“Hope is a luxury we cannot afford losing. Especially women, if we lose hope, we lose the future of our children.” – Huda Abu Arquob
Born in Jerusalem to respected Palestinian scholars and educators, Huda Abu Arquob’s great-grandfather was one of the many Muslim Palestinians who took in and protected Jewish residents of Hebron during the 1929 massacre. “That story has not been properly documented,” Huda says, “perhaps because it challenges the simplistic narrative of Palestinians and Israelis fighting for 3,000 years. I’ve felt throughout my life that is it important to challenge these false narratives and to try and change the way we look at the ‘Other’.”
And that’s precisely what she’s now doing as an adult. Based in Hebron, Huda Abu Arquob is the Regional Director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), a coalition and network of more than 130 civil society organizations working in Palestine and in Israel on conflict transformation, peacebuilding and nonviolent direct actions. She is also a recognized leader in grassroots initiatives focused on Feminist Inclusive Political Activism (FIPA), and an advocate of UN 1325 seeking to increase women participation in decision making levels in Palestine and Israel. In 2017, Huda received the first-ever Laudato Si’ Award from the Catholic Pope in the Vatican for her lifelong commitment to peacebuilding and conflict transformation.
A teacher turned peacebuilder, she believes that the world has a wrong perception of Palestinians as an inherently violent, militant people and that this stereotype needs to change. “Palestinians are not violent by nature,” she says. “Most of us are determined to work together and we are determined to live together with Israelis. We’re the majority but we aren’t reported about in the media." While she admits that "not all Palestinians are eager to see the humanity in Israelis,” she insists that many grassroots organizations are using “the power of nonviolent resistance to regain our humanity. If we are a people fighting for our rights we should not in the process lose our humanity.”
For Huda, a sustainable peace solution to the current Israel-Palestine conflict lies not with political leadership at the top, but with internal people-to-people dialogues, particularly among women. Her life work revolves around building strong grassroots Israeli-Palestinian relationships as a foundation for lasting peace.
But she learned early on that simply fostering contact among people alone, without more collective healing work and social change education, does not transform conflict. A Fulbright scholarship brought Huda to U.S. in the early 2000s, where she did a graduate degree in conflict transformation and peace studies. While living in the U.S., she teamed up with a Jewish man to form Abraham’s Vision, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that brought together Palestinian and Jewish university students in comparative conflict analysis for a summer of experiential learning, including a four-week visit to the conflict-ridden former Yugoslavia.
“Unlike some programs that mix Israelis and Palestinian young people, we don’t believe that just having contact with each other is transformative—we don’t sweep our differences under the rug,” said Huda of the approach she and her co-founder took at Abraham’s Vision. “We believe it is important to understand social-identity and power dynamics of people in conflict. We put a huge amount of effort into healing collective and individual traumas before we position people to work together to resolve their conflicts.”
Upon returning to Palestine, Huda began to forge connections between Jewish and Palestinian people. Her goal is to tear down stereotypes and create a new language and imagination of new possibilities based on "sincere curiosity that strives to reveal what we share and what is possible." According to Huda, women, in particular, have a unique contribution to make in the peacebuilding process. "Women don’t have the ego-centric proposition for peace," she has said. Unlike some narrow-minded politicians, women “put their eyes on the goal and not competition."
Reflecting on life amid a longstanding and violent conflict, Huda says, “I refuse to be either an enemy or a victim. The helplessness that comes from feeling yourself to be a victim is paralysing but it was not in the nature of the women I grew up with; they were always fighting, adapting and progressing.”
Huda is the oldest of twelve children, and an aunt to twenty-eight (and counting!) nieces and nephews. Now residing in Hebron, she lived for eight years in the U.S. and has traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East.