16.10.2003Two-Fold Motivation: Anger and HumourThis year, Nabila Espanioly shared the international Aachen Peace Prize with the Jewish-Israeli historian and peace activist Reuven Moskowitz. Espanioly has been an energetic campaigner for peace between Israel and Palestine on the basis of the two-state solution.
Award ceremony "If you've got an itch, you have to scratch it yourself." This Arab proverb sums up Nabila Espanioly's outlook on life. Don't accept the role of the victim; take active measures to change things for the better; use your strength! This is what she demands of herself, as a Palestinian citizen of Israel and as a woman in Arab society. And so, for more than three decades now, the psychologist has been an energetic campaigner for the civil rights of the Palestinian minority in Israel; for peace between Israel and Palestine on the basis of the two-state solution; and for equal rights for women.
This year, Nabila Espanioly shared the international Aachen Peace Prize with the Jewish-Israeli historian and peace activist Reuven Moskowitz. She was given the prize in recognition of her efforts to promote peace and human rights in the Middle East. After the awards ceremony in early September, she was invited to Bonn by the Israel/Palestine Working Group. Martina Sabra took the opportunity to conduct a lengthy interview with Nabila Espanioly, who studied in Bamberg (among other places), and who speaks fluent German.
A two-fold motivation: anger and humour
In Bonn, she had spent two and a half hours reporting on the Middle East conflict, and most of the audience would happily have listened to her for longer. Despite decades of often nerve-wracking attempts to promote a just solution for both Israelis and Palestinians, Nabila Espanioly has never lost her highly infectious sense of humour. But another source of her motivation is anger : "What keeps me going is my rage. I am often furious." She says she was brought up to respect other people's human rights: "These values were communicated to me by my parents, by my teachers, such as the poet Tawfiq Zayyad, and - last, not least - by my Christian upbringing."
After receiving her award in Aachen, Nabila Espanioly accepted the invitation from the Arbeitskreis Israel-Palästina to speak in Bonn. She has known and admired her co-prizewinner, the Jewish Israeli Reuven Moskowitz, for many years: "We have often worked together; for example, when he accompanied groups on educational trips to "At-Tufula", our centre in Nazareth, so that these visitors could acquire information on the difficult situation of the Palestinians in Israel. And we often teamed up to organise peace demonstrations in Israel and the occupied territories."
Second Palestinian-Israeli duo to win peace prize in Germany in 2003
Nabila Espanioly and Reuven Moskowitz are the second Palestinian-Israeli duo to receive a high-profile peace price in Germany this year: in June, the world-famous Palestinian poet Machmud Darwisch and the Jewish-Israeli psychoanalyst Dan Bar-On were awarded the Erich Maria Remarque Prize by the city of Osnabrück. How does it feel for a Palestinian to receive a peace prize in Germany, while her compatriots in the Israeli-occupied territories face an increasingly hopeless situation, and while the German government does little to support the Palestinians' right to determine their own future and achieve a viable Palestinian state? Nabila Espanioly responds with a smile: "The Aachen Peace Initiative, which awards the prize, is one of only a few groups in Germany that are trying to ensure the voices of the others are also heard. And that's why I have no problem accepting the prize."
She certainly doesn't feel that the prize is a kind of alibi: "But I do feel it's too much of an honour for me alone, and that's one reason why I passed it on immediately to a group of men and women who are fighting for similar objectives. And I want to use the prize so that voices are heard that some would prefer to see silenced: Palestinians in Israel, the peace movement in Israel, the women, the children, the suffering Palestinians, the sensible, reasonable Jewish Israelis - all those who feel rage or fear in the face of the occupation. These are the people to whom I want to give a voice."
"Stay close to the wall, where it's safe"
The far-flung clan of the Espaniolys has existed in Nazareth for centuries, and has indeed lent its name to an entire area of the city: "Hay Spanioly", the Spanish Quarter, is part of Nazareth's picturesque Old Town. Nabila was born in 1955, "as the seventh child in a family of eight daughters and two sons". At that time, Galilee was still under military rule. In order to travel from one town or village to another, inhabitants of the Palestinian areas required written permission from the Israeli army, which was only granted as a matter of political goodwill. Piece by piece, Palestinian land, once the very basis of the people's life, was confiscated almost entirely by the Israeli state. Many Palestinians - especially members of the older generation - felt helpless, and did their best to fit in with the status quo. Nabila Espanioly remembers: "They used to pronounce a proverb to us children and young people: 'Stay close to the wall, where it's safe'. In other words: 'No experiments'."
In 1966, military rule in Galilee was ended. Nonetheless, the Palestinian minority - in official parlance, "Israeli Arabs" - were still disadvantaged in many ways: in the assignment of development funds from local authorities, in the field of education, and in their professional lives. The second generation - Nabila's - was no longer prepared to accept this: "In my case, the light went on when I tried to matriculate as a student of Social Work in Haifa: I was turned down. When I turned to my sister, she said, 'Nabila, don't you realise you have to fight for everything?'" Nabila resolved to take up the struggle and was eventually admitted to university; later, she even got a job as a government-employed social worker. But her active commitment to the rights of Palestinians soon got her into trouble. "I lost my job three times, and I'm sure Israel's internal secret service had something to do with it", she says. At the beginning of the Eighties, Nabila Espanioly went to Germany to study.