Our friend, Aziz Abu Sarah


Aziz Abu Sarah

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Aziz Abu Sarah - Wikipedia
Aziz Abu Sarah
Born1980 (age 40–41)[1]
al-EizariyaJerusalem
OccupationTour operator, journalist
Known forPeace activism, international conflict resolution

Aziz Abu Sarah (Arabic: عزيز ابو سارة‎, Hebrew: עזיז אבו סארה‎; b. 1980) is a Palestinian peace activist, journalist, social entrepreneur and politician.

After watching his brother die of internal injuries subsequent to being released from an Israeli jail following a year-long detention for stone throwing, Abu Sarah first turned to anti-Israel political writing. After high school, he learned Hebrew and joined an Israeli-Palestinian families bereavement organization, and began lecturing against violent activism in schools.

Abu Sarah co-founded the alternative tour company Mejdi with his Jewish friend Scott Cooper, which gives different perspectives on any given point of interest to tourists in various multi-cultural locales. He later received recognition for his conflict resolution work in such disparate places as Colombia and Afghanistan. He has advocated for better political representation and living conditions for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem through his association with political advisor Gershon Baskin.

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Early life[edit]

Abu Sarah was born in al-Eizariya, a town in the West Bank, to a Muslim family, the youngest of seven children. His father ran a produce import-export company with neighboring Arab countries.[2] As a youth growing up during the First Intifada, he threw stones at passing Israeli cars “because we were bored, with nothing to do.”[1] His first stone was accidentally thrown at a neighbor’s car.[2] The only Jews Abu Sarah knew of were the soldiers he dodged at Israeli checkpoints, and Israeli settlers.[1]

When Abu Sarah was 9, his older brother Tayseer was arrested from home by the Israel Defence Forces on suspicion of stone throwing and detained for almost a year.[2] His brother died from internal injuries a few weeks after being released from custody, from what the family believed he received under torture in an Israeli prison.[3]

The family moved to nearby East Jerusalem when Abu Sarah was 16 due to his difficulty in obtaining an Israeli identity card in al-Eizariya.[2] He attended the Al Rashidiyeh School, and soon after joined the Fatah youth movement, which had a strong presence at the school.[2] Abu Sarah refused to participate in the required Hebrew language instruction out of spite.[1] As editor of the youth organization’s magazine, he contributed many angry and vengeful articles.[1] He wrote political pamphlets, a crime that would have gotten him 6 months imprisonment under the Israeli Civil Administration.[2]

After finishing high school, Abu Sarah enrolled in an ulpan (Hebrew language school) on King George Street after realizing the career limitations of not understanding the language. There for the first time he began getting to know some Israeli Jews.[2] He visited Yad Vashem, walked through a Haredi neighborhood and attended a Christian Bible college to obtain different perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[2] Urged on by a family friend, he attended lectures with his parents sponsored by The Parents Circle-Families Forum, which featured Israelis and Palestinians who were suffering from loss of family members due to the conflict. He would later become strongly associated with the Forum.[1]

Activism[edit]

I believe that if you’re not doing something, then you accept reality, and if you accept reality, then you agree with the fact that the only solution is for us to keep killing each other. It’s hard for me to understand how you can accept something like that. One should do whatever he or she can to change the situation. Even if there is a tiny bit of hope, I think it is better to try to do something than sit there and do nothing.

-Aziz Abu Sarah[1]

Abu Sarah has been described as being both a Palestinian peace activist, and a Palestinian patriot and nationalist.[4]

To illustrate the impact of the death toll as a result of the Second Intifada, Abu Sarah helped arrange for 1,200 coffins (the number of casualties on both sides) draped with Israeli and Palestinian flags to be displayed in Rabin Square. The authorities mostly scuttled the event, but it was later successfully carried out in front of the Headquarters of the United Nations in New York City.[1] He was instrumental in initiating a free telephone line for Israelis and Palestinians to communicate with each other and to leave voice mails, amounting to 500,000 calls in total. The program was later expanded through the internet. He has appeared at over 1000 school venues on behalf of the Families Forum, lecturing to 30,000 people.[1] Later as a TED fellow, he has lectured at venues in the United States and around the world.[5]

Abu Sarah is a former co-executive director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, an arm of George Mason University‘s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.[3] He coordinated the group’s work in Islamic countries such as Afghanistan and Syria.[2]

Professional career[edit]

Journalism[edit]

Abu Sarah hosted Changing Directions, a program broadcast on the All for Peace radio station. The format revolved around interviews of members of the Bereaved Families Forum, and sought to find out how the respondents changed their outlook to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a result of experiencing tragedies. The station was shut down by the Israeli government in November 2011.[1]

As a National Geographic Explorer, Abu Sarah hosted the 4-part web series documentary Conflict Zone in 2013, featuring perspectives from both sides of the conflict.[5][2] He has written columns for The New York TimesHaaretzThe Jerusalem Post,[6] The Washington Post,[7] +972 Magazine[8] and provided analysis on programs broadcast on CNNFox News and al Jazeera.[6]

Tourism[edit]

After studying tourism management, Abu Sarah founded his own tour company. Through the course of this work he met Marc Gopin of George Mason University, who inspired him to turn the company into a social entrepreneurship.[5] In 2009, Abu Sarah, together with business partner Scott Cooper, founded Mejdi, an enterprise that offers alternative tours for Jews, Muslims and Christians on both sides in the conflict zone.[9] Each tour is dispatched with two tour guides, one Jewish and one Palestinian, with each giving his own historical perspective. The model was so successful that it spawned similar operations in Vietnam, Turkey, Colombia, Ireland and other places experiencing cultural conflict.[5] The company partners with National Geographic Expeditions. Gopin helped get Abu Sarah his start in international conflict resolution work.[2]

Political career[edit]

When all you do is boycott the elections, you’re doing Israel a favour. You’re giving Israel a blank check to do whatever it wants in our city.

-Aziz Abu Sarah[10]

In 2018, Abu Sarah started a campaign to be the first Palestinian since 1944 to become elected mayor of Jerusalem.[11] At first he planned to run together with his political adviser Gershon Baskin on a joint Israeli-Palestinian list, but this later changed to an all-Palestinian list called Al-Quds Lana (Jerusalem is Ours).[12] The party did not hold large political rallies or public town halls due to fear of harassment from hardline community opponents, so instead they met with local committees, teacher’s groups, students, and communities in closed door meetings.[8] While some Palestinians gave their support, others called him a traitor, with some pelting Abu Sarah with eggs at a speech he gave outside Jerusalem city hall. The Palestine Liberation Organization has historically discouraged Palestinians from participating in Israeli elections because they claim it legitimises the occupation.[10] The Palestinian Authority had already appointed its own governor of Jerusalem, Adnan Gaith, who said “We tell Aziz Abu Sarah, if you want to become the mayor of Jerusalem, you should wait until Jerusalem becomes the capital of the Palestinian State.[13]

Israeli law forbids Palestinians from East Jerusalem such as Abu Sarah who are not Israeli citizens from running for office.[14] He planned to sue to obtain this right in the Supreme Court of Israel.[10] He asked, “If Israel really claims to be a democracy then how is it that 40 per cent of a city (the Palestinians) cannot hold the most important job?”[13]

On 25 September 2018, Abu Sarah dropped out of the race. He cited an Israeli threat to revoke his Jerusalem resident I.D. on the grounds that most of his time was being spent outside of Jerusalem, and with his tour company.[15] He was also concerned about opposition from Palestinian election-boycott activists who were “applying strong pressure on our candidates and their families” to end their campaign.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Abu Sarah divides his time between Virginia and Wadi al-Joz, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem.[10] He speaks Arabic, Hebrew and English fluently, and enjoys country music.[3]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Books and publications[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j Interview. Aziz Abu SarahJust Vision. Retrieved 3 June 2019
  2. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k Steinberg, Jessica (12 January 2015) “What Aziz Abu Sarah Learned in Hebrew School”The Times of Israel. Retrieved 3 June 2019
  3. Jump up to:a b c Profile. “Aziz Abu Sarah”National Geographic. Retrieved 3 June 2019
  4. ^ For peace activist, see Salopek, Paul (16 May 2014) “Vortex: Walking Jerusalem”National Geographic. Retrieved 4 June 2019.
    For patriot and nationalist, see Baskin, Gershon (12 September 2018) “Encountering Peace: Why I Support a Palestinian List in Jerusalem”The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 5 June 2019
  5. Jump up to:a b c d Staff. (22 April 2016) “How Can Tourism Promote Peace in The Middle East?”npr. Retrieved 3 June 2019
  6. Jump up to:a b c Staff. “National Geographic Learning Realizará en Argentina dos Conferencias Sobre Cómo la Educación Tiene el Poder de Resolver Conflictos, a Cargo del Reconocido Explorador de National Geographic y Colaborador de TED, Aziz Abu Sarah”America Learning Media (in Spanish). Retrieved 4 June 2019
  7. ^ Zonszein, Meirav and Abu Sarah, Aziz (7 December 2017) “Israel already controls Jerusalem. Trump’s speech only confirmed that.”The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 June 2019
  8. Jump up to:a b c Iraqi, Amjad (28 September 2018) “‘This is how you change the status quo’: Rethinking the Palestinian boycott of Jerusalem elections”+972 Magazine. Retrieved 3 June 2019
  9. ^ Margit, Maya (10 July 2018) “East Jerusalem’s Muslim Tourist Boom”themedialine.com. Retrieved 4 June 2019
  10. Jump up to:a b c d Ashly, Jaclynn (15 September 2018) “Aziz Abu Sarah Wants to be Mayor of Jerusalem and is Suing IsraelAl Jazeera. Retrieved 3 June 2019
  11. ^ Hasson, Nir (6 September 2019) “Not an Israeli Citizen, East Jerusalemite Sees His Mayoral Run as Part of ‘Palestinian Struggle'”Haaretz. Retrieved 3 June 2019
  12. ^ Kuttab, Daoud (27 April 2018) “Israeli, Palestinian Candidates Share Electoral List in Jerusalem First”, Al-Monitor. Retrieved 6 June 2019
  13. Jump up to:a b Tlozek, Eric (27 September 2018) “‘Some See me as a Hero or a Traitor’: Palestinian Candidate Withdraws from Jerusalem Mayoral Race Amid Threats”Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 3 June 2018
  14. ^ Brennan, David (5 September 2018) “Palestinian Journalist Declares Jerusalem Mayoral Run: “We Will Stand For Our Right to Be Here'”Newsweek. Retrieved 4 June 2019
  15. ^ Staff. (25 September 2018) “Palestinian Activist Drops Out of Jerusalem Mayoral Race”The Times of Israel. Retrieved 3 June 2019
  16. Jump up to:a b c d e f “Aziz Abu Sarah”, American Friends of Combatants for Peace. Retrieved 4 June 2019

External links[edit]

  • Conflict Zone, National Geographic Series, YouTube
  • For More Tolerance, We Need More…Tourism?, TED talk by Aziz Abu Sarah
  • [1], “Revolutionizing Education: Building Peace in a Divided World” – Alianza Cultural Uruguay – Estados Unidos.
  • [2], From Revenge to Reconciliation – Nat Geo Live, YouTube
  • [3], “From Extremism to Inclusion” – The 4th IPCRI forum for 2016
  • [4], NGL presents Voices with Aziz Abu Sarah
  • [5], Interview with Aziz Abu Sarah – TESOL COLOMBIA
  • [6], UN Vienna Global Forum 2013 recognizes peace activist Aziz Abu Sara
  • [7], Aziz Abu Sarah: How can travel change the world

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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