April 03, 2020
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The Man Who Brought The Mahatma To Palestine

In between all the violence, Mubarak Awad has slowly brought the Gandhian way to bear

The Man Who Brought The Mahatma To Palestine
The Man Who Brought The Mahatma To Palestine
Mubarak Awad, a bear-like man with white hair now, used to drive in from Jerusalem into the West Bank, where he would set down in town centres his pictures of Gandhi, his pamphlets and books by the Mahatma, like a village woman selling her mint. Seeing him sitting all alone in the heat, Palestinians would take pity on him, offering him food and drink, a place to stay for the night. "People would say to me, 'You are a pacifist. We are not pacifists.'" I met him in his office on the American University campus, remembering the seventies. A Palestinian exile, Awad teaches a course on nonviolence. "I told them, 'It is you who are passive. You are under occupation, and you are doing nothing'."

Awad did not hear about Gandhi till he was in his late twenties. He had to go all the way to Bluffton College in Ohio to learn from his professors about Gandhi. They were Mennonites, Christian peace activists like he would become. Back in Jerusalem in 1985, he rented a hall at the YMCA. He told the overflowing crowd, "We are under occupation because we choose to be under occupation. If we don't want to be under occupation, let's do what Gandhi did."

The next day, Israeli security forces threatened to close down the YMCA if Awad was allowed to give a second talk. The battle between the state of Israel and Mubarak Awad had officially begun. It was to end in a Jerusalem courtroom three-and-a-half years later, in 1988, when the Israeli high court sustained Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's order expelling him from the territory.

The Israelis were vexed by Awad because the language of nonviolence that he spoke was politically lyrical, unpredictable, even comical. He got Palestinian farmers to defend their olive trees with Gandhian methods (no violence towards soldiers, no running away, no resisting arrest.) He appeared uninvited on military bases to try to win over the hearts of soldiers. At his trial, he threatened to convert to Judaism if expelled, and return to Israel under the Law of Return.

He was to India once, on pilgrimage, to meet Abdul Ghaffar Khan. He wanted to meet a Muslim leader who believed in nonviolence, so as to set before the Muslims of Palestine someone they could relate to more than the Hindu Gandhi, or the Christian Dr King. "Khan was very old. Maybe in his nineties. He was lying down. He was very tall. Boy, was he tall! He greeted me with his eyes. That was all. He couldn't talk."

Awad talks a lot. At the end of his trial, he spoke these words to the court: "Uprooting me from my family, land, friends and culture is a disgrace. As a Palestinian, I have never hated you. I don't hate you now. I will never hate you."
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