September 12, 2013
A Middle Way?
By Mohammed Dajani Daoudi
Founder, Wasatia Movement

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has spawned extremism on both sides. Former Palestinian militant Mohammed Dajani Daoudi argues that voices for moderation, not violence, are the real revolutionary forces for peace.

Moderation is not normally thought of as a revolutionary concept, but viewed within the context of the stubbornly intractable conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, it is precisely that. It is not the militant, extremist voices on either side that are revolutionary. Their refusal to seek a middle way, and their self-serving campaigns to demonize each other only lead to more conflict, not change.

It is those who call for moderation and understanding as the basis for a fairly negotiated two-state solution who are the true revolutionaries.

Contrary to what you might gather from the news headlines, there is an expanding community of Palestinians whose call for moderation is garnering widespread attention and support under the banner of a movement called Wasatia.

I founded Wasatia in 2007 with the goal of advocating moderation as the only effective path towards a final, peaceful resolution of the conflict. While such an approach could lead to a compromise solution, it will rest on very shaky ground unless it is founded on a sea change in attitudes. This is what Wasatia is trying to create.

To those of us in the movement, wasatan means justice, balance, moderation, middle ground, centrism, and temperance.

The movement’s name derives from the term wasatan, which appears in a verse in the second chapter of the Koran. To those of us in the movement, wasatan means justice, balance, moderation, middle ground, centrism, and temperance. Other faiths, particularly Judaism and Christianity, uphold the same values, so there is fertile ground for interfaith understanding and peaceful co-existence.

But it is not merely moderation as a religious principle that should replace the radicalizing rhetoric of militant extremists. At its core, moderation is a deeply human principle – it is a willingness to see those on the other side of the conflict not as “the enemy,” but as fellow human beings, shaped by different histories but all looking towards the day when they can live in peace and security.

As a Palestinian university student in the humiliating aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, I espoused guerilla warfare as the only possible way to achieve justice for my people. But I have had several enlightening experiences since then – particularly as I pursued post-graduate studies first in England and then in the United States – and, viewing the situation from a distance and with new knowledge, I have come to reject any notion of violence as an answer to the problem.

More recent experiences have strengthened my belief that at a human level, where bigotry and hatred are replaced by moderation, empathy, and understanding, there exists a common desire for peaceful accommodation.

In late 2006, during the month of Ramadan, I observed from the balcony of my house, which overlooked the Dahiet Al Barid/Al Ram checkpoint, a situation that had the potential to escalate into violent confrontation. Hundreds of Palestinians from the West Bank were trying to pass into Jerusalem to pray in Al Haram al-Sharif and Al Aqsa Mosque. The Israeli soldiers pushed them back and threw tear gas grenades at them, but to no avail.

I was waiting for gunfire to erupt when suddenly the volatile standoff appeared to dissipate. I later learned that the leading officer had agreed to a compromise. Buses were arranged to take the Palestinians, who agreed to hand over their ID cards, into Jerusalem to pray. Afterwards, the buses brought them back to the checkpoint, where their cards were returned.

It struck me as very significant that these Palestinians, religious though they clearly were, had favored a negotiated solution.

It struck me as very significant that these Palestinians, religious though they clearly were, had favored a negotiated solution. Had they been extremists, they would have escalated the event, hoping that it would precipitate a violent clash that could then be used to further their narrative of a demonic Israeli enemy.

On their part, the Israelis had recognized the Muslim faithful for what they were: religious yet moderate people.

It was then that I realized that there was no group representing the religious moderates in Palestine. A few months later, I founded Wasatia.

We know that achieving our goals will take time. We have to overcome the malevolent influence of the religious militants, their distorted interpretations of the Koran, and the deeply ingrained attitudes and prejudices thus engendered, particularly among the poor, young, and uneducated. But we will continue to promote our message of moderation, as we are confident it is the key to a much brighter future for all sides.

Photo credit: Nasser Ishtayeh/Associated Press

Mohammed Dajani DaoudiProfessor Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi is Founder of the Wasatia movement of moderate reform, and Head of the American Studies Graduate Program at al-Quds University in Jerusalem.