Namely hope

Fletcher student works for peace in the Middle East

Amal Jadou looks and sounds like a typical Fletcher School student. At age 30, she is a smart, idealistic, politically motivated woman who has big dreams. In addition to her doctoral studies, she speaks at local schools, churches and civic organizations about current events, especially those involving the Middle East. She says she can’t wait to finish her Ph.D. so she can go home to teach—and eventually run for political office.

Amal Jadou

Amal Jadou, right, with Fletcher students Obaida El-Dandarawy and Roham Alvandi.

But what makes Jadou’s story unusual is that she is a Palestinian who grew up in a refugee camp. The issues she learns about at Fletcher are of an intense political—and personal—interest. She knows what it’s like to have limited freedom and to live in fear. She knows firsthand about discrimination, stereotyping and war.

In an interview, she recalled how, at age 13, while on her way to school, an Israeli settler put a gun to her head. “He decided not to kill me. I still don’t know why,” she says softly. She knows what it’s like to be harassed by soldiers at checkpoints. “Hey, you married? You want to stay with me tonight?” were the kinds of comments with which she had to contend.

Even at an early age, Jadou began to distinguish herself. She was the first Palestinian woman to appear on the first Palestinian TV show, reporting the news and conducting political interviews. After a few months, the Israeli occupation force shut down the television station for security reasons. (The station reopened in 1997, and Jadou resumed her on-air work interviewing ambassadors, presidents and prime ministers from around the world.)

She continued to be a force, venturing into political and social activism. “[I] served in several NGOs that work on refugee issues as well as on women and children’s issues. I was elected to many political and social bodies in Palestine, which gave me credibility within my society. My work to establish centers for the disabled, to support children in the Bethlehem area, taught me the importance of being transparent… Additionally, I was elected to represent Palestinian social, political and academic institutions in conferences and meetings all over the world,” Jadou says.

She earned a B.A. in English from Bethlehem University in 1995 and a master’s degree in international relations from Bir Zeit University in 2001, the same year she was admitted to the Ph.D. program at Fletcher.

Recently, Jadou was one of three individuals—and the only one from the United States—to receive a prestigious award for academic excellence and leadership potential from the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund (SYLFF) program.

The essay Jadou wrote for the award reveals much about her character and about her conflicted feelings about growing up in a refugee camp. “I love the camp so dearly because it is part of Palestine and because of the warmth of its people,” she wrote. “Aida’s [the camp’s] 3,500 inhabitants who come from 19 villages that were destroyed by Israelis in 1948 are my extended family. We have shared joy, laughs, tears, pain, sorrow, success, food, poverty, humiliation, oppression, defiance and persistence.”

The camp continues to remain a symbol of her people’s oppression. “It is the symbol of our uprooting from our original homes and villages and our dispersing all over the world. It is the symbol of our lack of stability and of our non-normal existence, where we are not citizens of a state but an occupied community of refugees,” she says.

As a teenager, she was determined, even defiant. “I took part in demonstrations, threw stones at soldiers, sewed Palestinian flags without my parents’ knowledge and raised them with my brothers on electricity poles in defiance of Israeli soldiers who prohibited us from having our own flag. What devastated me the most during the Intifada was the Israeli closure of the schools for long periods,” she wrote in her essay.

Jadou’s perception of Israelis—and her vision of the world—broadened around the time the 1993 Oslo Accords were signed by the Israelis and Palestinians on the White House lawn. “Through my friendship with an Israeli-Jewish lawyer who worked for Palestinian political prisoners and through meetings with Israelis in various capacities, I was able to see that there were Israelis who abhorred occupation as much as I did,” she wrote.

A turning point for Jadou came in 2001, when the current Intifada and fallout of the peace process triggered her decision to come to the Fletcher School. In her essay, she wrote: “Holed up in the staircase of my house in Aida Refugee Camp near Bethlehem, while Israeli tanks and Apache helicopters shelled the town, came from the background a frail voice of a news broadcaster reporting an American official to say, ‘We have tried all means possible to resolve the Middle East conflict, but we failed.’ That was January 9, 2001, just few days before President Clinton would leave office. That comment hit me strongly and planted the seed of my dissertation research, for it made me wonder whether they had really tried enough and whether they were paying enough attention to what was [happening] on the ground during the years of the Oslo process. And if they tried enough, what led to the failure?”

Her political interests mesh nicely with her Fletcher experience. “I have always felt the need to study outside Palestine, especially in the United States, because of the impact of its policies on the region as well as its involvement in the peace process, she wrote.

Not surprisingly, Jadou’s Ph.D. research involves analyzing the peace process to identify what went wrong and to devise policy recommendations for the United States to become more involved in jump-starting the peace process.

A clue to Amal Jadou’s future may be found in her name: “My name, Amal, means hope in Arabic.”