Jerusalem native Awad1 has been dispossessed at least three times during the course of his life. Born in 1943 in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Musrara,2 Awad had to flee his home in 1948 with his family after his father was shot and killed by a Zionist militia group.3 Awad was only five years old when he first lost his home and father, his original legal status as a Palestinian citizen, and his sense of stability.
Andrew Stawicki for the Toronto Star via Getty Images
Mubarak Awad: Lifelong Experience of Dispossession
Mubarak Awad, a Palestinian Jerusalemite, went abroad as an adult to study and marry and then returned to establish a center for mental health in the city of his birth. When he began advocating nonviolence, the state declared him a security threat, revoked his residency, and deported him. Awad’s appeal was an international case that became widely known, but that did not change the outcome. His case was a landmark one that established the foundation for the “center of life” policy.
After Israel declared its independence in May 1948, Awad, his mother, and his six siblings—the eldest of whom was 11 years old and the youngest only 40 days old—were forced to live on the streets of the Old City. “We had to leave our house with the clothes on our back or they would shoot us. My mother said that saving our lives is better than the house or anything we can take,” Awad explained (see Box: Nakba Childhood in Jerusalem). After they were living on the streets for a while, the siblings were divided among the different orphanages that were established to handle the crisis of the Nakba (Catastrophe). Two of his sisters went to Dar al-Tifl al-Arabi, a home and school for orphans that was founded by Hind al-Husseini, and Awad and one of his brothers went to Dar al-Awlad (House of Boys), an orphanage established by Katy Faris Nimr in the Old City.4 Meanwhile, Awad’s mother went back to college to finish her nursing degree. Once she graduated, Mrs. Awad began working at the Palestinian Hospital in the Old City, which is now known as the Austrian Hospice.5 Once she started working, she was able to bring her seven children together.
They lived in relative peace until 1967, when the 1967 War erupted and Israel occupied East Jerusalem. Once again, the family experienced upheaval and uncertainty in their lives. However, in the aftermath of the war, the Awad family remained in the Old City. This worked to their advantage: Israel conducted its census of Palestinians in Jerusalem, and the family, who were counted within it, received permanent-resident IDs and with them, legal status in the city (see The Census Story).
Nakba Childhood in Jerusalem
In the late 1970s, Awad also established the National Youth Advocacy Program (NYAP), designed to remove juveniles from correctional facilities and place them in a family setting. On its 20th anniversary, the NYAP produced a video called National Youth Advocacy Program 20 Years—The Mubarak Awad Story. The video was created to explain the life experiences that shaped its founder, Mubarak Awad, and prompted him to establish the program in 1978.
The video opens with Awad’s experiences as a child during the Nakba, and as such, offers insights into the experience of Palestinian Jerusalemites during the 1948 War and of Mubarak Awad in particular, who lost his father, his neighborhood, and his home, and was separated from his six siblings, all of whom were placed in various facilities. These early experiences shaped his world view and instilled in him the importance of compassion, nonviolence, and advocacy for the less fortunate. We share the video here for valuable insight into those early experiences, although it is framed around the NYAP narrative.
A glimpse into Awad’s early years as a child during the Nakba
Awad’s Work in Counseling and Nonviolence
After Awad graduated from high school in the early 1960s, he traveled to the United States in 1970 to study social work and sociology at Bluffton University in Ohio, a Mennonite institution. He earned a master’s degree in education from Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania and a PhD in psychology from Saint Louis University in Missouri. He married an American, obtained a green card, and became a naturalized US citizen in 1978. Initially, Awad did not have any problems with his Israeli permanent residency, and he traveled between the US and Israel with ease.
During his visits to Jerusalem, Awad noticed that the Palestinian population had experienced a great deal of trauma and suffered from mental health issues. He therefore decided to establish a counseling center for Palestinians in Jerusalem in 1983. However, he found that getting Palestinians to sign up for sessions with counselors was no easy task. They were not so concerned about their mental health, because they were overwhelmed by the immediate conditions produced by Israeli occupation, such as access to adequate housing and resources, access to education, and poverty. Still, Awad persevered, and the center became a training hub for Palestinian counselors. The Palestinian Counseling Center still exists today.
In addition to counseling, Awad’s other calling is nonviolent resistance. He spent years working on the topic in many capacities: doing research, writing, translating works into Arabic, and lecturing. His work led him to establish the Palestinian Center for the Study of Non-Violence, also in 1983, in Jerusalem after becoming enamored with Mahatma Gandhi and his work and the influences of Mennonite and Quaker religious philosophies in Gandhi’s life.
Awad’s commitment to nonviolence stems from a childhood promise he and his siblings made to their mother. After experiencing the Nakba, the death of her husband, and the fragmentation of her family, Mrs. Awad told her children never to resort to revenge and violence. According to Awad, she said, “The man who shot and killed your father doesn’t know he left me a widow with seven kids. So don’t do that to anyone.”
During the 1980s, before and during the First Intifada, Awad traveled all over historic Palestine to talk about nonviolence. His Palestinian counterparts and those in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) criticized him for opposing violence and armed resistance. Awad explained that he understood why some would resort to armed resistance and never stood in their way. His message was simply that there was another approach that Palestinians could take.
Revocation of Residency and Deportation
From 1982 to 1988, Awad and his family traveled between Jerusalem and the US, staying in Jerusalem for three to six months each year. In fact, from 1983 to 1987, he traveled there about 15 times.6 In 1984, he married an American, Nancy Nye. She later said that when they married, Awad told her, “I have another wife. I’m married to Palestine, and Palestine will always be my first wife.”7
Nye, a Quaker, was the principal of the Friends School in Ramallah for a few years. They lived near the Ambassador Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah during that time. “It was so lovely there, because we had big windows and could see the Mount of Olives from our home,” Awad said.
When he began his work teaching Palestinians about nonviolence, the Israelis began arresting him. For a while, during the mid-1980s, he was in and out of prison. In 1987, he went to the Ministry of Interior office in East Jerusalem to apply for a replacement ID, as his had worn out. There, he was informed that his application was denied. Eventually, then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir declared him a danger to the security of the state and put in motion a plan to deport him.8 In 1988, the minister of the interior ordered him to be arrested and deported.
Awad said he never realized that his residency was in jeopardy and admits he was a bit “naive” in thinking that having a permanent-resident ID would protect him. When the Israelis offered citizenship to Palestinian Jerusalemites in the late 1960s shortly after occupying the city, Awad—like the vast majority of Palestinian Jerusalemites (see Citizenship)—refused it because he had hope that a Palestinian state would be established during his lifetime. Despite all the losses Awad experienced, including being dispossessed of his homeland, he does not regret his decision not to take Israeli citizenship, because it would have given legitimacy to the very state that uprooted him.
Awad vs. the Ministry of Interior at the High Court of Israel
When Awad appealed his deportation order to the High Court of Israel in 1988, he knew that it would not result in a favorable outcome. Still, Palestinian and Israeli activists advised him to make an issue out of it so it would be documented and recorded. It was a tough decision, because Awad did not want to legitimatize the Israeli court system by using it, and he had no confidence that an Israeli court would help a Palestinian. However, he wanted to make Israel’s policies against Palestinian Jerusalemites known to the world. He made his feelings about the state and its bureaucracy known to the justices on the High Court:
I said I was born here before Israel became a nation, so you don’t have a right on me as an Israeli state and Jewish state. . . . I’m an Arab and I have no confidence that your court will be a just court. . . . If I was a Jew, I could stay as long as I want. Just because I am not a Jew, I don’t have a right to stay in the place where I was born.
In May 1988, as he was waiting for the court to decide on his case, Awad was imprisoned for 40 days and went on a six-day hunger strike. Immediately after ending the hunger strike, he was transferred to a maximum security prison in Ramla.
The High Court upheld the Ministry of Interior’s decision to deport Awad, making him the first Palestinian from East Jerusalem to be deported (all previous deportations were of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza). This was not surprising, as no appeal of a deportation order had ever succeeded to that point.9 The opinion in the case, written by Chief Justice Aharon Barak, was an extremely significant one in that it laid the groundwork for a new policy called the “center of life.” This policy came to be used widely to revoke permanent-resident status from Palestinian Jerusalemites in later years (see Precarious, Not Permanent: The Status Held by Palestinian Jerusalemites).
The Israeli authorities wanted to put him on an El Al flight to the US, but Awad adamantly refused to travel on an Israeli airline. Instead, they put him on an American airline and sent two Israeli police officers to accompany a chained Awad in prison clothes. However, Awad was friends with the then US ambassador to Israel, and unbeknownst to Awad, the ambassador had spoken to the pilot of the flight beforehand to explain that Awad was not a dangerous terrorist and had asked him to take care of Awad. As soon as the airplane cleared Israeli airspace, the pilot had the Israeli officers unchain Awad and put him in first class, while the police officers remained behind in coach.
The Awad Deportation and World Attention
Awad received a great deal of press attention because of his nonviolent approach to resisting Israeli occupation. That Israel would deport an advocate of nonviolence tarnished its reputation as the “only democracy in the Middle East.” Journalists and others wrote numerous pieces about him and his nonviolent approach. One headline described him as an “Arab American who advocates peaceful resistance against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”10 Another article referred to him as an “advocate of non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation” and noted that the deportation was carried out despite the objections of the US government.11 He has been hailed as the Palestinian prophet of nonviolence.12 Some have referred to him as the “Palestinian Gandhi.”13 Australian journalist Arthur Hagopian wrote that Awad preached Gandhi’s strategies of passive resistance and civil disobedience and quoted him as saying, “It’s the only way. . . . Give ‘em [the Israelis] hell, wear ‘em out.”14
Following his deportation, Awad made the headlines again when he claimed he would convert to Judaism so he could return to Jerusalem. He told reporters at a press conference in June 1988: “I was deported just because I am a Christian. If I were a Jew, I would not be deported.”15 This led to exhortations from leading Reform rabbis in the US to all 1,500 Reform rabbis in the US and Canada not to agree to convert Mubarak Awad if asked.16
At the time of this writing, Awad and his wife live in the Washington, DC, area, and he is a visiting lecturer at the American University. He continues to write and lecture on psychology and nonviolence, but he cannot travel to Jerusalem whenever he wants. Since 1988, he has been to historic Palestine twice. In 2018, faculty at the University of Haifa lobbied the government to allow Awad into the country so that he could teach a month-long seminar at the university. The request was granted. He also returned in 2019 for a short period. But each of these visits were facilitated by the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Although Americans technically do not need a visa to enter Israel, he was forced to obtain a tourist visa for each of his visits prior to traveling. Awad, a son of Jerusalem, can return to his homeland only with Israeli approval. Now he can only share stories of Jerusalem with his children and grandchildren from afar, because he cannot travel with them and show them the city of their ancestors.
The research for this case study was conducted in November 2020.
A neighborhood northwest of the Old City; it is now inhabited by Israeli Jews. It is just a 10-minute walk from Damascus Gate.
Mubarak Awad’s father never received a proper burial. He was shot and killed in his home and for some time their home was in “No Man’s Land.” Awad and his siblings tried to go back to the house and retrieve their father’s bones for a proper burial but discovered that their home had been bulldozed, and their father’s remains were nowhere to be found.
According to Awad, his mother was the one who pronounced King Hussein dead after he was shot and brought to the Palestinian Hospital. The men told her it wasn’t appropriate for a woman to announce the death of the king.
David Herling, “The Court, the Ministry and the Law: Awad and the Withdrawal of East Jerusalem Residence Rights,” Israel Law Review 33, no. 1 (Winter 1999): 67–105.
George D. Moffett III, “Decision in Deportation Case Will Affect Other Israeli Issues: Mubarak Awad,” Christian Science Monitor, May 10, 1988.
Associated Press, “Israel Deports Arab-American Activist.”
Jeff Stein, “The ‘Palestinian Gandhi’ Who Still Believes Non-violence Is the Answer,” Newsweek, August 12, 2014.
Hagopian, “Palestinian Prophet.”