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Hanan Ashrawi
Hanan Ashrawi
This Side of Peace: A Personal Account
ISBN: 0684802945
This Side of Peace: A Personal Account
Ms. Ashrawi talked about her memoir, “This Side of Peace: A Personal Account,” published by Simon and Schuster. The book talks about her life growing up as a Christian Arab woman in a Muslim-dominated section of the world and how she dealt with her differences in becoming an Arab leader. It focuses on her personal participation in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. She also used the work to profile the Palestinian community from within. It talks about the PLO, Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, the Oslo talks, and the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. She also talked about her experiences in the United States, including her confrontation with various forms of discrimination and dislike.
This Side of Peace: A Personal Account
Program Air Date: June 4, 1995

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Hanan Ashrawi, author of "This Side of Peace," what's the purpose of your book?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, it doesn't have an overt purpose. It has the purpose of using the personal narrative in a way to convey human reality, basically, and to show the Palestinian human substance in a way that is not usually seen. And at the same time, I felt it was part of my role as spokesperson. I said in the book,"A spokesperson is never appointed; it's somebody who lives with the reality of his or her own people, who is able to capture and to convey that human reality beyond the stereotypes and the labels." So it's part of the honest discourse of presenting the Palestinians from within, and at the same time of giving the readers a glimpse of what peace is like when you're within it and when you're on the receiving end and when you are part of shaping it.
LAMB: What's a Palestinian?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Oh, a Palestinian is a person who's been in many ways deprived of the right of being a Palestinian. It's a historical name which became a national identity, people who have lived in Palestine for centuries and who have an ancient culture and very deep roots and who have been denied these by political expediency, because of the state of Israel in many ways was based on the myth that this was a land without the people for a people without the land.
LAMB: Let me just interrupt.
Ms. ASHRAWI: We are a people of the land, as I said.
LAMB: We've got this map that you've got in your book out front, and Mediterranean Sea here, Syria and then Lebanon, and then this area right down here-- how would you define this area?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, the whole area with the triangle down used to be historical Palestine. Now it's divided into Israel along the coast and down to the south, and then two pieces of what was left of Palestine called the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. And these were occupied in the June 5 war of 1967. So when we talk about the two- state solution, we're talking about redividing Palestine and to what has officially come to be known as Israel and the territories occupied in 1967, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
LAMB: Where do you live?
Ms. ASHRAWI: I live on the West Bank six, seven miles north of Jerusalem. I have a Jerusalem I.D. My town's name is Ramallah, which could be interpreted either way, either as the wish of god or the mountain on the hill of god. But it's a relatively new city. I think it's about six centuries old. It was predominantly Christian, was set up by seven brothers who established the seven clans, and now it's just a very active and lively city-- town actually. It's not a city.
LAMB: How long have you lived there?
Ms. ASHRAWI: All my life practically. My father is a descendant of the founders of the city, and so we belong to the seven clans-- the Mikhail family, not my married family-- and that's where my roots are, and that's where I'd like my daughters to feel that they belong and where their history and roots are.
LAMB: Before we talk about your daughters, I want to show this picture here and ask you who this is.
Ms. ASHRAWI: These are my parents, Daud and Wadi'a Mikhail-- Daud Mikhail, Wadi'a Ass'ad. That's their wedding picture.
LAMB: Are they alive?
Ms. ASHRAWI: No, unfortunately they're not. My mother passed away in September, end of September of this last year, and my father on Christmas, 1988.
LAMB: That story about your father's death...
LAMB: ...Would you tell us that?
Ms. ASHRAWI: That's not fair, because that's a very emotional story. I can never say it without feeling it. It's not a dispassionate story. My father had alzheimer's, alzheimer's at the end of his life, and he was a brilliant man. He was a man of keen intellect and yet gentle humanism, and so the last few years of his life he had alzheimer's, and he couldn't remember names. He developed a new language and so on. But he kept his serenity, his gentleness. So one night he just walked out. He evaded the... his companion and walked out of the house. It was the stormiest part of the year. It was just before Christmas.
LAMB: Did he live with you?
Ms. ASHRAWI: We lived in the same house, but different floors. It's the house my father built. You see, we have a tradition in Palestine where you build family homes. It's a sign of your history, your past, and your continuity, and you leave it to your children. So the family lived in this home. It's a big home, and he was living with my mother on the first floor, and I was on the floor below that, and he just walked out in the middle of a storm and disappeared for three days. And that was in the middle of the intifada, the uprising. So we had to go out looking for him. We went to the police. The police wouldn't do anything, because at that time the Palestinian police had resigned and there were only Israeli police, and they said, "you get the intifada kids to... The intifada shabap to look for him." And we did. We went to the neighborhood committees, the popular committees, and for three days and three nights, through the worst storm in our history, we were looking for him. And we finally found him. He had gone to the place where he used to go hunting and picnicking with his family when he was a child, and we found him in a pastoral setting. He was as if sleeping next to a little pond and a small waterfall, and it had been snowing, so there was a very light film of snow. We never knew where he was those three days, but it was a very mystical experience, so to speak. And some friends of ours wrote us and said he loved nature, and therefore he found the most appropriate place to die.
LAMB: You said in the book that the first call came and your husband got the call, and he went to see your father, but then he called back to you and said, "you've got to do this."
Ms. ASHRAWI: Yes. I didn't want to go see him, because I said if a person was lost for three days and found out there, you know, there was... Just the images were horrific in my mind of what could have happened to this man who didn't even remember his name. And when my husband saw him, he said, "you've got to see him just to rest, you know, to have the proper image." And when I went to see him, he was very peaceful, and he had a very relaxed smile on his face, and he looked very neat, and till now... And we sent out messages. We asked everybody who had, you know, sheltered him for those three days... Because he couldn't have been out there wandering in the wilds, you know, for three days. Nobody came forth. But obviously, he had had a very peaceful ending.
LAMB: Your mother is prominent in your book. We read about her from time to time as being there during some of the difficult moments. What impact did she have on your life?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, this is not a confessional, but my mother in many ways was the more strict disciplinarian of the family. But she in her own ways was also a rebel and a pace setter. She went to university; she studied ophthalmic nursing; she worked. Coming from a prominent and conservative family at the same time, she managed to set her own standards. She married my father, which wasn't very popular with his family or hers, since he was younger and Palestinian, and at that time, they used to think of all Palestinians as peasants, and you know, she proceeded to work with him. I said I have two traditions in my life. I mean, she was brought up in the victorian tradition, in the colonial tradition, very devout as a Christian, Episcopalian, and that's the lavender tradition in our house. In our garden, we have both lavenders and jasmines, and my father is the jasmine tradition, so to speak. So while she was warm and gentle, she had very strict definitions of decorum and what was appropriate, and at the same time, as I said, she was strong. She knew what she wanted, and she nurtured the family in many ways. She kept the structure, the system going.
LAMB: What was the religion of your dad?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, he was Greek Orthodox originally. The whole family... I mean, all of Ramallah people were Greek Orthodox. When they married, they married Episcopalian.
LAMB: How big is Ramallah?
Ms. ASHRAWI: It's not very big. It's a town. I mean, it's what, between 35,000, 50,000, depending on whom you count, and it actually has always been the center of education, the center of political activity, liberal thought, cultural activity. And it has quite a varied population: Palestinians who were refugees from '48, Palestinians who belong... Who were of the original founders. Actually, we have 35,000 Ramallah people in the states, descendants of the founders, yes, of Ramallah. So when I come and speak to the Ramallah federation, people say this is the largest family reunion in history-- 35,000. So it still is there, but it's undergoing the transformation of all towns and cities in Palestine.
LAMB: How many Palestinians are there in the world?
Ms. ASHRAWI: In the whole world, it's hard to say, but I would say close to six million.
LAMB: And how many of those are Christian?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Again, it's hard to say. We don't have official census, but we used to be 20%. Now we're... Our numbers are diminishing for a variety of reasons. I wouldn't say more than 10%. At home, it's even less than that because of emigration, because of intermarriage and the low birth rate.
LAMB: Where do they live in the world?
Ms. ASHRAWI: All over the world. You have many in the states, but the largest concentration of Palestinian refugees or the exiled community are always in the neighboring countries, in Jordan, followed by Lebanon and Syria. And there you have a concentration of refugee camps, and these have remained refugees since 1948, but you have Palestinians everywhere. It's strange; wherever I go, anywhere in the world, I always find Palestinians, and many of them relatives, actually. I mean, they're in the states. In Latin America, you have quite a large number. In Europe you have a few. Many were in the gulf states, working there and sending back remittances to people at home and so on. But since the Gulf War, their numbers have decreased drastically.
LAMB: You have a photograph on the back of your book, and I want to ask you-- we'll get a close-up here in just a second-- when was it taken?
Ms. ASHRAWI: I don't exactly remember. In the 80's. I think it's '86. I don't know whether it's in here... Yes, yes.
LAMB: There you are. Who's on either side of you here?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, one was the vice president of the university, and the one next to him was then the dean of the faculty of commerce, I think.
LAMB: Which university?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Then the dean of students. I was dean of arts then. This is Birzeit University on the West Bank. It's the oldest university in Palestine.
LAMB: You don't see many women in this picture.
Ms. ASHRAWI: That's funny, because there were many of us. I guess they were in the other rows. But in the university administration, I was the only woman in the university council. That's one reason why I took the post, actually.
LAMB: This is labeled as a... you're leading a demonstration march in December of 1986. Demonstrating about what?
Ms. ASHRAWI: I think this particular demonstration... I've been in many, but this one had to do with the closure of the university. As you know, Birzeit University was closed down 16 times during occupation, and the last, the 17th time, lasted four and a half years. So our protest didn't do much good, but at least we didn't take it sitting down. We developed alternative means of education; we developed underground education; we maintained our academic activities even when they were outlawed or illegal. So you learn how to be creative and versatile under occupation.
LAMB: When did you first come to the United States?
Ms. ASHRAWI: 1970.
LAMB: For what reason?
Ms. ASHRAWI: To go to graduate school, to do my Ph.D. At the University of Virginia.
LAMB: Studying what?
Ms. ASHRAWI: English literature, medieval. Actually, I came here... I chose the University of Virginia to study textual criticism, which is what I did my Master's on, and at that time, Fetzenbauer, who was one of the big names in textual criticism... I was doing renaissance manuscripts when I was at U.V.A., And I decided to do that there, and then I found myself moving even more backwards into history, and I started with medieval, and then I finished also with comparative literature.
LAMB: What did you find the American attitude about a Palestinian was in 1970?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Oh, that was really an experience. It was either utter ignorance... I mean, I'd say I'm from Palestine, and they'd say, "Pakistan?" Or "where is that?" Or "that doesn't exist," or total stereotyping-- a terrorist or an exotic person. So it was either you're part of the "Arabian Knights" tradition with all the sexist, exotic sort of connotations of, you know, these mysterious, passionate women, or the terrorist who's going to hijack a plane and kill innocent people and so on. So I had to work against these stereotypes from the beginning to show that we were people like everybody else and that we do have a long history and an ancient culture and a deep humanity. And that wasn't easy, particularly among people to whom... For whom it was convenient to deal with labels rather than the human being. And since we were the unfamiliar and the alien, you always had to, first of all, get to point zero rather than, you know, start at point one; you had to eliminate the minuses. And then you had to create a common discourse, a common language, common terms of reference in ways that would place you within the definable periphery rather than outside this periphery, because for a long time, the Israelis had the full swing of defining us, of giving us labels, of telling the world how to deal with us. And we had to intrude, and that's what part of my work was, to break through the mist of misconception, the stereotyping, and to present ourselves for what we were. And I took that at the personal level as well as at the political and the collective level.
LAMB: When did you first get involved in Palestinian politics?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, you're involved in politics the moment you're born, I think, if you're a Palestinian, because that's the overriding principle of our reality, and you don't have a choice. You're either a shaper or you're a victim in some ways. So I was aware of it, I was aware of the realities, but I became personally involved in 1967. After the June war, in which-- I described this in my book-- I said, "it was no longer the legacy of my parents; it was no longer history." It became my reality, and I took it very personally, and I couldn't go home. I was a student at the American University of Beirut, and all of the sudden, I found myself in exile away from home, and that literally my own home-- I mean, my parents, my family-- were under occupation, and the Israelis were in control, so I felt I had to do something about this.
LAMB: Let me just show this map again, because we can get some sense of where Lebanon is, close to Palestine or Israel. What did... Are you... When you say the West Bank, that's the area there in black.
Ms. ASHRAWI: In black, that's right.
LAMB: How far would you have been-- you're in Beirut-- how far would you have actually been from home during the '67 war?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Oh, it's not very far. I don't know in kilometers or miles.
LAMB: A couple of hours?
Ms. ASHRAWI: By car about four or five hours, five hours.
LAMB: And why had you chosen... Was it the American University...
LAMB: ...In Beirut? Why did you choose that to go to school?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Again, fate intrudes. I mean, I... I had applied to several places, and I had gotten acceptances from many American universities. Our school was very good, and we took the college board exams and S.A.T.'S and so on. I had several admissions and scholarships, honor scholarships. My parents were off at that time driving through Europe, and many of these admissions required the signature of my parents because I was a minor then; I was underage. And since I couldn't find them to sign my papers, I went to the one university where I had the guardian, and that was the American University of Beirut. But it had a very good name. It was considered a top academic institution, and with very good credentials, and at the same time, we thought of Beirut as a universal cosmopolitan center. It was, you know, the throbbing heart of culture and civilization and politics and so on. So I didn't find that a regrettable decision at all. I was quite excited about it, and I did want to go somewhere which was academically solid.
LAMB: So in 1967 you would have been how old?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Oh, I was about 19.
LAMB: In school-- and your parents were in Ramallah-- what kind of rights did you have in 1967, being a Palestinian living in Ramallah?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, I wasn't living in Ramallah then, but my parents were living under occupation, yes. Well, at the time, there were very few rights, actually. The most basic right, which is freedom, was totally withheld. I mean, you lived in captivity. You didn't have freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of expression. You didn't have control over your own decision-making, whether your own resources or otherwise. Even the school systems, educational system...
LAMB: Could you vote?
Ms. ASHRAWI: No. Actually, we had... You see, one thing I keep reminding the world is that we used to have elections in Palestine even long before the state of Israel was created, so we are not on probation to prove whether we are worthy of democracy or not. No, we didn't because we had municipal elections, and the last municipal elections were held in 1976, and at that time, the PLO List won the elections in a sweeping victory. In what was called the Israeli connection, the lackeys lost the elections, and I think primarily because the women were voting for the first time also, and they voted on the basis of principle, not pocketbook. The Israelis then banned elections. They prevented us from holding municipal elections or any other types of elections. So what we did was we evolved a system whereby we held elections for professional organizations, for unions and so on, in order to maintain some kind of internal representative system.
LAMB: You say you got started in this... The '67 war. What was that war?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, it's hard to define any war because I think all wars are inherently wrong and unjust and destructive. That was the war that signaled, I'd say, the loss of the rest of Palestine. It came under occupation. It was a war initially... Gamal Abdel Nasser was in power in Egypt, and it took place as a result of... First of all, it took two. The Israelis certainly had planned on taking the rest of the Palestinian territories. There was the removal of the U.N. Troops, the closure of the Straits of Tiran, and then the Israelis attacked in what they call a preemptive move. Destroyed the Egyptian air force on the ground, and the war was over very quickly, although we didn't know it. But Israel again defeated the Arab armies, occupied the rest of Palestine, also occupied Sinai and the Golan Heights and South Lebanon. So it was a war of expansion.
LAMB: So you were at the university, and how did you hear about this?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, I was writing a paper. It's in the book. I was writing a paper on James Joyce, on "Ulysses," and I woke up early in the morning, and as usual I was sitting at my desk, and I turned on the BBC, and I found out that the war had started. So I never finished that paper. I closed my books and went out to see what we could do. I tried to get home, and of course I couldn't. We tried to do anything. I mean, we had first aid classes and so on. It wasn't possible to participate directly in either, you know, doing damage control or putting an end to it or participating in any way. So there was a sense of intense frustration and anger and lack of knowledge as to what was happening. So we had to try to get information from the red cross, but for days we were just in our underground shelters, waiting to hear news. And the rumors that we heard were very disturbing.
LAMB: When did you get back home?
Ms. ASHRAWI: The end of 1973.
LAMB: So from '67 to '73 you were...
Ms. ASHRAWI: Trying to get home.
LAMB: You didn't get home during those five years.
LAMB: Six years. Where did you live during that time?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, I finished my Master's degree at the American University of Beirut, and I didn't have a work permit and I didn't have a visa to stay in Lebanon, and fortunately, the head of the English department came and said, "we're offering an honor scholarship for our top student, and would you take this scholarship?" And I said-- deus ex machina-- "this is a salvation; of course I would." And in a week I was off. You know, I went to the states on a student visa, and I did my Ph.D. I called my parents from the states, and I said, you know, "guess where I am."
LAMB: And how long did you stay here?
Ms. ASHRAWI: I stayed close to four years, but less than four.
LAMB: Then what?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Then I went home to the West Bank. I went on a family reunion permit. It wasn't easy. It was a long journey, and in many ways... I don't know how much I described it in detail, but it was very difficult, because it was symptomatic of what it meant to be a Palestinian and to travel, you know, at that time. So I was traveling; I stopped... My plane stopped in paris, and I was stopped in paris, and I was accused of trying to blow up a plane. So I spent 24 hours being interrogated severely, because they wanted to find out which plane I was going to blow up. And they had stopped all flights. And I said, "that's ridiculous. I don't plan on blowing up any plane. I'm just an academic. I'm going home." And they said, "oh, you Palestinians are very smart; you can forge anything," because I was showing them my certificates, my degrees, my university papers. So finally I said, "could you tell me... I mean, why... Whom do you think I am that I would blow up planes?" And they said, "we thought you were Leila Chalid." And I said, "had you told me this from the beginning"-- you remember, Leila Chalid was the woman who had hijacked planes-- I said, "I could have told you. I mean, how tall is Leila Chalid?" And they said, "she's five-foot-eight." And I said, "there's no way I could become five-foot-eight or she could shrink down to five-four-and-a-half." That was one way of defeating their argument. They said, "well, Leila Chalid, we know that she had plastic surgery and changed her looks." I said, "fine. If you find any signs of plastic surgery, let me know." So after a gruesome, awful 24 hours in which everybody took it for granted I was going to blow up the place, and it took me a long time to convince them otherwise, I took the plane. I had missed my connection; I went to Egypt, and then I was detained for 48 hours. Took all my papers; I was sitting at the airport. I think I described those insecticide pellets, you know, going through... I didn't even have a book with me or a toothbrush or anything. They took away everything. And after a lot of, again, questioning and so on, I was escorted by the police to the plane, and I went to Beirut, and in Beirut, I decided I don't want any high profile; I just want to lie low so I can get to Jordan and I can get back home. And at that time, Abu Zayyad, who was one of the leaders of the revolution, came to see me. He was an old friend, actually, and he said, "the revolution can be served in many ways, and we need people like you in universities; we need to get everybody back home," and that revolution is not just, you know, armed struggle; it is also part of building a society and institutions at home. And that's where I went. Again, in Jordan, I had a bit of a hard time. Finally, I crossed the bridge. I called this a pilgrimage, a reverse pilgrimage probably, of tremendous pain, and in December I was arrested by the Israelis.
LAMB: What year now?
Ms. ASHRAWI: December 1973.
LAMB: For what purpose were you... For what reason were you arrested?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, I took part in many demonstrations, and the Israelis arrested me on a whole long list of charges. I don't know what... Where they got them, but some of them was threatening the security of the states-- the state, not the states-- disturbing public order, and threatening the security of the state, violating the terms of my family reunion, incitement, demonstrating, and so on. And I was tried on Christmas day, December 25. So when the judge... They're all military courts, military tithes, the judge asked me what I wanted to swear on, you know, and I said, "I'll swear on the new testament." He said, "then how come you're here on Christmas day?" I said, "you ask yourself that. I didn't choose to be tried on Christmas day." So I was given a choice. At the time, you had the choice of either a fine or a prison sentence, and my colleagues paid my fine. That was very nice of them, at the university.
LAMB: How long... Are you still associated with the university?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Yes, but I have had... I was on leave for some time. I'm still, you know, associated... I participate in many of the conferences and seminars once in a while, but I'm not officially there full time. I can't.
LAMB: What's your current job?
Ms. ASHRAWI: I don't know if you can call it a job. It's sort of a calling, an obsession, an all-consuming thing. I'm head of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens Rights, which is an... I'm the commissioner general, and that is a system of accountability. It's a combination of ombudsmen, state controller, and what we call in Arabic Diwan Muldalem, or court of grievances.
LAMB: Where is it located?
Ms. ASHRAWI: It's located in Jerusalem, east Jerusalem.
LAMB: Who funds it?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, we have a variety of sources, but primarily from Scandinavian countries that have the ombudsman tradition. We have very strict rules about who funds it because it has to be independent, and as a Palestinian ombudsman, it cannot have any strings attached. So we're funded mainly by development agencies in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and by some international organizations like Unifam and so on. But now I'm working on getting an endowment for it so it will maintain its independence and continuity.
LAMB: What's it do?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Oh, well, it's a mission impossible, I think. We review the proposed legislation, the laws. We review the legal system. We even propose legislation, of course without trying to conflict with or supersede the role of the legislature-- not that we have one yet-- and to ensure that these laws are just, are fair, and that they do not in any way discriminate or... Are not discriminatory or do not violate the rights and freedoms of citizens. So we try to also maintain the rule of law. And we monitor the activities of public institutions of the Palestinian national authority to prevent any abuse of power, of authority, or misuse of public funds.
LAMB: Who are you worrying about abusing that?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Oh, this is strictly Palestinian. This is a self-corrective process. This is an internal Palestinian system of accountability.
LAMB: You talk about being asked by Yasser Arafat-- and you use another name throughout the book.
Ms. ASHRAWI: Abu Ammar.
LAMB: Say that again.
Ms. ASHRAWI: Abu Ammar.
LAMB: Abu Ammar.
LAMB: How come you use that name and everybody else... Well, meaning the public name is Yasser Arafat.
Ms. ASHRAWI: Yes, but this depends on your perspective, where you are. I'm speaking from within, so I use the language and the names. And as you know, naming is very important to us. It is the name that we use as Palestinians. Externally, people outside use the name Arafat or Yasser Arafat, and it keeps a distance. To us, he's Abu Ammar. And that's his pseudonym. That's the name he's had all these years as leader of the revolution.
LAMB: What was he born?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Oh, he was born with a longer name, but I think it is... I mean, you can say Yasser Arafat or Ahmed yasser Arafat. That's his...
LAMB: And what's your relationship to him now?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, it is still one of mutual respect and honesty. I think I'm one of the few people who speak out openly and who tell him when I think things are wrong, and I speak my mind. He respects that. Sometimes I exasperate him. I know I make him quite angry, especially since I'm stubborn. But at the same time, I think he... He does recognize that...
LAMB: When was this picture taken?
Ms. ASHRAWI: This was taken 1992, was it? Yes. It was just before the israeli elections. And this was after he had the plane crash and he had an operation in Amman, and the whole delegation went to see him in Amman and we decided to go public in our connection to the PLO. One of the restrictions of the Baker Suit and the conditions on Palestinian participation was that we weren't PLO Members and that we didn't have any PLO Connection. And at that time, we decided that it is time that we went public and we showed the PLO Connection very openly.
LAMB: Now you mentioned something-- I don't know whether you can do it or not; it takes about a whole page in your book-- you talked about the Baker Suit.
LAMB: S-u-i-t, suit.
LAMB: It's a long story. Can you remember it all?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Yeah, I can.
LAMB: Before you tell the Baker Suit story, because it helps understand how you felt about all of this, explain why there would be such a thing called the Baker Suit.
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, because the nature of the beast, actually, the nature of negotiations where the Israelis had the full power to decide not only on their delegation, but on the formation of our delegation. They put conditions and preconditions. And the Americans, in order to get the process going, decided to meet all Israeli preconditions and therefore restrict the Palestinians and placed tremendous constraints on our participation.
LAMB: Let me stop because... And I want to walk through those so we can get some picture in our mind as to where everybody was sitting at the time. What year would we be talking about when this started?
Ms. ASHRAWI: 1991.
LAMB: And what were you doing then?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, I was part of the negotiating team that was negotiating with the Americans.
LAMB: Who had put that team together?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, it was mainly the PLO.
LAMB: Palestinian Liberation...
Ms. ASHRAWI: Palestine Liberation Organization, yes, which was outlawed at that time.
LAMB: Outlawed by whom?
Ms. ASHRAWI: By the Israelis and, of course, by the Americans. They had broken off the dialogue with the PLO and the Israelis considered it illegal to have any connections with the PLO or to belong to any PLO Organization.
LAMB: Mr. Arafat runs the PLO Still today.
Ms. ASHRAWI: Yes. He's head of the executive committee.
LAMB: Where is it located?
Ms. ASHRAWI: That's a difficult question, because right now, the PLO Institutions were in Tunis. The executive committee met in Tunis. It moved, after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, from Lebanon to Tunis and it stayed there. But now, with the Gaza-Jericho agreement, many of the executive-committee members have come back to Gaza and have become members of the P.M.A. But a number of them did not come back and are not members of the P.M.A., So they are still in Tunis.
LAMB: All right, go back to '91. PLO Headquarters then was in Tunis in '91.
LAMB: You were in Ramallah.
LAMB: Mr. Baker, of course, was secretary of state in Washington.
Ms. ASHRAWI: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: What other... We had Jerusalem, which was seven miles from Ramallah, where the Israeli group was located. Would their negotiators have been in Jerusalem or would they be in Tel Aviv?
Ms. ASHRAWI: No, no, no. There were no negotiations with the Israelis. Israel talks with the Americans.
LAMB: Their government would be headquartered where, then?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, we think the government should be in Tel Aviv, but it's both in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
LAMB: Okay, in '91. And then what was your relationship in '91 to the PLO?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, I wasn't... I mean, who is a PLO Member? The thing is, the PLO didn't give out cards saying, you know, "you're a PLO Member" or not. I mean, most Palestinians, the vast majority just said we are the PLO, We are the people of the PLO, And we viewed the PLO As our legitimate representative and leadership and as an embodiment of the national identity. So we were all supporters of the PLO so when Baker asked us, you know, "are you PLO Members?" We said, "no, what is a PLO Member? But we are all supporters of the PLO And without the PLO, There is no Palestinian representation, and we are here at the behest of the PLO" So, I mean, he took that, but at the same time, the Israelis insisted that there should be no avowal, no public connection, no declarations, no mention of the taboo. You know, PLO was taboo totally.
LAMB: What did the Israelis in 1991 think of you participating and your group participating in negotiations with the Americans?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, the thing is, it wasn't up to them, because we were... Actually, I was negotiating with the Americans long before '91, as you know. I was... In '88, with the intifada, we were having a meeting of the political committee or the diplomatic committee or information committee, and we decided that we should... I was going to the U.N. For a conference and the committee said, "well, why don't you talk to the state department and present our case?" So the PLO also then said it's a good idea that we start discussing with the state department how to enhance the PLO-American dialogue. This was in '88, because the American PLO Dialogue was a disaster. I mean, it was very stilted and formalistic. So I went at the behest of both, the Palestinian leadership under occupation and the PLO, And ever since, then I've started negotiating with the Americans; It was a very frustrating, exasperating experience.
LAMB: What did you think of-- and you describe him in here-- but what did you think of Jim Baker?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, at first, there were barriers, as you know-- the diplomat, the lawyer, the person who knows what he wants and is out to get it regardless of the human price. So in a sense, I saw him as a challenge, somebody we had to break through, and we had to reach the human being, I said, behind those cold, dark, calculating eyes. And I'm afraid... I think we did, I mean, but we succeeded in talking to each other as human beings and not as roles and not as political representatives. And we had that advantage because we did not have political status or a diplomatic status. We were a group of individuals, professionals, mainly academics, and therefore we dispensed with all the niceties of decorum, of, you know, protocol and diplomacy and just went straight to the point and said what we thought directly and honestly.
LAMB: When are you-- and you give us examples in here-- but when are you the most direct with people, when we don't see a smiling face and you're really letting people have it?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, even when I let people have it, I do it, I think, most of the time, with a smile. I don't try to hurt the person. I never confuse the public with the private. I never try to really inflict pain on individuals as individuals, but I address the issues very honestly. And usually it's when I see willful ignorance or the gratuitous infliction of pain. These two things-- the refusal to deal with substance, the sort of adamant possessiveness about one's ignorance, and stereotyping, refusal to interact and to learn-- and, of course, the deliberate and willful infliction of pain; I find that unforgivable.
LAMB: Go back to the 1991 situation. We want to get to the story of the Baker Suit.
LAMB: You're involved in the negotiations that have started. When did you come up with this phrase, "the Baker Suit"?
Ms. ASHRAWI: The Baker Suit -- well, it was a story actually told by my colleague Faisal Husseini. We came up with that the more we got on Israeli preconditions and conditions as to the nature of the Palestinian delegation. They didn't want Palestinians from Jerusalem. They didn't want Palestinians with PLO Connections. They didn't want Palestinians from outside the occupied territories. And they had to be Palestinians who would openly say that they are committed to a negotiated settlement on the basis of a phased approach and a bilateral... And so on and so on and so on. So we were trying to lock horns with Baker and renegotiate this. I mean, all along he said that there were no preconditions, that nobody could vet or veto the delegation of the other. Then we said, "What are you doing with the Israelis? I mean, you're giving into them every request." And he said, "no, no, no. The only statement is that we cannot force people to sit with others that they don't want to sit with on negotiations." And we said, "fine, then we don't want to sit with settlers; we don't want to sit with Israelis who've had a hand in killing Palestinians," which might exclude a large number, if not all the Israeli delegation. And he said, "no, no, no. What we need to do is get the Israelis into negotiations, and therefore you cannot present them with any Palestinian that would make them walk out." And at that time, it was a Likud government, and Shamir, as you know, is a very stubborn, intransigent person. And we tried very hard to break through these constraints and we couldn't, so we evolved the story of the Baker Suit, and Faisal actually told it to him one day. It's the fact that... Do you want me to tell you this?
LAMB: Go ahead and try. I've got it here.
Ms. ASHRAWI: I'll try to be very brief about it. Well, it's this nice, honest man who is relatively poor, who was given a piece of fabric as a friend... As a gift by a friend of his, and he didn't know what to do with it, so another friend of his said, "I'm a tailor and I'll make it into a suit for you." And he did, and when the man put the suit on, he found out that one sleeve was too short and another was too long and the collar was twisted and the hems were uneven and so on. Everything was absolutely wrong with it. So he said... Told his friend, "what's this suit? I mean, it doesn't fit at all." He said, "don't worry. Where the sleeves are too long, just go like this, and where they're too short, you just pull your hand out like this, and where the collar is twisted you walk like that." And finally, this man, you know, looked absolutely crooked. It was awful. But he was walking around like this down the street and people were looking at him and seeing this poor man in terrible shape, entirely distorted. And the other guy said, "but you must admit he's got an excellent tailor." So we told Baker that if we behave strangely or if you see us in different shapes, it's not because we were born that way, it's because the suit that you had tailored for us does not fit.
LAMB: A couple of people, three people, come up periodically in your book. I want to show a picture of them. I want you to tell us about them. It's this picture right down here, and... Two young ladies and a gentleman there on the far right. Who are they? That's you on the left.
Ms. ASHRAWI: They're my daughters and my husband: Amal, Zeina, and Emil.
LAMB: Why did you write about them throughout the book, and what impact did they have on all these negotiations?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, they're my life, basically. I mean, what impact? Everything. I don't know how you can separate the private from the public, the individual from the collective. I mean, this is the nature of the genre of this book.
LAMB: Where did you meet your husband?
Ms. ASHRAWI: I met him... First I saw him at a rock concert. He was... He had his own band called Bara'em-- blooms-- and he was setting Arabic lyrics to modern music, and he was playing the drums. And I saw him from a distance. And the first time we really met was when he came to my house.
LAMB: Where was he playing the drums?
Ms. ASHRAWI: In Jerusalem.
LAMB: What year?
Ms. ASHRAWI: 1973, The end of '73. And I noticed him from a... It was a very moving experience, you know, to come home and see people who were setting Arabic lyrics, nationalistic lyrics, to modern music, who were in a sense part of this vital cultural movement that was going on then. Plus, he was part of the theater group balaleen, or balloons. And my sister was there, too, and I had intended to come back and join that theater group as well. So anyway, he came to my house with his brother, who was also working with us at the university, when a group of colleagues came to give me encouragement to discuss my coming trial. And he was very quiet, very silent. He listened a lot. He told me later that he felt they had all come to encourage me and give me support and they discovered that I didn't need any; I was supporting them. So we became close. We spent New Year's of 1973 together. We went out to a friend's house and we stayed up all night and we talked all day and that's it.
LAMB: And what's his background? Is he a Palestinian?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Yes, he's a Palestinian.
LAMB: What religion?
Ms. ASHRAWI: He's also Anglican, Episcopalian. He's younger than I am. He doesn't have university degrees; he has business- training degrees. He comes from a family that wasn't well off at all, and that wasn't, you know, your traditional type of marriage. You had objections from both sides to our marriage.
LAMB: What year did you marry?
Ms. ASHRAWI: We married in 1975, August 8.
LAMB: And your first daughter?
Ms. ASHRAWI: 1977, Amal.
LAMB: Amal. And...
Ms. ASHRAWI: And 1981, Zeina.
LAMB: And they're how old today?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, 17 and 14. They're going on 18... 17 And 13. They'll be 18 and 14 this summer.
LAMB: What are they like?
Ms. ASHRAWI: You're asking a mother what her daughters are like? Do you have about five hours in which I will tell you that they're absolutely perfect?
LAMB: But you recalled throughout the book, though, personal conversations, during the middle of everything from the scud attacks on your land to the negotiations. What I'm getting at is what...
Ms. ASHRAWI: They're the reality. I think children are the substance of life. They're what you gauge reality against. They're also the basic motivation for everything you do. So even if you're writing a book about negotiations and politics and history and so on, this intensely personal and human dimension is what gives it validation, I think. They are both very sensitive people, quite aware. They grew up before their age. They were exposed to all sorts of external cruelties that we had to counter by an internal system of support and love. I think they're quite confident in themselves. They are quite proud of their mother, although they do make demands here and there. I said they say very openly, intellectually, "we understand the importance of what you're doing and we support you, but emotionally we need our mother around more and we need to be able to talk more." So all this period, the last, seven, eight years, have been spent trying to reconcile this private and emotional and intense commitment, as well as the external and public commitment. And the interplay between these two is an underlying tension and motif in the book.
LAMB: In the book, you have a poem.
Ms. ASHRAWI: Ah, yes, that's...
LAMB: And who did the poem?
Ms. ASHRAWI: My daughter, Amal. She did that last year.
LAMB: What was the purpose of putting it in the book?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, I didn't put any of my poems in the book. I put her poem because it's such an honest poem, and it captures many things. It captures the central issue of Jerusalem, but it also captures the flaws in the agreement that has allowed for such distortions-- the loss of compass, of direction, of bearing. This guide in Jerusalem, I think she says at one point, "whom can he guide without a guide?" And then she says at the end that, I mean, he knows instinctively he's part of the city. No matter how much you try to change the reality or impose distortions on reality, the human being carries within him this knowledge, this certainty of a different type of direction. And I found that moving, a very powerful poem.
LAMB: Have your girls read this book?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Amal has, the older one. The younger one is reading it, and every once in awhile she comes and says, "do you have to use such difficult words?" But they're reading it, yes.
LAMB: What's their reaction?
Ms. ASHRAWI: They love it. They think it's honest. They appreciate that, and they see it also as part of our own collective statement. But they refuse to see the press and reporters.
LAMB: They do not talk to the press or reporters? How come?
Ms. ASHRAWI: No. I think they've suffered a lot as a result of this public exposure, our house being first of all a place, a refuge for prisoners and their families and lawyers and so on, and then a place for political meetings and underground activity, and then a place for public meetings and political or diplomatic meetings with visiting guests, and then a place where the media would show up every day. And there was a tremendous amount of intrusion into their privacy and a violation of their privacy, although I never imposed on them any type of interview or talk with the press. But they felt that they wanted to keep a distance, to maintain some privacy, and I respected that. So now they don't like to talk to reporters at all. And I shifted the focus of my work from home to Jerusalem.
LAMB: You talk about at one point... First of all, who built the garden? Did your husband have something to do with the garden?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Yes, well, we've always had a garden, but my father, I mean, was the best gardener in our family. Emil, my husband, yes, he's the one who deliberately set out to build a garden in the backyard, to plant a garden and to organize it and plan it in a way that would provide a refuge or a haven for us. And I described it as an antidote to the prison across the street. You see the headquarters of the military, of the military governor and the prison, are on one side of our house, the front, and on the one side, my husband decided to plant a beautiful flower garden, a rock garden, where we could maintain our humanity and sanity and find some rest.
LAMB: You tell one... I don't remember what the incident was where the press literally went over the wall.
Ms. ASHRAWI: Yes. 100 Of them, or something like that, came over the wall.
LAMB: What were they...
Ms. ASHRAWI: They climbed the trees to film us, yes.
LAMB: What was the reason for it?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, that was when we were drafting the American letter of assurances. And the American peace team came to my house, because we wanted some privacy. I remember it was a strike day. And we wanted to be away from the press. Instead of meeting in official places like the American consulate in Jerusalem or the orient house or whatever, we decided to meet at my place. And they came to my house, and somehow, the press found out. And we were sitting on the western veranda, on the back veranda overlooking the garden at one point, and then we looked and we were surrounded by camera people and reporters and television sound men and so on. So it was very difficult to keep your own sense of privacy and avoid the this type of intrusion. And we had to go inside. We couldn't sit outside to do the work. It was a marathon session at that time. We worked on drafting a document that was rendered entirely irrelevant.
LAMB: Because?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Because, according to the Americans, this is an American policy paper; it's an American position paper. It reflects American policy, but it cannot be brought to bear on negotiations. And I said, "why not?" Because that's one of the bases for our participation in the talks, the fact that we worked so long and so hard on a letter of assurances in which the U.S. would assure us of their position vis-a-vis many things, and therefore it would be like a safeguard, a guarantee that the U.S. would not allow the process to violate these issues. And when the Israelis systematically were violating everything, including human rights, including settlements and so on, and we went to the Americans and said this goes against your letter of assurances, they said, "it doesn't apply; it just reflects American policy and we cannot bring it to bear on the peace process." It was a tremendous eye opener about the American role as even-handed peace broker or as co-sponsor.
LAMB: There's so many ways to go. We only have a couple of minutes left. I want to... And people have to almost read the book or have paid close attention to this whole story to know what we're talking about. After all the work you did, and as close as you thought you were to Yasser Arafat, when you found out about the Oslo negotiations that were done behind everybody's back, what was your reaction?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Frankly, I knew there were back channels, and I had set up the Oslo channel in my house, I mean, basically. But it wasn't in Oslo then, it was in London. I didn't have any ego problems. It didn't bother me that there were back channel talks or that these were going on. Throughout my book, I say, I mean, I knew that you needed the proper interlocutors. You needed the PLO to talk to the Israeli government, away from the limelight, in order to resolve many of these issues. And actually, I offered the Americans three times to host these back channel talks and they refused. So I wasn't personally offended, no, but what really bothered me was the substance of the agreement. I felt it was done in haste. It wasn't well thought out. It was very seriously flawed. It had many gaps. And it didn't have any of the relevant details or steps of implementation. They would concede the principle, but negate it in the details, and this was a document that still needed to be negotiated. So I said in the book we developed the system, the very strange negotiating practice of signing first and negotiating later.
LAMB: What do you think people will be most surprised about in your book that followed all this closely? What do you tell us that took you some time to decide to write, put down on paper?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, I don't know. It's not a sensationalist book. It's an honest book. I didn't want to hurt anybody, but I didn't want to hide the truth. So I think at every point, there was a decision because the principle of selectivity and order, I mean, applies whether it's fiction or whether it's fact. You cannot tell everything and you cannot tell it without a kind of order and motivation and connecting motif. So everything in it was really conscientiously thought out. I mean, I think people who would read it probably wouldn't be surprised at the, first of all, the amount of work that went into preparing for negotiations-- the sincerity, the honesty of the delegation, the negotiating delegation. Probably they might be surprised at some of the internal tensions and conflicts, and at the American position in the talks. But in terms of one outstanding event, no.
LAMB: Is there a person behind the scenes that we've never seen that played a role, a significant role?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, he's in the book. There's a person behind the scenes always, and that person was Akram Ganiyyeh, politically. He was never given political credit, because he never took official positions and never took stage front or attracted the limelight. Actually he...
LAMB: You refer to him constantly as Akram?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Akram, yes.
LAMB: In the book. Where did he live?
Ms. ASHRAWI: At one point he was the kosher inspector, because he's the one who looked through all the documents.
LAMB: Who did he work for?
Ms. ASHRAWI: Well, he's one of the advisors of Ammar, of Yasser Arafat, and now I think he wants to establish a newspaper at home. He was deported by the Israelis. Now he's back, and he's in Ramallah and he wants to start a newspaper.
LAMB: We're out of time, but one last brief question and hopefully a brief answer. You could take forever. What chances do you give for this process moving forward positively for Palestinians?
Ms. ASHRAWI: The way it is, without a process of rectification, without an act of will and intrusion to put the process back on track, I think it could lead to disaster. What we need is to intervene and to eliminate the built-in obstacles and problems and the courage and the vision on the part of leaderships on both sides to address the imperatives of peace rather than self-interest.
LAMB: This is what the cover of the book looks like. "Hanan Ashrawi: This Side of Peace, A Personal Account." We thank you very much for joining us.
Ms. ASHRAWI: Thank you. Thank you for asking me. I really enjoyed this talk.

Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1995. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.