The other side of Israel: Palestine

Alex began his missionary work 26 years ago when he resigned his teaching job to help start a bible college in Bethlehem.
Alex began his missionary work 26 years ago when he resigned his teaching job to help start a bible college in Bethlehem.

Imagine a large group of strangers entering a country and immediately considering the locals as foreigners and aliens that don’t belong. These strangers believe they have a divine right to the homes of the residents, from their land to all of their possessions.

This is what the Arab-Israeli conflict looked like for Alex Awad, a professor at Candler School of Theology at Emory University and a retired missionary of the United Methodist Church.

Alex was born in Jerusalem in 1946 into a Palestinian-Arab, Christian family. Two years later, the Arab-Israeli War began. Awad’s father was killed in a crossfire between the Jewish militia and the Jordanian army.

The Arab-Israeli War of 1948 broke out when five Arab nations invaded territory in the former Palestinian mandate, immediately following the announcement of the independence of Israel on May 14, 1948.

The mandate gave Great Britain control over the area, giving them the power to create Israel after promising it to the Jews.

After the death of his father and the occupation of Israel by Jews, Alex and his family fled their home in Palestine, becoming refugees in East Jerusalem.

“It was a tough childhood without a father and with a mother who became a widow, with seven children, struggling to make ends meet,” Alex said. “It was a tough situation trying to cover the cost of all of our expenses, but by God’s grace we survived.”

Alex’s mother finished her nursing degree, while sending all of her children to boarding school in East Jerusalem to receive a higher education. After secondary school, Alex left Palestine to prepare for Christian ministry in Switzerland.Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 11.56.53 AM

When the 1967 War, sometimes called the Six Day War, broke out, Alex tried to return to Palestine to support his family but was rejected by the Israeli government because they didn’t want more Palestinians returning to “their” country.

“During the 1967 War, my people, [the Palestinians], became under Israeli occupation in the West Bank,” Alex said. “So here I am in Switzerland wanting to go back to my country, but the Israelis would not let me back because they were dominating the country. They had the power to say who comes in and who cannot come in.”

Due to the restriction, Alex focused his attention on his schooling, eventually studying in the United States at Lee University on a scholarship.

While in the United States, Alex attended several colleges and seminaries, but he never stopped trying to return to his family and live permanently in Palestine.

“I will try again and again to go back to my country, but even though I am a native, I have to have a work permit to live in my country, just like any international person,” Alex said.

Alex must obey the Israeli Ministry of Foreign of Affairs in order to receive a visa to live in Palestine, which has proven difficult for him.

“So this is what occupation is all about,” Alex said. “All of your rights are taken away from you and given to the people that are occupying your country.”

After World War II (1945), the land of Palestine was split into an Arab state, Palestine, and a Jewish state, Israel, with Jerusalem under international control. More than half of Palestine became Jewish land as a safe haven for Jews coming in from Europe.

Alex believes that the psychology of the Holocaust impacted the Jewish psyche so much that “they couldn’t see the Palestinians as people they could live with in peace and harmony, but rather saw them as threats.”

Following the Holocaust, anti-semitic persecution of the remaining Jews in Europe forced them to live in ghettos. Alex believes that because of this persecution, Jewish people came to Palestine with a mindset that said “never again will we give into our enemies.”

The “never again” leads to strength and resistance against non-Jews, including the Palestinians, to avoid another Holocaust.

“When they came to Palestine they decided to make it a purely Jewish state to separate themselves from the Palestinians,” Alex said. “Not where we come together and make one country but rather they wanted their own dominance in that state.”

Alex is most frustrated with people coming from Europe and “instantly deciding that they are going to be the bosses, and we are going to be the slaves.”

Alex believes the Israelis should have come to Palestine with a more peaceful and democratic mindset of coming together and building a society with a constitution and equal rights for all.

“Had they come with this attitude, we would not have had the Arab-Israeli conflict as we have today, and we wouldn’t have all the struggles and all the suffering and all the death and destruction in the Middle East,” Alex said.

His wife, Brenda Awad, is also a retired missionary, who taught in Palestine and Israel at Bible colleges.

“I see the conflict with the apartheid, the walls, the blockades, the roadblocks…You have two people living in the same land and claiming it each as their own, which is always hard,” Brenda said.

Today, the West Bank forms the bulk of Palestine with 2,183 square miles, while Israel claims 8,019 square miles and Jerusalem as their capital.

Palestinians are not allowed into Jerusalem, only seven miles from Bethlehem, without a prior permit. Obtaining that permit is “like pulling teeth.”

“A person may have a garden with an olive grove, and they cannot pick their own olives without a prior permit,” Alex said. “You can see the whole system of occupation dehumanizes the Palestinians and makes them like cattle. They have to go to the Israelis and beg them all the time for a permit just to do any daily routine.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 12.00.39 PMAs a “defeated” people, the Palestinians accommodated their invaders; however, Alex believes the Jewish people have not accepted Palestinian presence.

“They [Israelis] still think us as a thorn in their flesh,” Alex said. “They are not willing to give us equal rights and equal sharing of the blessings of the land.”

Israeli presence has created many frustrations for Palestinians, and as a result of the restriction and injustices, Palestinians have fought back.

The second Palestinian uprising against Israel, also known as Intifada, began in 2000 and continued until 2005 when the Awad’s lived in Jerusalem. During this time, bus bombings by Palestinians occurred frequently, posing a threat to their daily lives.

“My son rode the buses, and there was always that chance that something could happen, which was incredibly scary,” Brenda said. “In the Second Intifada, there were a lot of incursions and attacks, and we saw this all the time.”

Peacekeepers such as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Gandhi  serve as role models of non-violence for Alex, who believes that if Palestinians commit to nonviolence, their rights will come.

“Commit to nonviolence and the road to freedom may be long but ultimately there will be light at the end of the tunnel,” Alex said.

Alex believes violent attacks make the Palestinians look like terrorists in the eyes of the Americans because the media filters the news to portray them in this way.

“For every Israeli that is killed in this violence, at least 10 Palestinians are killed, but when an Israeli is killed, the media make big about him or her by showing their humanity,” Alex said. “When hundreds of Palestinians are killed, they are just numbers. The media doesn’t tell about the suffering and the agony.”

From Alex’s stance, media giants like the New York Times, the Washington Post, FOX news and CNN only tell one side of the story.

“The people who are reporting the stories are Israelis, and the American media gets their facts from the Israelis, so already the story is told with bias, even before it gets through to the American media,” Alex said. “I feel sorry for the American public because they don’t get it right.”

Palestinian newspapers like Haaretz or Palestinian News Network are less biased than American newspapers in Alex’s eyes because the information is coming from the source.

As a Palestinian, Alex has an eyewitness account of the injustice of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. By living in America, he feels that most Americans aren’t grasping the complexity of the conflict because of the filtration of information by mega-media.

Alex hopes to service “his people” by helping Americans see the reality of the dispute in Palestine, but both Brenda and Alex wait for the day to come when peace will preside for Jews and Palestinians.

“I desire a day to come where there will be one constitution for both national groups, and where they can share the land, the privileges and all the responsibilities,” Alex said. “A day where everybody in the land will think ‘let me live and let all the others live also.’”