Sami Awad’s vocation is to tear down walls in the Middle East. As executive director of the Holy Land Trust, based in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Awad works to build bridges between Palestinians and Israelis—and between Christians, Muslims, and Jews—as a necessary path to peace in the region. He was interviewed by Sojourners editor Jim Rice and associate editor Molly Marsh this winter while Awad visited Washington, D.C., to address a gathering of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding. (Click here to read the original interview ).
Share with us about the peace-building programs that you’re starting with young students. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Yes, the peace-builders program is a very unique program, where we engage in working with teachers in the Palestinian school systems to teach them how to build the character of the child to be a nonviolent character, to understand the power of nonviolence that is within all of us. It starts very simply with just teaching children basic skills on how to resolve internal conflicts that they face within the school system, with their schoolmates and so on. But it builds more and more with the child as they grow up in that system. The whole idea is based on training and preparing teachers to engage in this work. It’s very easy for us, for example, to go to a school and say, we’re going to teach nonviolence and conflict resolution. The children will not really get anything out of that. [They’ll think] this is a class that they don’t have to take an exam on, so they don’t even have to pay attention to it. But for us it’s working with an entire school system, including the principal, the janitors, the administrative staff, and the teachers, in how they deal and interact with their child in every little thing that they do, that either promotes violence or nonviolence inside the child. We’re seeing tremendous success from this program in the schools that we’re working with. We’re hoping, at one point, to make this a national program that all teachers will have to take part of to take this training as they go into their school systems.
What can North American Christians do to support your work?
Well, the first and most important thing is we want people to come and see. We have a program called the Palestine Summer Encounter which are tours for the American Christian community. They can come and experience again the beautiful, historic, and spiritual sights of the Holy Land, but begin to see what’s going on now, and meet with the local community, and sleep with local Christian families, for example, in their homes. [They can also] visit different organizations, Palestinian and Israeli organizations, that are working for peace. We actually even take them and visit settlements, to hear the story of what the settlers have to share, because they have a narrative that, for me, also needs to be addressed. We cannot just deny that story from being told. So, the most important thing is to come and to visit and to see what’s going on. The second thing is they need to engage in communicating the story to their congregation, to their families, to their place of work. It’s not just about writing to your member of Congress or sending them a fax, but it is how you share more and more of your experience with people around you, and begin creating sort of change in your own community that really has the greatest effect. So, we want people not to feel sorry for the Palestinians, or to feel pity for the Palestinians, but to say there are real possibilities in Palestine to achieve peace and to work for peace. And, as they share their stories, we are seeing more and more people that now want to come and visit, and more and more people who say, yes, we can help in changing the situation in the Middle East and in Palestine.
Molly Marsh was associate editor at Sojourners when this article appeared. Jim Rice is editor of Sojourners.