As a child, JFK’s famous quote played on me: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” It was also a time when the older siblings of my friends were off to the Peace Corps, a service organization still active today that helps others help themselves. Even then I understood the value of giving to one’s community and the healthiness of sustainable service rather only rescuing those in need and rendering them dependent on the volunteers. I also liked how the Peace Corps emphasized a mutual understanding of another’s culture: World Peace with one encounter at a time. In the 1980’s, when Co-dependency Recovery came onto the self-help scene, relationships and families followed this trend of more evolved relating and mature giving.
My recent meeting with Abdelfattah Abusrour in Palestine showed me a man offering exactly this same kind of healthy sustainable service to his own people, with the long-term goals of empowerment and mutual cultural exchange. Abdelfattah, or Abed, is a Palestinian, born and raised in the West Bank’s Aida Refugee Camp. The UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine) created Aida Refugee Camp in 1950, sheltering Palestinian refugees who had been chased out or fled in fear from their surrounding villages after the UN Partition Plan of Palestine in 1947 and Israel declaring itself as a state in 1948. Aida started out as tents and now is a series of brick apartment blocks in a small area next to Bethlehem in the West Bank.
Immediately impressed by this bright, articulate man, I was not surprised to hear that he had first earned a scholarship to study at Bethlehem University, and then in the 1980’s, earned one of three available scholarships to study in France, where he pursued a Biological and Medical Engineering doctorate and eventually stayed on and worked in research. While in the cultural epicenter of France, his love for and involvement with theater and painting grew. However, with the stateless refugees in Aida heading into deeper despair and the endless violence that comes with, he felt called to come back, serve and eventually created the Alrowwad Cultural and Theater Society. “Alrowwad,” means “the Pioneers” in Arabic and this center is truly cutting edge for its mission and activities. Abed explained, “I started with the philosophy, ‘Beautiful Resistance against the Ugliness of Occupation,’ as a way to show another image of Palestine. But Beautiful Resistance is mostly a way to give children in refugee camps, with no playgrounds and green spaces, an opportunity to tell their story and hopefully build peace within, so they can eventually build peace with others. I believe if you are not truthful with yourself, then you cannot be truthful with anybody else. And if you are not at peace with yourself, how can you make peace with anybody else? We start with theater because it is one of the most amazing, powerful, civilized, direct, truthful and non-diplomatic ways to express oneself and build peace within. And hopefully these young people can grow up and believe that they can change the world and create miracles instead of needing to carry a gun and shoot others or explode themselves up. At the end of the day, we as parents or as human beings simply want to see our children grow up. We want to celebrate their lives and successes. When the time comes, they should be the ones walking in our funerals and not the other way around. No parents in the world want to live the day where they bury their own children, and we are fed up of burying our children. So the sense of Alrowwad was initially how to save lives, inspire hope and give possibility to our children’s beautiful expression as a way to promote peace in our communities. It would then lead these young people to believe that they can resolve their issues without the need to shoot or kill each other, or anyone else.” While talking with Abed, I was reminded of Steve Karpman’s downward pointing Drama Triangle, which depicts the co-dependent dance between three key players: the Victim position is at the bottom, the Rescuer or Hero is at one top corner and the Persecutor or Bully is at the other. Lynne Forrest terms it as the Victim Triangle, each role feeling victimized ultimately. The goal for any of us, regardless of whatever position we find ourselves in, is to get off the triangle. In order to do that:
- The Victim has to move to assertiveness, empowerment and problem solving.
- The Rescuer needs to come to a place of facilitating or coaching with trusting detachment rather than rescuing and caretaking in a co-dependent, controlling, disempowering manner.
- The Persecutor needs to face buried pain and shame that makes him or her lash out abusively, which usually eventually means grieving a disowned, unhealed inner child. Respectful, egalitarian relating follows, rather than the previously used domineering and humiliating approach.
Abed is clear and adamant that Alrowwad be a center for empowerment and equal exchange, not a charity case, nor a tool used for a donor’s own agenda. He clearly is not falling for the victim-rescuer dance; he is determined to not even engage this drama triangle at all. He shared that in the beginning of Alrowwad and its financial challenges, he was resolute and firm in serving with or without money so as to not compromise its mission. He aligns with no political party to avoid being subject to its agenda. He is also clear in its intention to be an active partner in exchanging with other international youth groups each other’s cultural heritage and creative expression. Abed generously gave me a long interview, a viewing of a documentary on Alrowwad filmed and edited by the center’s kids, and concluded with a tour of the extensive center. Shortly into the interview, it was clear that I was in the presence of an intelligent, astute, selfless, deep man in the likes of the nonviolent greats. He sees his role as one who provokes complacency and challenges violent lashing out by giving the youth and community viable tools instead. He stated, “We create changemakers so they help themselves, instead of getting used to things. If you practice violence, you lose part of your humanity.” Abed has understood the only way out of the vicious cycle of violence is nonviolent, beautiful resistance using not only theatre, but video, photography, animation, graphic arts, drawing, painting, a media center and a mobile Play Bus, bringing games, play and art to the communities throughout Palestine. Alrowwad even has its own Internet-based radio station as well as a women’s fitness center and the first girls’ soccer team in a refugee camp. The focus is on experiential, hands-on learning as evidenced by the young children and teens I saw cheerfully playing and learning around the center. Abed is not interested in static libraries that he terms “cemeteries for books.” The kids were either playing interactive games, working on computers or taking pictures with a state-of-the-art digital SLR. The atmosphere was upbeat, collaborative and enthusiastic – all cultivating the sense of belonging that Abed is committed to as part of beautifully resisting.
We as humans recognize healthy relating, life-affirming enterprises and a good leader. We are attracted to where trust wins out over fear, where hope wins out over despair. I was immediately moved to support Abed and Alrowwad and I’m in good company. Friends of Alrowwad in the US, UK, Norway, Sweden, France and Germany have eagerly supported Alrowwad to support itself, as well as creating joint youth partnerships and exchanging creative art forms. What’s next? Abed is aiming to build a larger space to manufacture interactive games and create a training center, so that games and creative skill building become an integral part of the educational process. With the goodwill he clearly possesses, I have full faith that he will attract the resources necessary to manifest this next stage of training dynamic changemakers in his community and beyond.
For more info: www.alrowwad.org/en (in Arabic and French, also)
Part 2 of this blog series will follow soon, where I interviewed key leaders of the Parents’ Circle in Jerusalem, composed of Palestinians and Israelis who have lost a direct family member in the conflict. Instead of turning to vengeance and violence, these bereaved families take on the delicate challenge of grieving together, committed to stopping the dead-end cycle of violence.