New Secretary General Anwar Daoud talks about NSWAS today and ventures his hopes for the future

Interview by Howard Shippin, August 18, 2000


How do you feel about being Secretary General of NSWAS?

The position gives me direct and indirect responsibility over many areas of life in the village. I must respond to the needs of the village members, especially new families who currently face serious infrastructure problems. I also feel responsible for how people on the outside see the village.

How does your previous experience in NSWAS help prepare you for the job?

I served several times on the secretariat. First in 1990, and last in 1998. And I have always been involved in various committees. Twelve years ago when I began to work in the administration of the Primary School, I came to understand how to manage the budget and other important things, such as personnel, and relations with the Friendsí Associations. No doubt this experience has helped me adjust quickly, since today I donít feel a stranger to the job. In fact, I have only been working for two weeks and people already come to me with expectations.

What items need to be attended to now, and what would you like to accomplish during your term of office?

The community faces many challenges related to its growth from a small community into a larger one. These are practical, social and ideological.

On a practical level, we have an urgent problem in regard to providing infrastructure to new neighborhoods in the village where houses are being built. There are new homes that are not yet serviced by roads, a proper sewer system, etc. Providing services to these areas is expensive and we do not have the means to provide them. The families do pay the bill for some of their infrastructure needs, but it is not possible to ask them to pay for central sewer lines, etc.

Today, having resolved the issue of the land with the Monastery, there is a large surge in new building. Today we are about forty families, and by the beginning of next year there will be more than fifty families in the village. Besides problems of infrastructure, such a large influx of new families may create a necessity to reconsider certain issues regarding the organization and administration of the village.

Today all members of the village automatically become members of the Association (Amuta). The Amuta is the body that manages the educational work of the community. The question is whether it is still desirable that everyone belong to this organization, when they may personally have no interest in, or understanding of, education.

We are now beginning to consider the growth of the village beyond the current master plan (which provides for 52 households). Our expansion plan, which should be ready within a few years, will provide an additional 90 plots for building. But there are still many questions regarding the allotment of plots for building there. Many of the members would like to reserve a place for their children to live. On the one hand it is natural and desirable that children who grew up here and went through our educational system should have a place in the village. On the other hand, if we allow every family additional plots for their children, there will be no room for new families. Those who have applied to join the village are constantly calling to find out how the process is advancing. The direction seems to be that about half of the plots will be made available for new families, and the other half will be reserved for the children of families who already live in the village.

Are you worried that as the village grows it may lose some of its original charm, coherency, and connection with its founding principles?

There are obvious advantages to growth and in some ways it is necessary. For instance, at present some of the children donít have enough friends of their age group. This means not only that they are unhappy, but that their parents have to cope with tension in the household. Economically there is also a stimulus to growth, since almost the same municipal functions are required for a small village as for a large one. A larger village can support better services and a richer cultural life for its inhabitants. Lately cultural and social activities have been weak, since many of the original inhabitants are tired. I am happy that many of the new families who have arrived this year are inclined toward art and culture.

As the village grows, we need to ensure that this is not at the expense of the basic conceptions and principles upon which it is based, and we should actively work to realize and maintain these principles.

How would you define these?

Mutual trust, a place for the individual, freedom to think and believe as one wishes, the right to organize, so that each group can look after its own needs; taking into account the other group, and most important not to hurt the individual; to give everyone trust and to be free of the suspicion that each wishes to hurt the other side.

Lately, with Boaz Kitaíinís participation in the beacon lighting ceremony at the Knesset on Israelís Independence Day, there arose questions about our ability to fulfill the interests of our respective national identities, and the possibility that these interests may conflict with the dual identity of NSWAS. How can we resolve this dilemma? How do you feel the interests of the Jewish and Palestinian residents can be best represented?

There is a simple rule that should be followed. This is that we should refrain from any action that is hurtful towards the other group. I may have my own opinions, persuasions, and beliefs. This is all right as long as I do not impose them upon other people, or commit actions that influence others in contradiction to their own wishes.

When Boaz participated in the beacon-lighting ceremony on Independence Day, he acted in a way that was in conformity with his beliefs and values. He felt that his participation honored the community. But if there had been sufficient time to discuss the issue with the Arab members of the village, he might have understood that they considered his participation was hurtful to them collectively. Most Arabs see this ceremony as a purely Jewish event. The beacons represent the twelve tribes of Israel. The ceremony memorializes soldiers who fought against the Arabs, etc. So the Arabs in the village felt that this is not an event in which Neve Shalom ~ Wahat al-Salam should be represented at all. Living in a community like NSWAS, we are constantly exposed to accusations that we are collaborating with the other people in ways that efface our own national identity. So the Arabs felt deeply embarrassed that a member of the village took part in an event that seemed to declare their agreement with the ideals and narrative of the Jewish side. This therefore caused a renewal of tensions that had not completely died down since the decision-making on the Tom Kitaíin memorial.

The incident of the beacon-lighting ceremony holds lessons for both sides. My own reaction proved to be so strong that this, in turn, hurt the other people collectively as a group, and I feel I must discuss this with my neighbors. After speaking with Boaz personally on several occasions since the event, I received answers that helped me to understand his point of view. Perhaps, if sufficient discussion had taken place at the right time, we could have avoided unpleasantness on both sides.

Finally, with regard to the ceremony, I would like to mention that this was not a issue where the Arabs and Jews of the community stood clearly divided. Several of the Jewish members happened to agree with the Arabs who opposed participation. It would not be proper for me to speak for them here. But the heart of the issue (for all of us) is whether NSWAS actually belongs to the national consensus represented by the event. My own opinion is that it does not.

The issue of compromise seems to be at the heart of the experience of living in NSWAS. How much do you think that living in a community like NSWAS involves change or compromise with respect to oneís own national identity or behavior?

There is no doubt that living in NSWAS requires one to make compromises. I feel that I personally have changed much over the years. Compromise can make us either weaker or stronger. Properly handled, compromise can actually strengthen national identity. If I consciously and willingly agree to compromise I am, in effect, strengthened by this. On the other hand, if I feel I am forced to make a compromise, the result is that I resent it and tend to blame the other side.

In living together as two peoples there are small compromises, which it is often proper to make, and larger ones, in regard to which there are, naturally, limitations. Over some things it is not possible for either side to compromise, without erasing their own national identity. Living in NSWAS requires us to understand and respect the inability of either side to make compromises on certain issues.

Besides the Jewish Ė Palestinian axis, many people in NSWAS have strong ideological considerations of their own. For example, I am on the radical left, and oppose all forms of militarism. I frequently speak out against the militarism that is inherent in our societies. I would like to see a world without soldiers. I donít want to see anyone die for a flag. When I speak to Jews about this I protest against the militarism that is prevalent in Israeli society. When I speak to Palestinians, I protest against the culture of militarism that is also prevalent in Arab society. I am not willing to compromise on these opinions, yet being Secretary General of NSWAS requires me to make a clear differentiation in representing my own positions and those of the community.

How do you feel about NSWAS as a community today? Is it healthy or unhealthy?

NSWAS is still quite a small community. In any small organization there are disappointments. There is always one group that feels that it cannot fulfill its expectations. In NSWAS today, we have members who are disappointed because they feel they have no influence, and others who do not agree with the way the community is managed. Sometimes this results in aggressive behavior. If we cannot understand where this comes from we should see how we can help our neighbors to promote their ideas. I feel that everyone here seeks the good of the community as they see it. Nobody has a monopoly on this. Though we may resemble other small organizations, we differ on one major point: We can't simply pick up our things and go. People invest their life-savings in building a house here, and they have nowhere else to go. This being the case, we should try to live in such away that our neighbors and we do not have to live with frustrations. When there are issues, we should talk about them immediately and not wait until there is an explosion.

One evening at an assembly meeting, certain persons called each other traitors. note  No one meant this. It came as a result of their feelings of frustration. We have to learn how to be patient with one-another, and not add fuel to the fire by making statements that hurt and cause further harm to our relations.

So how do you propose to deal with the situation?

We have already conducted some meetings that were intended to let people speak openly about the social situation in the community. However, these took place in the summer, when many people were away. In September we will begin more seriously.

We will establish a working committee to advance community-wide discussion. The committee will work with expert consultants from outside. It is important to mention that the community now has eight new adult residents who feel confused about the social situation. They too will need to take part in such activities. In September we will begin more seriously. It is important not to wait until there are problems, but to initiate meetings before problems develop.

How does the social situation influence the work of the departments?

In a small village like ours, everyone feels that they should have a say in the running of each department, and it is hard to make a separation between personal, social and professional interests. This will change as the village grows.

How do you feel about the relations between the departments of the village?

They sometimes forget that they should be working together, rather than competitively. I think this is partly a question of better organization in the village. The autonomy plan, by which each of the departments is supposed to be responsible for its own affairs, works only partly. The departments are economically reliant upon the village. The department heads donít want the community to interfere in the work of their departments, but, on the other hand, they come to the Secretariat whenever they experience a crisis. In other words, they want authority but do not take sufficient responsibility.

I want the general conception to be that responsibility comes with authority. Positions of authority should be filled democratically. If I ask the members if they believe the departments are democratically organized, many will criticize the manner of appointment of department heads. In addition, the boards of the various departments do not function as they should. As a result, rather too much depends upon the department head. The community is not kept sufficiently informed, and the village has little opportunity to oversee the work of the branches. I would like to strengthen the secretariat as a coordinating committee. Besides helping to arrange cooperation on fundraising efforts, the secretariat could help with other forms of cooperation, such as initiating joint projects. We have already conducted projects where the Primary School and the School for Peace worked together. They could conduct joint study days, such as on the subject of bilingualism. They could arrange together seminars for people outside of village. This needs trust. I think for now the departments have sufficient confidence in the new secretariat to allow it to help on such things.

Lately, the Secretariat is being called upon to consider issues of concern to the hotel. It is economically difficult to maintain a small hotel such as ours on a high level while suiting it to differing kinds of groups, such as the young participants of the School for Peace workshops, and hotel guests from abroad. The hotel management feels that the solution is expansion. On the other hand, some of the members feel that we should place limits. A large hotel, with noisy public functions, etc., may threaten the relative calm and tranquility of the village.

What about the formation of new departments?

It is legitimate for new departments to be established. Every new imitative should be supported, as long as it begins on a sound basis. There is a large potential, particularly among the new members, to do good work, and they seek ways in which to express themselves. We must make sure they can organize and begin to work. Every beginning is difficult, but I think eventually we will see a number of new departments of the village.

The Friendsí Associations raised various issues, such as financial control and responsibility, in the recent annual general meeting. How do you intend to address the concerns of the FAís?

I hope we will be able to strengthen the relations and reach agreement with them on how we can best work together for the good of the community. Together with the new Secretariat I will examine the issues raised during the AGM, and in the correspondence that followed. There are many things we will need to discuss. We have much to learn from the Friends' Associations, and I would like to thank them for their efforts. During my term I will work to ensure that the investments of donors are responsibly managed and that money received will continue to go to the intended purposes. The FAs will be kept informed and involved in every project during its stages of execution.

How do you see the position of NSWAS in Israel and in the peace process today?

NSWAS has always been at the avant-garde of the peace process. The village provides a secure environment where concepts that are still taboo and shocking to our societies can be discussed openly. Ideas that emerge from the group discussion in the encounter work of the School for Peace always seem radical or ridiculous to others at the time. But suggestions for the solution of the conflict made by young participants in these workshops 10 or 15 years ago, are guiding the negotiations between the leaders today. We must remain at the avant-garde, and constantly innovative, since we have unique opportunities to do this. For instance, NSWAS is well located halfway along the Ramallah - Gaza highway, which makes it a natural venue for meetings and negotiations of all kinds.

As a peace organization, NSWAS is not alone in the field. It works alongside many other organizations that are doing excellent work. The combined effect of these organizations is greater than the individual parts. But in spite of all of our efforts, I am afraid we may find that in another five years the peace process has not moved forward from where it is today. I hope I am wrong.

In Arab society there is a rising tendency to try to look after its own needs, rather than wait for the State to provide services. Similarly, the Arab minority seems less interested in cultivating contacts with the Jews. How do you see this from the perspective of NSWAS?

It is true that Arabs are establishing many new committees and groups, in order to try to meet the needs of their society autonomously. The Arab population feels it can be independent and not continue to depend upon the government, which has so often placed Jewish functionaries over them, and been slow to respond to the needs of our society.

This is a natural phase in the development of Arab society. It will contribute towards the establishment of greater equality between the two peoples. As soon as Arabs feel more equal, they will begin to speak as equals with the Jews. As long as the process is constructive, and does not become isolationist, it should eventually strengthen and be beneficial to both sides, because it will lead to the establishment of a more healthy society.

Currently, however, this process makes the situation of the Arabs in the village difficult vis-ŗ-vis their friends and relations outside. Whereas partnership is currently unpopular outside, we must continue to emphasize it here. We have to consider and work things out together, rather than try to think for the other side. We will continue in our own way to show that cooperation between the two peoples is possible and desirable, and try to promote a more equal and humane society in this country.

How do you see NSWAS five years from today? How do you see the future development of the village?

I hope to see the first college of the Peace Campus, the establishment of a high school, and perhaps other centers. I would like to see a situation where schools in the area will be required to send their pupils to participate in projects at our school. I hope there will be more equality between Hebrew and Arabic in the village, and dream that one day we will be able to conduct our meetings in Arabic as well as Hebrew. I would like to see the village growing in size, and hope that many of the residents will also be able to work here.