New York, October 3, 2011—Anas Ashqar had returned from a grueling month of manual labor producing marble in his brother’s stone factory at Barta’a, when he encountered Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint, who confiscated his identification without explanation.
“I was in shock, and I had a weird feeling. Then they told me they were going to arrest me, and I asked why,” said Anas, 27. “I was unafraid because I knew that I was innocent.”
Falsely accused of being affiliated with Islamic Jihad, Anas was handcuffed, blindfolded, and led into a cell where he spent the subsequent days and nights of his 19-day detainment. Tossing and turning on a yellowed mattress worn with the foul stench of mildew, Anas’ only hope during each restless night was the integrity of his innocence. Only after a series of polygraph tests determined his story, Anas was released without apology.
A recent graduate from the Arab American University with a major in English translation, Anas had plans to explore the world and work as a translator in Australia. However, after his detainment, Anas’ movements were restricted for six months whereupon his career opportunity in Australia disintegrated.
Even after such a traumatic encounter, Anas still does not claim any bitterness toward those responsible for his false charges.
“I have nothing against the Israelis because of what happened to me. It happened because of other Palestinian collaborators,” Anas said. “I have nothing against Israel, and I still don’t. I treat people as human beings.”
Anas, who had not been involved in peace efforts before his imprisonment, began his involvement in OneVoice Palestine (OVP) after his longtime friend and roommate, Ahmad Omeir, invited him to an OVP introductory session.
“Anas is the kind of person who is calm and would like to be pragmatic,” said Ahmad. “He was really interested in finding a platform to effect positive change.”
Despite Anas’ distressing detainment, he now knows Israelis as his peers. Anas will be traveling on a New York speaking tour from October 10-20 with Gabi Avner, a OneVoice Israel youth leader, where both will speak on the need for a two-state solution.
“People should hear both narratives from Palestinians and Israelis,” Anas said. “They should know that there are many Palestinians and Israelis on both sides that are willing to live in peace and security and put an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
Anas will join his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Avner, in leading an International Education Program tour of New York City from October 10 - 20.