A few years ago, as the director general of the Negotiations Affairs Department of the PLO based in Ramallah, I met with an American Jewish delegation. After an hour-long discussion, one of the participants asked me what I, as a father, teach my own children. I knew exactly why he asked this question, as there is a misperception that we don't do enough to instill a culture of peace in them. I answered him simply: I raise my children to be dedicated students, tolerant and respectful of the concerns of others, and good to themselves and those around them. Simply, I want my children to live a normal life like all other children around the world, without fear and hatred.
Palestinians have managed to transform themselves significantly from the days of Nakba in 1948, the total occupation of their land in 1967, and all the subsequent wars. We have courageously reached a conclusion that the two-state solution is the only viable outcome to end the conflict with Israel. We do not hesitate or shy away from recognizing the right of Israel to exist, and we urge Israel to recognize the right of the Palestinian people to establish their own independent state, although until today Israel has not recognized the state of Palestine and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. We accepted that our future Palestinian state will only be 22 percent of what used to be historic Palestine, a substantial sacrifice that Israel has yet to reciprocate. In the course of our political transformation, we also worked diligently to promote the culture of peace, tolerance, and coexistence as the alternative to violence, occupation, and oppression. This was no easy task to complete, especially with our younger generations, with whom the effects of the occupation resonate deeply.
On May 15, two Palestinian youths were demonstrating in the West Bank city of Ramallah to mark the 66th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba. Unarmed and posing no threat to the Israeli army stationed nearby, the youths, Nadeem Nawara, 17, and Mohammad Salameh, 16, were shot and killed in cold blood. The Israeli army initially denied that they had even opened fire at Palestinian demonstrators, only to later shift their story after medical teams confirmed that the youths were shot by live ammunition. Recent footage has shown, without a doubt, that the two youths were killed while standing, not even confronting the soldiers who were stationed more than a 100 meters away.
It is evident that these two teenagers were never a threat to the armed soldiers, who broke their own rules of engagement by firing at unarmed civilians. After the release of that video, Israel stated that it would investigate this tragedy. However, this investigation will likely lead nowhere, or to the standard verdict that the soldiers were merely acting according to regulations. Two young Palestinians were added to the large number of those who have been killed by both Israeli forces and settlers. Such killings went unpunished in the past, and nobody expects any condemnation from Israeli officials, who always preach to Palestinians but never admit their own responsibilities.
The killing of these two particular young men resonates very deeply within my family. On the same day that these young men were killed, my son Rashid, who is 15, came home from school distressed and distraught. When I asked him what was wrong, he burst into tears, which is very uncharacteristic. He explained that one of the young men shot during the demonstrations, Nadeem, was a close friend of his from Ramallah, and a friend that he regularly communicated with via Facebook, even after moving to America. My son had plans to spend part of the summer in Ramallah and was looking forward to playing basketball and spending time with Nadeem.
As a father who hopes for his children to grow up believing that peace is possible with Israel, it is difficult for me to explain to my children why Israeli soldiers killed two young Palestinians. At a time when Israeli leaders are constantly accusing the Palestinians of undermining peace and inciting against Israelis, their army is taking action on the ground, killing any opportunity for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. This is the price that both Palestinians and Israelis will continue to pay as long as the Israeli military occupation of Palestine continues. Palestinian youths, including my children, will not accept this occupation, which stands in the way of realizing their dream of independence.
I know that my task has become more difficult following the event of last week, and that instilling the ideals of peace and coexistence has become that much more complicated, but as a father, and a Palestinian, I still aspire to these ideals and actively work to make them attainable. However, if Israel continues to show a complete disregard for the human dignity of the Palestinian people and continues to violate their most basic human rights, it will be nearly impossible to convince the Palestinian people as a whole that Israel has any other objective than to destroy and dismantle Palestine as both a state and a people.