MEND Town Hall Style Discussion Project

Nonviolence in Palestinian Society: Palestinian Unity and Human Security

Preparation for the town hall style discussions project began in August of 2008, and the project
was completed in October 2009. Over the course of this year and half, MEND organized a series
of town-hall style discussions in eight cities across the West Bank, namely Tulkarem, Jenin,
Hebron, Nablus, Al-Izzariya, Jericho, Bani Na’im, and Bil’in. Unfortunately, the discussions in
Jericho and Hebron had to be cancelled due to the Israeli attack on Gaza and riots at the
University of Hebron (Hebron) and due to too few participants (Jericho).

The project was designed with two main goals to achieve:
1.        To promote the positive values of Nonviolence and Human Security in Palestinian society,
and as a result, to reduce violence in Palestinian society and increase human security.
2.        To empower hitherto marginalized sectors of society, especially youth and women.

It is important to note that this was not a training workshop, but rather a channel through which
MEND sought to enable healthy discussion and debate and to disseminate information about
nonviolence and human security through Palestinian society, so that these concepts would
increasingly become part of the general public discourse.

The primary beneficiaries of the project were the participants in the debates, while the second
beneficiaries included families, neighbors, and friends of participants. The viewers and listeners of
the broadcast of discussions over local, regional, and international media also benefited from this
project. Among those who will continue to benefit are those who read the publication about the
meetings, and also those who see the film.

Each meeting was opened with a brief description of MEND and its aims, given by the project
coordinator, Issa Asslan, followed by an introduction of the project as a whole, the speakers, and
the moderator. A booklet produced by MEND was distributed to the audience, which contained
information on nonviolence (definitions, a history of nonviolent resistance in Palestine, types of
nonviolent resistance, etc), fear management, anger management, teamwork, understanding our
opponents, exploring constructive responses to conflict, and many more facts and pieces of
advice relating to the subject matter. The booklet did not cover the specifics of the presentations,
but was rather used as supplemental learning tool to build on and apply the information given
during the meetings.

All of the presentations gave relevant information on the topics of nonviolence, human security,
and Palestinian unity, and were well-received by the audience members. After the speakers had
given their presentations, the audience members were invited to ask questions, make comments,
and raise their concerns. Many lively discussions followed the presentations, with responses given
by both the speakers and by other audience members, all while being overseen by the moderator.

Tulkarem, 29 October 2008

On Wednesday the 29th October 2008, after three months of preparation and planning, MEND
launched its first Town Hall Style Discussion aimed at actively promoting nonviolence and human
security in the West Bank. The event was organized by project coordinator Issa Asslan and Nour
El Deen Shihada, MEND’s Tulkarem coordinator, who has worked with MEND for the past six
years and is now an expert on nonviolence, involved in a wide variety of local and international
activities.

The discussion featured three talks by two professors and a human rights expert on subjects
ranging from “human security” and “human rights” to “personal development in Palestine”.
Dr, Hussney Awwad, a professor of sociology at Al-Quds Open University, started off the
discussion speaking about the core “needs” for human security. He addressed the wide range of
impacts that conflict has on society and the ways conflict resolution can be achieved.
The second speaker was Dr. Jamal Omar, also a professor from Al-Quds Open University and a
consultant to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. He focused his talk on the relationship between
human security and human rights in Palestinian society, and particularly on how the lack of these
impacts women and children. He stressed that human rights and human security are intrinsically
linked concepts, and that improvements in one will inherently lead to positive impacts on the other.

The third and final speaker, the Tulkarem Director of the (Palestinian) Independent Commission
on Human Rights, Sami Abu Shams, centered his talk on the notion that only once basic individual
needs are met can individuals fully contribute to the overall needs of society.
Throughout the subsequent question and answer session, members of the audience were
encouraged to challenge the speakers on both topics raised during their presentations and other
topics related to nonviolence.
The invited speakers and other audience members responded to these questions in a lively
discussion, which was skillfully moderated by Raed Qarud, the Public Relations officer at Al Quds
Open University. In total approximately 65 audience members were present, the majority of whom
were Al-Quds University students.

Jenin, 29 January 2009

Under the coordination of Issa Asslan and Suha Lahlouh, a teacher who has worked as the MEND
Jenin Coordinator for the last 2 years, MEND held its second Town Hall Style Discussion on
January 29th at the Commercial Centre in Jenin.

The meeting featured four speakers: Qadoura Mousa, the mayor of Jenin; Ayman Yousef, a
professor at the American University in Jenin; Najat Abu Bakar, a female member of the
Palestinian Parliament and representative of Fatah; and Kahlid Mansour, a member of the People’
s Party. The speakers covered a wide-range of information relevant to the concepts of non-
violence and human rights, making insightful and relevant contributions that reinforced the project
objectives. In addition to the themes of nonviolence and human security, each speaker also
stressed the need for political and communal unity within Palestinian society in order to effectively
respond to the crisis in Gaza and present a strong front to the international community. The
presentations provoked a dynamic and animated question and answer session. Throughout the
question and answer session members of the audience were encouraged to challenge the
speakers on both the topics raised during their presentations and other issues related to
nonviolence, human rights and Palestinian unity. In total nine audience members, two of who were
women, made 2-5 minute interventions. Most participants confirmed the need for political unity,
particularly between Fatah and Hamas, in order to bring Palestinians closer together in these
difficult times and effectively deal with the occupation. While most agreed that violence breeds
conflict and division within Palestinian society, some asserted that the Palestinian people have the
right to challenge the Israeli occupation with all means possible, including violence. Although
these audience members were the minority, the remainder of the audience was respectful and
tolerant of their opinions, though it did spark a debate about the efficacy of nonviolence. One
hundred and ten people were present, about 50 percent of who were women. A variety of media
were in attendance, including the television stations such as Palestine TV, Farah TV and Cebtral
TV, and the newspapers Al Quds, Al Haya and Al Ayam.

Nablus, 17 February 2009

The Nablus meeting took place at An-Najah University and was organized by Issa Asslan, Lama
Aslan, who has been a project coordinator and nonviolence trainer with MEND for 2 years, and
Nour Shehadeh, all project coordinators for MEND. Hana Aslan, who works for Palestine TV, acted
as the moderator during the discussion. The three speakers in attendance were: Basil Mansour,
Professor of Human Rights Law at An-Najah University; Mahir Abu Znt, Professor of Sociology at
An-Najah University; and Najat Abu Bakar, member of the Palestinian Parliament and Fatah
representative. Basel Mansour’s presentation covered human rights and human security and was
nicely complemented by Maher Abu Zant’s presentation on law and nonviolence. Najat Abu Bakar
gave her presentation on the subjects of Palestinian unity, human security, and the crisis in Gaza.
Each presentation lasted for around 20 minutes, followed by a discussion which focused on the
need for Palestinian unity and an end to violence. Approximately 25 people asked questions,
some engaging in lengthy discussions with the speakers. A member of the press began a
discussion about peace between Christians and Palestinians and preventing violence between
Hamas and Fatah, which garnered responses of all kinds from the audience.
Around 80 guests of all ages attended the meeting in Nablus, almost half of whom were women.

Al- Izzariya, 18 June 2008

Al-Izzariya is a city close to Jerusalem and has a large student population, as it is the location of
the main campus of Al-Quds University. In 2003, Israelis began their construction of the West
Bank barrier in the area, which cut off Al-Izzariya and the surrounding towns from East Jerusalem,
just 2km away. The ramifications of this process have been widespread. The wall separates
families, blocks routes for children to attend school, prevents vehicles from reaching the city
quickly during emergencies, and restricts access to healthcare in Jerusalem. As a result, social
issues are high on the priority list of residents of Al-Izzariya, and it is the site of many protests.
The protests attract members of the Al-Izzariya community and residents from surrounding
communities, as well as Isareli soldiers who often use force to control the situation. Discussions
about nonviolence and human security are crucial in this town which has found itself segregated
from its center of life by the West Bank wall to help residents deal with their situation in a
productive and responsible manner.

The discussion in Al-Izzariya was organized by Issa Asslan in coordination with part-time MEND
staff member Yacoub R’joub, who has been with MEND for the past 6 years and also works as a
consultant in the Palestinian Authority Court. This meeting was moderated by Mohammed R’joub,
who works for TV Palestine. The discussion featured a presentation by Jamal Rushdi, who serves
as the director of Palestinian Police Security for the Palestinian Authority. The presentation
covered the topics of human security, nonviolence, and social issues faced by the people of al-
Izzariya. Audience members then posed questions about the specific concepts presented, as well
as about the daily struggles faced by the Palestinian people. In total about 50 people attended
the discussion, with about 18% being women, and the meeting lasted for 2 hours.
Approximately ten men raised questions about nonviolence and human security, and only one
woman. One professor of a local college raised his concerns regarding the Palestinian Authority’s
role in providing safety for the people of the local community; he was especially concerned with
violence and drugs in the city. Al-Quds TV was in attendance to film the event, as well as a
reporter from Ma’an News.

Bani Na’im, 13 September 2009

The village of Bani Na’im lies just east of the city of Hebron in the southern part of the West Bank.
Despite its small size, Bani Na’im is an active community, though it is marred by settler violence
and family clashes.

This third meeting for the town hall style discussions was held during the month of Ramadan. This
meeting was organized by Issa Asslan, along with Islam Mannassreh, the project coordinator for
the Bani Na’im Charitable Society. It was moderated by Basel Manassreh, who works with Al-Quds
TV, and also gave a short talk at the start of the conference about the aims of the project.
The speakers were Khader Abu Alia and Saber Rabi. Khader Abu Alia is a Professor of Human
Rights at Al-Quds University, and gave a presentation on the topics of nonviolence, human
security, and Palestinian unity. Saber Rabi works as a trainer for various projects with both
Palestinian and Israeli NGOs and spoke about conflict resolution, education, and democracy.
Each presentation lasted for about 30 minutes and was followed by a session of questions and
answers, with most of the discussion focusing on conflict resolution and nonviolence.
The meeting lasted for approximately 2 and a half hours in total; there were about 80 people in
attendance and close to 25% of the audience was women. None of the women joined in the
discussion, but all of the men expressed a desire for more nonviolence workshops in Bani Na’im.

Bil’in, 3 October 2009

Since 2005, Israelis have been building the wall through Bil’in in an attempt to take land from
Palestinians in order to build and expand the settlements. Peaceful protests took place in Bil’in the
day before MEND’s meeting, making it a particularly useful conference for the people of Bil’in who
organize demonstrations on a regular basis. As in Bani Na’im, the violent responses from Israeli
soldiers to peaceful means of protest by residents of the area mean that the concept of
nonviolence needs to be reinforced in the community to prevent the town from falling into the
cycle of violence and help people manage in their environment.

The final event took place at 3:00pm, and was organized by Issa Asslan and Islam Mannassreh.
The meeting was moderated by Ahmed Abu Rahmah, who works for the Palestinian NGO Al-
Hadath Thaqafi. Four speakers gave presentations: Saber Rabi, Khader Abu Alia, Abdullah Abu
Rahmah, and Khitam Saffeen. Saber Rabi spoke again about conflict resolution and democracy,
and Khader Abu Alia gave his presentation on nonviolence, human security and Palestinian unity.
Abdullah Abu Rahmah, organizing member of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall,
spoke about nonviolence, Israeli violence, and the building of the wall. Khitam Saffeen is the
director of the Palestinian Women’s Society in Ramallah; her presentation covered topics related
to women’s rights in Palestine.

Almost every person in the audience participated in the discussion, as the presentations
addressed issues that are of particular importance to the people of Bil’in and that have made a
deep impact on the community. There were many questions regarding the wall being built around
the West Bank and through Bil’in itself, as well as about Israeli violence and conflict resolution.
Many of the parents in the audience wanted to know how they could help their children when they
are faced with problems like Israeli soldiers blocking their path to school, and the men wanted to
know how they could help to make a more secure environment for women.
About 75 people came to this final discussion, with approximately 20% of them being women. It is
likely that more people would have attended due to the topicality of the subject matter, but the
meeting coincided with the olive harvest. However, those who were unable to attend would have
been able to read about it in the media as Ma’an News was there to  cover the discussion and
share their ideas with their friends and family in private.