I was thinking this morning when I was smoking and drinking my coffee. I was thinking about one word. You can take from this word many, many, many things: "It is not allowed." For example, it is not allowed for us as Muslims and Arabs to walk with girls in the street, because of our tradition and religion. Sometimes you are against all this tradition. You do not like this ‘It is not allowed.'
A different ‘not allowed' happens when people control you and don't give you choices. For example when I was young there was a time in camp, when they came, the soldiers said, ‘All the people are under curfew.' You know what curfew is? Now it is not allowed to go out, it is not allowed to go into the street.
One day they asked me what the worst part about the occupation is. I said ‘one small thing: it never lets you decide.' The occupation always decides.
I have to tell you a story. My father got married and had six sons and one daughter. He was so happy. He wanted to build his family. He was so old. In the Arab tradition if you have six boys you feel so strong, you know. And one girl. Ok. So he was so happy.
One day in 1979, I was just four or five years old, I saw Israeli soldiers in my house. I remember it to this day. They came and took my big brother to jail. My father started to think, "I brought six children into this world but not for prison. I want them to help me, to work with me, to earn money with me, to live..." Then another one, the second one: he went to jail the next year, and then the third one, the fourth and the fifth. All my brothers. Then my father thought, "Why did I have these children? For what? Not for Israeli jails, not to sacrifice them." In 1990 when I was just fourteen, fifteen, it was my first time to go to jail. That made all six of us in jail.
So it was the First Intifada, when I was in jail for the first time. I was there for three months, then I got out. And a second time. And I got out. For a third time, and I got out. A fourth time, and I got out. I was in jail for more than three and a half years.
It was in the First Intifada the Israeli soldiers were everywhere, in the camps, in the streets, when I was going to school, when I came back from the school. Some people, they threw stones at them. The soldiers arrested here and they arrested there, and you'd be in jail.
I was just really fifteen years old. At this age you have to be in school, you have to play in the garden, you have to be with your friends. When I think about America and other places, you look for a girl: "no no I want this girl." In our life it was different. When I was fifteen I was thinking about the occupation.
You cannot find out about jail until you are really there. You cannot explain without having had that experience. That first day they just put me in a small place: less than one meter. They called it something like a temporary investigation. They shouted at me and beat me. They sometimes let me stand for five or six days without eating or drinking without a bathroom without many things. Just standing in the sun.
I believe in myself. I can do it. It's ok. It's amazing to be there especially when you are fifteen years old. They put hands cuffs on you. You stand. Sometimes I did not know what the time was, whether it was day or night. I did not know if it was morning or afternoon. You are far away from the world. I was in this situation the first time for more than one month.
They just wanted me to say ‘I am a dangerous one and I want to do something against them.' I am not. I can't believe that. What is the maximum they can do? They can kill me. That is it. To suffer? I am already suffering in the refugee camp. To be hungry? I am already hungry. It is the same.
When I was in jail I was learning all the time: studying English, and Hebrew. I read many many books: history, religion, about Christians, Jews, Muslims, Koran, Torah, about philosophy, about Marx, about Lenin, about Descartes. Because we had a lot of time, we dealt with jail as a big university. I used the time. I did not waste it.
The last time I was in jail was in 1993. In 1993 they signed the Oslo Accords. The First Intifada was finished. I had to face my future: ‘The Intifada is finished. No more jail. Where is my university? Where is my high school? Where is my certificate? What am I going to do in my life?'
So I tried to work hard and tried to study. I failed. My mind, my thinking was far away from studying mathematics. ‘You have to learn this.' ‘No no I don't want to learn this.' In jail it was much better. In jail I got to choose. In Arab communities it is different from university in New York, Europe, and America.
It was so hard and so difficult to go from the West Bank to Jerusalem. It is not allowed. Again. It is not allowed. It is not allowed for you to be in Jerusalem because you are illegal. So I was all the time going through the mountains and coming back through mountains--so sometimes I was sleeping there in supermarket.
In 1997 I remember when my friend invited me for a meeting with Israelis and Palestinians. I just told him: ‘You are crazy. What?! I can't sit with Israelis. I deal with Israelis like soldiers, maybe in an investigation, maybe as intelligence agents, and now I deal with them at work, in the supermarket. They are not what we are."
So I sat in the meeting. It was completely strange for me. They wanted to hear, they wanted to listen, they wanted to talk with you. Not like with Israeli soldiers, or in an investigation. Not as intelligence agents or that you are working with them. No. They want to talk as humans.
The Israelis and the Palestinians in the group - its name is the Alternative Information Center - went to Germany in 1997 and spent one month there. We were living exactly where the war was between East and West Germany. I was in an airplane for the first time. I felt I was so close to God. Everything was very new and strange and I asked: ‘Hey what's going on inside?' ‘We are not in the refugee camp. We have nothing to be afraid of. We are not in the checkpoint but flying in the sky.' I thought about a butterfly, what exactly they feel like in the sky.
They took us to a big beautiful garden. For the first time I started to cry. It was a different kind of life that we have there and what they have here. So I started to cry. The chairman, the Israelis and the Palestinians ask ‘Why you are crying?' I told them this is my feeling. It is allowed for me to cry now. In jail we are not allowed to cry.
We started thinking about non-violence. Fighting against the occupation. We have to tell the Israelis. They do not know anything about us. We also have to tell the Palestinians. And tell the Americans, the Europeans and all the people in world that we deserve the same life they do. In 2005 I joined the Bereaved Families Forum. We are telling people. It is allowed for me to live.
It comes up all the time. Allowed and not allowed. If you just give in to these two words you become a crazy man and sit in a corner and cry. But if you deal with it then you can control them. Telling my story is a way I am active. To build a new democratic way. I believe in this way. I don't like to kill. I don't want to kill. I don't want the Palestinian people to die. Or to be killed for any reason. I want the Palestinian people to be free in a country.
In 2000 it was the Second Intifada. The situation became worse and worse with more blood. In 2002 all the Israeli soldiers were inside the West Bank and Gaza Strip again. It was reoccupied. In April 2002 my father, was killed by the Israeli army when he was working in Jerusalem and crossing back. Israeli soldiers started to shoot him without any reason. Without anything. He did not have any, any gun. He did not have any stone. He did not have any fault. So the hospital they called us at home and said there was a someone, a 62 year-old man with more than 60 holes in his body. His body was completely destroyed. They found on his ID that his name was Ali Faraj. My father. He didn't have a gun. Didn't have a suicide bomb. Just a human in the street.
There is no surprise in death. Death is normal. After all this experience you feel: don't cry. When I saw my father, I didn't cry. Inside myself I was completely destroyed. I said this, I said that, I was strong on my face, but inside I was so f-ing weak. It is bad to be like this, like an actor.
I had to think about the Israelis. They killed my father. I have to, maybe to, revenge. Maybe I have to kill the Israelis. But also I think about how that soldier killed my father not because he was my father. It was just because he was a Palestinian. So I have to fight with the Palestinians against the Israelis. I choose to fight the non-violent way. To tell them how much the occupation is bad, how much living in a camp is bad. How bad it is to live in these two worlds: allowed, and not allowed. So all my work since that time until now is to tell the Israelis the facts on the ground and to choose.
We are really working hard. But not to normalize the situation with them. For me normalization is agreeing with the occupation. I do not agree with it. I agree with myself, agree with my rights. We have to tell the Palestinians to really value our lives.
Last summer at a Palestinian-Israeli conference I led the Palestinian team. I said you have to learn how to talk and how to listen. When we have broken this ice between us, we can understand each other. We can feel each other. This is what I am trying to do. At the end I told them I don't want the two sides the Israelis and Palestinians to be like friends, to be like lovers. I want you to understand each other, not necessarily to agree with each other. Step by step we talked and at the end everyone said we did a good thing. I led them to understand this people, the Israelis and talk with them freely and show the Israelis that they are humans they have the right to learn and lead a normal life. It was hard to push the Israelis down to hear and receive this information, not just to send information.
We do not have a political solution but at least we have a dream to end this.
Before I thought about revenge and killing all the Israel soldiers. In the end they killed my father not because he was my father. His fault was that he was Palestinian. Nothing personal. I told them that when you throw a small stone in water it will make a small circle and then it becomes bigger and bigger and becomes part of all the water. This is what we want to happen. This is what we are doing.
I also told them a small story about the people that were living in the Republic. These people were living in the dark and only saw shadow images. I told them this story. If you want to stay in the dark, you don't have to believe in things. If you do and you want to see the sun, and the outside, you have to believe in yourself, wake up and go on and stand up.
My father is inside me all the time. Something you can't forget: yourself and your heart. He is a big part of my soul. He is mine. I can't forget myself.
Story Credit: Mazens story was edited from an interview with Rebekah Emanuel.