Lives in: Jerusalem Was born in: Jerusalem Year of birth: 1957 Identity: Muslim, Palestinian, West Bank/Gaza/E. Jerusalem Type of work: Research and Development Website: Panorama Works at Panorama Interviewer Joline Makhlouf Date of Interview 2006

Walid Salem is the director of Panorama, the Palestinian Center for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development in East Jerusalem and author of numerous texts about the conflict. He was imprisoned by Israel a number of times in the 1970s and 80s for being an active political member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Walid joined Panorama after the initiation of the Oslo process, and has since conducted joint studies and activities with Israeli academics and peace groups. He also conducts training sessions in democracy, nonviolence and civil society building with Palestinian groups.

Walid Salem
"Nonviolence sends a message to the dominant powers in the world that our struggle is a popular one. It calls for the end of occupation. It is not a terrorist struggle that aims to destroy the Jews nor a threat to the stability of the region, as we are accused."
I was imprisoned for a year and a half while in university; 76 days of which I was in interrogation chambers--but I didn't confess. With all that, it took me eight years to finish my studies instead of four. After that I worked as a journalist in eleven newspapers and magazines for almost eleven years. All of them got closed down by occupation forces. At the time I was still politically active with Palestinian organizations that opposed occupation and all those newspapers and magazines had strong political agendas against occupation. The last time I was administratively detained was for a total of one and a half years in six months intervals.
This is part of my past and I have forgotten about it, but in 1975 I was detained for being a member of the political wing of the Arab Communist Ba'th party. The detentions in the eighties were for being charged with being a member of the DFLP [Democratic Front For the Liberation of Palestine], although I never admitted to it. In '91 I was charged with being a member of the higher central committee of the DFLP. According to the DFLP, it was considered a betrayal to admit you were a member, since it considered itself a secret movement. Admitting you were a member was considered a betrayal of your country and of the DFLP. Of course there were members that would confess, but the higher ranked leadership of the Front would never confess. I was considered one of those leaders, that's why I was committed not to confess.
[…]I was always involved in the political wing, I was never part of the militant wing; I never shot a bullet or learned how to use a weapon, which explains why my detention periods were not very long, relatively. The sum of the time I was in detention was five years, whereas the militant activists were detained for longer periods.
We [Panorama] started holding joint projects in 1997. This does not mean that we had no activities before. We had activities but most of them were with the Left wing, most of which wasn't Zionist. After 1996 we started thinking about becoming more open to Jewish groups that support Palestinian national rights, even if they considered themselves Zionist groups. It was then that the idea of joint projects began.
I found that there was a strong Israeli position against normalization. Normalization isn't rejected only by our side, but also by the Israeli side. This issue is problematic. For example, when the settlers claim that the Palestinians are strangers in this land, and that they should either live as strangers or leave, this is a position against normalization. When Israel claims that their basic identity is European, not Middle Eastern, they consider themselves to be in a position of "us against Arab culture," even against knowing about Arab culture, and this is a position against normalization.
 Obstacles & Challenges   
One of the problems of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation is that people from the West Bank can't participate in meetings. The only way to meet is via video conference or if Israelis come to Palestinian cities or towns. It is hard to meet with Israelis now because the Israelis can't go into West Bank cities and the Palestinians can't move freely.
  Personal Story  
Since 1974 I was a political activist in the Palestinian political parties. I spent five years of my life in prison. As a result of my time in prison and my political work, I started to discover, after 1994, the importance of working with the Israeli people. It is not enough for us as Palestinians to work against the Israeli people from the outside; we need to work with the Israeli people from the inside in order to achieve equality. We need to talk to the Israelis, because the Israeli media doesn't present a true picture of what is happening. We need to talk to the Israeli people and present to them the true picture of our reality and at the same time look at the reality from their side. We should be influenced by the other side as well as influencing them.
The challenges facing me in Palestinian society are the un-democratic political elites. The people are democratic, but the leadership isn't. My problem regarding democratic society isn't with the people, but with the leaders-- not only the PA, but all the leaders. One of the challenges for a national democracy in Palestinian society is democratization of the leading political powers in terms of their work and decision-making. If they are democratized, they will encourage social involvement and not presume that they should work instead of the people. If they are democratized they will start working in popular ways that are mainly non-violent. The challenges and problems facing democracy and popular involvement strategies are the political elites that are not used to sharing control and think that they should determine the agenda and make decisions for the people, not with the people.
Nonviolence sends a message to the dominant powers in the world that our struggle is a popular one. It calls for the end of occupation. It is not a terrorist struggle that aims to destroy the Jews and that is a threat to the stability of the region, as we are accused. Even the Arab countries are afraid of us and view us as a threat to the stability of the region. Our message is peace and a combination of joint meetings, the attempt to reach the Israeli street and the development of nonviolent activities as a substitute for the concept of violence.
I call my work a means of transforming the conflict, from a situation of conflict to a situation of no conflict.
Normalization means the transformation of the current relations with Israel into normal relations. Those who reject this idea claim that we shouldn't have normal relations with Israel in a less than normal situation of occupation, and therefore the normalization with Israel should be postponed to after the occupation ends. Some of these people say that we should have a long ceasefire with Israel after the occupation ends, but not normalization. People like me claim that normalization with the Israeli peace groups is very important for building the future normalization between the two countries and people.
Self Determination    
I want there to be a democratic Palestinian state. I want there to be elections in Palestine, but not only that. Elections are a form of democracy, but elections alone are not democracy. I want there to be no concentration of power in the hands of certain political groups. I want the provinces to have certain authorities. I want there to be an elected council and a parliament for every city or province, in addition to the general parliament of the country. This will prevent the concentration of power, and allow greater political participation by the people. Some call this decentralization of power and others call it vertical division of power. I prefer the second name. There is horizontal division of authority, which is the constitutional and legal division of power, and there is the vertical division of power, which means that the central authority gives certain power to the local authorities.
A new misunderstanding I discovered is that Palestinians are violent by nature. I discovered that the Israeli and international public think that we are a violent society. This belief is connected to the view that Islam is the religion of death - that it regards death as holy. These conceptions are wrong. Islam is a religion that regards life as holy. According to Islam life is given as a gift by God and man doesn't have the right to harm that gift. When a person kills another person he harms a gift given by God. There is a misconception among the international community that Islam believes in violence and killing. We have a misconception about the Israeli society that all of Israeli society is soldiers and settlers, and therefore targets for killing.