition of organizations. We need also the world, especially the US government, to deal with this issue of competition for resources between organizations, because the way they do it, they create so much competition over the resources. We need more partnership with the US government, with the US people, in a coalition that will apply to people’s needs, not just to people’s feelings. We need the Arabs to invest there. We need Arab money because I’m so proud sometimes when I bring Palestinian donors, it makes me so proud. This has to be part of what Israel and the PA are initiating to the Arabs.

AA: That as a support of the grassroots efforts, we need that. We need also partnership with the political system because if the grassroots and the political system will work toward one vision, it can be achievable. But for this to happen, we need the US pressure, we need the European pressure on both governments and both political leaders.

AA: So we need a lot. And this is the time for us also to leave the typical activism and to think strategically about new strategic activism that will unite all of us, that will remove the competition and that will allow also trust because there is also industry in peace building. We need the world to trust where they invest their money by showing the world how successful our efforts are on the ground by being together and being united. By the end of the day, it’s not going to be Robi Damelin or Ali Abu Awwad or the Parents Circle or Taghyeer who will push for that agreement. But we will help for the agreement, but it has to be a massive national pressure by the end of the day in Tel Aviv and Ramallah and everywhere for politicians to take courageous and painful steps toward peace. It needs a lot. Peace also is fear for many Israelis today.

BB: Yeah.

RD: Also, the fact, the miracle that we are still continuing to work. Because many organizations fell to pieces, and I think that’s an expression of trust, the trust that Ali’s talking about, because all these women who came onto the Zoom with me, the night before I left for America, said, “Even though our lives are so difficult, we want to continue to be members of the Parents Circle,” and out of 700 families, only three have left since the war. And I think that’s a miracle and that it should be supported. The more you support us, the more work we can do.

AA: Yeah.

BB: I’m going to do my best on my part to help people understand what y’all are doing, why I think it’s the bravest work I’ve ever seen. I think Ali, I think what it requires is the big tremendous ask that you’re putting on the table to find not humanity in yourself, but humanity in the people that you were taught, trained, and have actually real reasons to hate.

BB: I want to ask a parting question. It’s a big question, but it’s a clarity question for me. Just as we go, is there any vision moving forward? And I think this is a big thing in the US. And this is a big part of the divisiveness here. Is there any solution? Either one of you see moving forward where 7 million Israelis leave or 7 million Palestinians leave? Or is every vision that’s held for peace moving forward about a vision of what you just both described of an environment living together where unfortunately the government will have to follow, not lead, but is there a vision in any peacemaker on the ground there, that the future does not include both Israelis and Palestinians?

RD: Look, it’s such a difficult question, but actually it’s not such a difficult question, because the solution has been there for such a long time. It’s just that nobody has the balls to do it. You’ll excuse my language. Everybody knows that at some point, those settlements will have to be, some of them disbanded. There will have to be swapping of land. We know all of these things. It’s been there for so long, but nobody has the courage. That’s the word that Ali was using, is that courage to do it. And that’s what we need.

AA: Yeah, and I think we are like a Siamese twins. We fight every day each other, but we pay the price of ourselves. We are Siamese, we are so intertwined. You know what? We both have nowhere else to go. Number two, no one wants us. I’m not sure that the world wants the Jewish people or the Arab wants the Palestinians. I’m not sure. The history can tell us. Number three, we will fight until the last drop of blood blindly for our existence. If it is by war, believe me, both sides will be defeated. This land will have no people to live on anymore. Not Israelis, neither Palestinians.

BB: I’m going to leave with this quote. It’s a mishmash of what you both said, but I will remember it forever and I’m going to push it forward. Peace takes courage. War is fueled by rage and anger. And reconciliation requires truth.

RD: That’s beautiful.

AA: Yeah.

BB: Ali, I’m waiting for the manifesto as soon as it’s done. I see your big smile, but no pressure. But I’m waiting for it.

AA: I’m smiling because I’m surrounded, as Robi always said, with so many angels are trying to make this happen. Including yourself, thank you so much for having us.

BB: Yeah. I’m going to do my part here to spread this message, to try to get it right myself first, to find my own humanity, and not the easy way. [chuckle] Not the way like, “Oh, I see it. I love it,” but I see it, in the people I’m really angry with right now. And you’ve got my support and I’m in it all the way.

RD: Thank you so, so much for this. Thank you.

AA: Thank you.

BB: Thank y’all both.

RD: Bye-bye.

AA: Bye-bye.


BB: I hope this was an important conversation for you. It was an important conversation for me. All of the information on Ali and Robi, Taghyeer, how you can learn more about the Parents Circle-Family Forum, how you can contribute and support, these efforts. All of these are on, on the episode page for this podcast. I appreciate you listening. I appreciate you creating some expansiveness to learn, to reevaluate, to challenge ourselves and each other. That’s it. I’m grateful. And stay awkward, brave, and kind.


BB: Unlocking Us is produced by Brene Brown Education and Research Group. The music is by Carrie Rodriguez and Gina Chavez. Get new episodes as soon as they’re published by following Unlocking Us on your favorite podcast app. We are part of the Vox Media podcast network. Discover more award-winning shows at

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