Thursday, October 25, 2007

Arab American National Museum and ACCESS win $150,000 McGregor Award

Kim Silarski


Dearborn, MI (October 25, 2007) – The Arab Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) has accepted a $150,000 grant from the McGregor Fund, a Detroit-based philanthropic organization. The money is designated for implementation of a comprehensive community relations and marketing campaign for the Arab American National Museum (AANM), a project of ACCESS.

“These funds represent vital resources to spread the word about the existence of the Arab American National Museum, which has been open for less than three years,” says Museum Director Dr. Anan Ameri. “As a new institution with a national focus, we hope to reach all Americans with our messages – that Arab Americans have long been part of the fabric of this country, making significant contributions; and that the Arab American experience is the same as the experience of all the various ethnic groups who immigrated to the U.S. in search of a better life.”

The McGregor Fund is a private foundation established in 1925 by gifts from Katherine and Tracy McGregor “to relieve the misfortunes and promote the well-being of mankind.” The foundation awards grants to organizations in the following areas: human services, education, health care, arts and culture, and public benefit. The area of principal interest of the foundation is the city of Detroit and Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. The McGregor Fund has granted nearly $180 million since its founding and had assets of $197 million as of June 30, 2007. Visit for additional information.

The Arab American National Museum documents, preserves, celebrates, and educates the public on the history, life, culture, and contributions of Arab Americans. We serve as a resource to enhance knowledge and understanding about Arab Americans and their presence in this country. The Arab American National Museum is a project of ACCESS, a Dearborn, Michigan-based nonprofit human services and cultural organization. Learn more at and

The Museum is located at 13624 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, MI, 48126. Museum hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday, Tuesday; Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is $6 for adults; $3 for students, seniors and children 6-12; ages 5 and under, free. Call 313-582-2266 for further information.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Arab-Muslim American Journalism adds new voice to mainstream American media

Press Release

Contact: Ahmed Soliman
Oct. 24, 2007 732-715-9775

New Voice Emerges in American Media
Arab & Muslim-American Journalists Offer Essential Perspective

(Maple Shade, NJ, Oct. 21st, 2007) — Arab and Muslim-American journalist Ahmed Soliman believes his new book, “Born in the USA: Reflections of an Arab and Muslim-American Journalist,” will give mainstream Americans a fresh perspective into the Islamic and Arab Worlds that is unique and rare.

Soliman argues that despite the events of Sept. 11th, 2001, Americans still do not understand the Arab and Muslim Worlds. By sharing his many interviews with Arab and Muslim leaders in the post-Sept. 11th World he believes he can not only change that but also improve the American journalism profession.

“There have been many post 9/11 books written with the Muslim-American perspective and some written by journalists who have covered such stories as the war on terror, domestic surveillance and the conflict between Israel and Palestinians,” explains Soliman who has been a journalist for more than seven years.

“But I think I bring a special knowledge as a professional journalist who has covered international issues for the past two years and who is both Arab and Muslim. I believe I bring a fresh and more objective perspective to the international discussion on these and other important issues. It’s a freshness that contrasts the sometimes cynical views often reflected in the writings of longtime, veteran journalists, many of whom are neither Arab nor Muslim and who have witnessed the often tragic events of the Middle East repeat themselves over and over again.”

The book features many voices and opinions not often heard, based on firsthand interviews Soliman conducted as a reporter for broadcast and print Arab, Muslim and mainstream American newspapers.

“It's not often that Americans really get to hear the perspective of the Pakistani foreign minister on such issues as the war on terror, and whether or not the US government is correct in saying that they're not doing enough. Understanding the people on the other side of the ocean is crucial to resolving our contemporary challenges,” he says.

And, Soliman believes the book might help initiate “a broader discussion about the role of our own American media, whether that is opening some eyes among editors and news directors about the importance of integrating more diverse voices in their newsrooms, specifically regarding Arab American journalists, or also aspiring Arab American journalists who could benefit from the experiences I share in the book.”

Like many Arab and Muslim Americans, Soliman had planned on entering a professional career in medicine or engineering. But it was when he wrote an essay that received immediate notice and was recognized with a prestigious journalism award that he decided to pursue journalism, instead.

“Prior to the 9/11 attack, the vast majority of Muslim-Americans entered the engineering and medical fields, the result of the influence they received from their immigrant parents,” explains Soliman, who worked for two years as senior anchor and producer for the nationally televised Daily World news on Bridges TV.

“The result was that Muslim-Americans, now numbering over 7 million according to the Zogby poll, never had much influence on public opinion or policy. Now, after the 9/11 attack, the few of us who did enter the journalism field are trying to keep the dialogue and coverage in the media more balanced and insightful.”

Soliman’s story is a poignant, eye-opening portrayal of the challenges facing media coverage of the Arab and Muslims, and on international issues including the war on terror, and racism.

“No reasonably minded person would disagree with anything [Soliman] has said in this book,” said Ambassador Richard Parker, former U.S. representative in the Middle East.

Prior to working at Bridges TV, Soliman produced and directed a post-911 documentary for a PBS affiliate titled Born in the USA: Muslim Americans. The film followed a Muslim American doctor and teacher in the months following the September 11th Attack, and received positive reviews and press from WCBS – TV in New York, The Star Ledger Newspaper in New Jersey, and The Home News Tribune. Soliman started his career as the Managing Editor of the Gazette-Leader, a weekly newspaper for the towns of Elizabeth and Hillside in New Jersey, where he covered crime, education, and government related stories. He also interned for WNBC-TV in New York.

“It’s not always easy being an Arab and Muslim-American journalist. A lot of people in our profession throw obstacles in our way,” Soliman argues.

“But I believe that when your argument is for more objective and balanced coverage, by way of including more diverse voices in the perspectives offered in the media, eventually people will realize that it can only be a good thing. Writing Born in the USA was just the next domino in the set that will be falling on this issue.”

Soliman is a columnist with the Arab Writers Syndicate ( and a member of the Steering Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists-Arab American Journalists group. He is also a member of the Arab professional journalism associations NAAJA ( and AMEJA.

The book is available from most major bookstores, and online from Barnes & Noble and It is published by iUniverse Inc., in New York.


New original columns from Common Ground News Service

Title: The right to change one's religion
Author: Shaykh Abdallah Adhami
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 23 October 2007
Word Count: 888

Title: Groundbreaking event in Muslim-Christian solidarity
Author: Claude Salhani
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 23 October 2007
Word Count: 874

Title: Re-narration of Muslim-Western experiences
Author: Audifax
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 23 October 2007
Word Count: 821

Title: Indonesia: Is secularism a choice?
Author: Ali Noer Zaman
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 23 October 2007
Word Count: 824

Title: ~Youth Views~ Comics bridge cultural gaps
Author: Michael Chou and Youssef Morshedy
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 23 October 2007
Word Count: 738

We also include articles sourced from other publications that have granted us permission to distribute, which you may also find of interest:

Each article is available in Arabic, French, English, Indonesian and Urdu; just ask and I'd be happy to send you any translation. Please feel free to republish the article(s) and, if possible, let me know by sending an email to:

With regards,
Andrew Kessinger
Common Ground News Service


The right to change one's religion
Shaykh Abdallah Adhami

New York, New York - From the Code of Hammurabi to the Code of Maimonides, most major systems of law have affirmed that apostasy must be punished.

In the renowned code of the Roman emperor Justinian (483-565 CE), corpus juris civilis — the basis of all Roman canon law and of modern civil law — apostasy was "to be punished by death" and there was "no toleration of dissent".

The Biblical codes stipulate that the "one who doubts or ridicules one word of the Torah — or of the rabbinical authors — is a 'heretic' in the fullest sense, an infidel ... and there is no hope for him." The laws concerning such an unbeliever are very strict: "he may be killed directly". Or as Maimonides, the 13th century Andalucian rabbi and philosopher, advised regarding the abeyance of apostasy law in his era, "his death may be caused indirectly."

Islamic law, (shari'a), likewise stipulated killing in cases of established public apostasy. Though there is little literature on the emergence and application of apostasy law in the early periods of Muslim history, its actual application usually depended upon whether its declaration was public or private. Within the Islamic state, what minorities — religious and otherwise — did in their private lives was left to their own discretion, even if it may have been technically termed "deviant" or against Islamic teaching.

Shari'a, like all religious law, governs rites of worship and codes of individual and communal conduct and ethics. Contrary to stereotypical notions of religion, the earthly realm within shari'a is in fact pragmatically understood to be essentially secular.

From the point of view of religion, the fundamental nature of the human being is to yearn to worship God unencumbered. The private realm of apostasy had thus always reflected more complex dimensions that make ultimate human judgment impossible. The mysteries of the heart and mind are as beyond theology as they are barely fathomable to neuroscience.

It is our creative encounter with earthly, secular life that reveals our capacity for usefulness to others, and it is the premier instrument by which our own spiritual station is elevated. Authentic, sincere worship ultimately becomes the daily barometer of our spiritual state.

Free, rational debate had always been accommodated within the religious context of shari'a. This was a uniquely Islamic phenomenon, as true in European Cordoba as it was in Arabian Baghdad. Neither the theological abstraction of the Mu'tazilites, a 9th century group of philosophers, nor the unmitigated foreign dialectics by the secretive 10th century group, Brethren of Purity, for example, was ever grounds for removing one from the fold of Islam.

The most salient evidence for not punishing "private" apostasy in Islam is the perennial existence of the so-called hypocrites amidst Medinan society despite grave Qur'anic passages against them. Moreover, private "heretical" thought was neither censured nor censored; as long is it was not publicly preached, it was not condemned as such, nor were there articulations of a need to suppress it.

Outward or visible stability in the earthly domain is what allows the institutions of civil society to continue.

The non-violent resistance of the Prophet Muhammad in Mecca and his diplomacy during the Treaty of Hudaybiyah taught his companions a similar lesson. Under this Treaty, the Prophet allowed people to emigrate without any reprisal, despite the fact that they were abandoning Islam in the process (some having only adopted the new religion for reasons of self-interest).

No prophet was ever given the license to pass judgment over the faith of a human being — as the Qur'an repeatedly reiterates, judgment is ultimately with God alone. Hence, constructive service of our sacred traditions lies in showing their relevance as a vehicle of infinite creativity, not in demoting them to preoccupation with judgment of contemporary culture.

We need to acknowledge and affirm that diversity and difference are part of the divine intent for creation — that we were made as nations and tribes so that we may "learn about and be enriched by the ways of each other" (Qur'an, 49:13). Provincialism and relativism will always challenge diversity — especially when the latter is disguised as tolerance; and not because people are inherently incapable of living together, either.

We need a renewed devotion to the truth, and to seeking it freely through our established non-sectarian, scholarly institutions. Thomas Jefferson exhorted: "Truth is ... the proper and sufficient antagonist to error." It is only through respectful free argument and debate that ideologies can be judged and challenged on their own merits.

The reformation that is direly needed — across the entire globe — is the honest reassessment of the original sources of all our oppressive cultural myths and tyrannical modes of thinking.

As Muslims, we need to establish a higher barometer for what constitutes competence in the service of the scholarly disciplines of shari'a. This would equip us with greater clarity and confidence and prevent us from thoughtlessly demonstrating in passionate protest every time a passing wind seems to challenge our faith.

As religious leaders of all faiths, we need to acknowledge our responsibility for much alienation and estrangement among the faithful around the world. This would begin to re-establish the credibility of our institutions, which would eventually re-ignite the religious imagination of the masses.

Lastly, we need a renewed commitment to focus on an ethos of compassionate, selfless service as a public trust; and this is certainly more becoming of the example of the Blessed Messengers that we claim loyalty to.


* Shaykh Abdallah Adhami is an Arab-American imam and a leading scholar of Islam. He is currently working on an exploration of the linguistic implications of apparently problematic verses in the Qur'an. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 23 October 2007,
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


Groundbreaking event in Muslim-Christian solidarity
Claude Salhani

Washington, DC - "The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians." An open letter carrying this message was sent by 138 of the world's most senior Muslim leaders to the heads of all Christian churches — including Pope Benedict XVI, addressing Christians around the world on the eve of Eid ul Fitr, the Muslim holy day marking the end of Ramadan.

This letter, a welcome high-profile olive branch extended to all Christians, is described as a truly historic event and was even more significant in that among the signatories of the document, one could find the names of several prominent leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Everybody thinks this is a historic event," said John L. Esposito, a professor at Georgetown University and director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding: "…if you look at the history of Islam and the Muslim world, this is really the first time that we have an initiative where Muslims have collectively come together and agreed to what binds them to Christians," said Esposito.

Indeed, this initiative by Muslim leaders from around the world to reach out to all Christians is a first, and it comes not a minute too late as relations between the two communities are particularly strained.

The tensions came to a boil beginning with the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, in which close to 3,000 people were killed. These terrorist attacks by self-declared Muslims were followed by a series of similarly murderous ones on Western targets such as London, Madrid and other cities. The controversy over the offensive caricature of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper, which resulted in anti-Western riots from London to Islamabad, added fuel to the fire only to be followed by reportedly damaging statements from the Pope about Islam and violence not long afterward.

The schism between the West and Muslims only seemed to be widening.

The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan — two Muslim countries — spearheaded by the United States and mostly Western coalition forces have done nothing to abate that tension. The situation was aggravated when President George W. Bush spoke of a "crusade" at the outset of the Iraq war, which is how many Muslims perceive the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Emerging as it does from the turmoil and tension between the West and Islam, this document is truly "a dramatic and groundbreaking display of international solidarity," as the letter was described in a communiqué issued on behalf of Muslim leaders.

Esposito, an expert on Islam, emphasised that Muslims and Christians share the same principles of love of one God and love of the neighbour. The Georgetown scholar pointed to a number of similarities between the Holy Qur'an and the Holy Bible.

Despite language differences between the Hebrew Old Testament, the original word of Jesus Christ in Aramaic, and the actual transmitted Greek of the New Testament, the three versions have the same command: to love God fully with one's heart and soul and to be fully devoted to Him. The Muslim holy book, the Qur'an, carries the same message.

"Everyone is interested in political and economic contentions, difficulties, struggles, wars," said Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, during a press conference in Washington marking the event.

The differences between Christians and Muslims, say the theological experts, is a difference of theology rather than of politics.

"Without a theological solution, without a certain sense of accepting the other…all other solutions are expediency and sooner or later they wither away," said Nasr.

"Post 9/11, a common question is: where are the moderate Muslim voices?" said Esposito. "This historic document is a crystal clear message of peace and tolerance from 138 Muslim leaders from across the Islamic world," said Esposito.

The authors of the letter believe that with over half of the world's population consisting of Muslims and Christians, meaningful world peace can only come from peace and justice between those two faiths.

The signatories of the document, who include some of the world's most influential Islamic leaders and thinkers, are calling for tolerance, understanding and moderation. The uniqueness of this approach lies not only in the fact that Muslims have extended and opened their arms to Christians, but it also marks "an historic achievement in terms of Islamic unity," according to Esposito.

What is significant in this case is that this initiative groups Muslims from right across the spectrum, uniting Sunnis and Shiites and individuals ascribing to different schools of thought within those two branches of Islam.

The driving force behind this letter, and a previous one to the Pope by a smaller group of 38 scholars a year ago, has been the Royal Academy of Jordan, an international and non-governmental Islamic institute headquartered in Amman.

While the 138 signatures on this historic document are those of recognised Muslim leaders, for this initiative to succeed it needs the support of the masses. This letter is undoubtedly an encouraging step, but as one cynical commentator put it, prominent as they may be, these are still only 138 names out of 1.6 billion.

Indeed, the task facing mainstream Muslim leaders — of reclaiming Muslim and Western attention away from the radical minority — is as monumental as the difference between 138 and 1.6 billion. But as the saying goes, faith can move mountains.


* Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 23 October 2007,
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


Re-narration of Muslim-Western experiences

Surabaya, East Java – A lack of trust exists between the Muslim world and the West despite various attempts to bridge these two civilisations. Since the tragedy of 9/11, each side has become even more suspicious of the other. Consider the demonstrations and violence that occurred in response to the Pope's speech in September 2006, or the banning of the hijab (headscarf) in France. It seems that this kind of sensitivity will exist as long as the roots of the problem are not addressed, and the potential for disharmony will continue despite the various attempts to build bridges between the Muslim world and the West.

One root of the Muslim-Western polemic may lie in the collective subconscious. There is something that lies latent but has the power to dominate our conscious behaviour. Carl Jung, the famous psychoanalyst, explained that the "shadow" is the deepest layer of our personality and contains personal and collective psychological qualities that we are ashamed of. These relatively autonomous elements become a part of our psychological makeup and are capable of influencing actual behaviour.

This shadow, on a global level, clouds the relationship between the Muslim world and the West. Elements of the shadow are created from past events and leave scars on both sides. The Crusades, for example, occurred long ago in the Middle Ages, but they left an indelible scar in the collective subconscious of both Muslims and the West. The events of 9/11 also have the potential to leave scars. Such scars are "remembered" in both Muslim and Western socio-cultural institutions, persisting in the collective memory.

The persistence of these scars reinforces certain stereotypes, causing some Westerners to say, "Muslims are hostile toward democracy, women, homosexuals and other religions", while some Muslims will say, "The West wants only to dominate us and demonise Islam".

Perceptions such as these create barriers between individuals and groups and reduce the likelihood that one will engage with the other.

As a result, even though peace accords are signed and public statements of good will and collaboration are made, genuine contact between Muslims and those in the West must also occur. However, lasting scars create the fiction that the stranger is threatening and frightening, and as a result, some people are deceived by the shadow that lies in the collective subconscious telling them that Westerners are infidels or that Muslims spread their doctrine by the sword. These stereotypes induce fear and reduce the opportunity for harmonious relations.

Re-narration, a psychoanalytical technique for dealing with past experiences, attempts to deal with the trauma of historical scars, deconstructing those narratives that promote mistrust and prejudice.

Re-narration causes people to transform the way they see traumatic events from threatening and personal, to neutral and objective. When traumatic events are looked at through this lens, the sadness, wounds, scars and tears become superficial, neutralising the hurt.

Kingdom of Heaven, Ridley Scott's 2005 epic movie, is an example of the re-narration of stubborn scars related to Muslim-Western relations. Loosely based on the life of Balian of Ibelin, an important nobleman in the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem in the 12th century, the movie demonstrates that Christians, Muslims and Jews can live together in harmony — so long as fanaticism is kept at bay. It encourages audiences to look beyond "who is wrong and who is right".

This is demonstrated by Balian's words: "The wall? The Mosque? The Sepulchre? Who has claim? No one has claim. All have claim! We defend this city not to protect these stones, but the people living within these walls." The dialogue portrays the war, not as one of religious identity, but as an artistic work. Kingdom of Heaven transforms the scars, allowing the shadow to leave the subconscious, tearing down the walls that prevent honest engagement with others.

The Hijabi Monologues is another example of re-narration. The performance by two University of Chicago graduate students creates a space where Muslim American women can tell their personal stories in their own words. Through the power of re-narration, claims are challenged and generalisations confronted. Listeners gain access to shared human experiences and an enriched understanding of the lives of these women, which transcend superficial judgments based on their appearance.

Through re-narration, traumatic past experiences are more readily accepted. Individuals do not need to mourn at every memorial along their path. This willingness to accept the past does not necessarily mean completely forgetting traumatic events, instead it is an openness, an acceptance of an incident that has occurred in the past. And in this openness there is unconditional forgiveness for the other that does not demand compensation, because it is does not involve financial or physical exchange.

Re-narration can take place through many mediums: photography, art, theatre, dance, literature, sitcom, even news. Only with true storytelling, listening and understanding can the shadow that is locked in the subconscious of both Muslims and Westerners — including Muslim Westerners — be released. Only then can bridging and reconciliation attempts yield successful results.


* Audifax is a psychologist and author of "The Myth of Harry Potter" (2005) and "Imagining Lara Croft" (2006). This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 23 October 2007,
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


Indonesia: Is secularism a choice?
Ali Noer Zaman

Jakarta - During his one-month visit to Indonesia between July and August 2007, Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, a Sudanese Muslim intellectual who now teaches at Emory School of Law in the United States, campaigned for Muslim countries to adopt a secular system of governance. In this system, the state is not based on specific religious teachings, whose interpretations, he argues, are monopolised by the authority. The state would also not intervene in the religious beliefs and practices of its subjects, with the possible exception of donating aid to religious institutions.

An-Na'im disagrees with the efforts of those political and social organisations that champion for the adoption of shari'a, a political system based on Islamic principles. He believes that shari'a is based on time-bound religious interpretations from scholars of previous eras. These antiquated interpretations have many shortcomings, such as the relegation of women and non-Muslims to the role of second-class citizens in society.

Indeed, the debate over secular versus Islamic states in the Muslim world is not a new one, and has raged on since the abolishment of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924. In Egypt, the Islamic scholar Ali Abdul al-Raziq provoked controversy with his book Islam wa Ushul al Hukm (Islam and the Fundamentals of Government), in which he stated that the main message of the Prophet Muhammad has to do only with religious matters, while mundane affairs are relegated to the ummah (Muslim community). He rejected the unification of religious and administrative affairs under the control of a caliph who serves as a successor to the Prophet.

It is likely not by chance that An-Naim chose to make this speech in Indonesia, a country with a long history of secular nationalism that still struggles with calls for the implementation of a state governed by religious laws.

Sukarno (1901-1970), the first president of the Republic of Indonesia and a secular nationalist, was the first Indonesian Muslim leader who triggered the discourse on the separation of religion from politics, rejecting Islam as political ideology, and preferring secular democracy as a foundation for the country's government. For him, Islam within a secular state would not be marginalised, but would instead function as the moral force of the Muslim community.

In response, Muhammad Natsir (1908-1993), an Indonesian scholar known for his Islamist orientation, believed that Islam and the state are inextricably linked; the first being an ideology of the second. In practice, the state has to be controlled by the Muslim authority because it is a medium through which to implement Islamic orders, such as those regulating zakat (alms), religious marriage and the banning of alcohol and adultery.

As Suharto's New Order administration (1967-1998) reinforced modernisation, the Muslim community in general suspected it as having a hidden agenda to mitigate the role of Islam in socio-political life. To get out of the deadlock, the young thinker Nurcholish Madjid (1939-2005) made a breakthrough by proposing the idea that Islamic values could be realised through spiritual and cultural development. Categorising Islam as a political ideology would only trap the religion in political interest conflicts. In his words: Islam, yes; Islamic political parties, no.

Indonesia in the post-Suharto era has maintained the Pancasila, a political ideology comprised of the belief in one God, humanity, the unity of Indonesia, democracy and social justice. However, demands for the implementation of shari'a remain audible as many Muslim social organisations seek to integrate facets of shari'a by hiding them within an amendment to chapter 29 of the 1945 constitution, which says that the Muslim community should practice its religion fully and through local regulations.

In a 2002 national survey conducted by the Centre for Research of Islam and Community at Syarif Hidayatullah State University, Indonesia's Muslim community also demonstrated growing interest in an Islamic state. In this study, for example, 71% of respondents supported the implementation of shari'a in Indonesia. However, it is worth noting that only 33% agreed with cutting off a thief's hand as punishment for stealing, which some would argue is a quintessential example of shari'a at work. These findings indicate that though the majority of respondents diverge in their understanding of what shari'a, would look like.

In addition, the result of the democratic elections of 1999 and 2004 suggest that the majority of Indonesians are still loyal to nationalist secular parties such as the Golkar Party, also known as the Party of the Functional Groups, and the Indonesian Democratic Party of the Struggle, instead of Islamic-based parties such as the United Development Party and the Prosperous Justice Party.

Also, a national poll conducted by the Indonesian Survey Institute earlier in October revealed decreased support for Islamic radical organisations such as the Jamaat Islamiah, Defenders Front for Islam, Indonesian Hizbut Tahrir and the Indonesian Martyrs Council for a variety of reasons, including the lack of financial resources and the incapability to translate Islamic values into socio-political movements.

If these polling results are any indication, Indonesia is unlikely to become an Islamic state anytime in the near future.


*Ali Noer Zaman is a writer on socio-religious issues. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 23 October 2007,
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


~Youth Views~ Comics bridge cultural gaps
Michael Chou and Youssef Morshedy

Washington, DC/ Maadi, Egypt - One way of looking at the tensions between the Muslim world and the West is as a "war of ideas", with each side attempting to influence the other's "hearts and minds". This paradigm suggests that at the heart of this tension lies misunderstandings and stereotypes when it comes to the other's culture, values and ideology. Arguably, then, innovative public diplomacy initiatives that address these root causes may be effective means of improving in Muslim-Western relations.

To this end, governments and other organisations are devoting more attention to the cultural aspects of their diplomacy efforts through initiatives such as international film festivals and book fairs that introduce foreign populations to different cultures and values.

Of course, any good relationship must be a two-way street. A bridging of the tensions between cultures requires both sides be receptive to learning about the other. More importantly, both sides must take an initiative in communicating their values to enhance intercultural understanding.

Surprisingly, effective communication and exchange of Muslim and Western ideas, values and perspectives can take place through the world of comics and animation.

Over the past decade, the comic-publishing and animation industries have developed into a multi-billion dollar market, seemingly dominated by Japanese firms. The ascension of the Japanese comics and animation industry is a recent phenomenon though. In the last 20 years, Japanese comics and animation series have gained immense popularity around the globe. By surreptitiously serving as Japanese cultural products, it seems reasonable to speculate that as the current generation of children matures, anti-Japanese sentiments that persist from World War II in countries such as China may be tempered by these new interactions with Japanese culture.

From this perspective, comics and animation appear to be innocuous vehicles through which societal values can be communicated to children. Indeed, children seem particularly receptive to the creative mix of visuals and sounds in animation, which arguably enhances the quality of communication as well. By targeting children — the future leaders of the planet, the seeds for intercultural understanding are sown.

For adults, too, it seems that the cultural and counter-cultural elements in comics and animation have resulted in the mobilisation of global communities through their appeal to transnational audiences. In 2006, the world witnessed the mobilisation of Muslim communities following the publication of cartoon panels depicting the Prophet Muhammad by a Danish newspaper. During the same year, the Asia-Europe Foundation brought together Asian and European comic artists in Singapore to develop a common publication. These collective reactions are examples of the extraordinary power of comics and animation.

From this perspective, it would be foolish for governments and private organisations interested in arts and cultural policy not to utilise the potential of published and animated comics as a conduit for cultural transmission.

Muslim comic books such as The 99 by Teshkeel Comics have already made a promising start. Taking place during the fall of Baghdad in 1258, and the fall of Granada in 1492, The 99 revolves around 99 heroes from 99 different countries, each possessing a "Noor Stone" which bestows special powers to the 99 different characters.

According to Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, founder and CEO of the Teshkeel Media Group, "The 99 meshes history with fiction and teaches global human values implicit in the 99 attributes of God — values like generosity, strength, wisdom, foresight and dozens of others that unfortunately are not used to describe Islam in the media today. So not only are 99 values being communicated, but 99 different ways of conflict resolution to boot."

In fact, the key to the success of The 99, and in turn its effectiveness as a medium of cross cultural exchange, seems to be its infusion of these Islamic values with a predominantly Western style of comic drawing and presentation. Muslim audiences are exposed to Western aesthetics while Western audiences are provided with an informal but interesting guide to certain Islamic values.

Comics and animation may also be used in creative public diplomacy initiatives on a more formal intergovernmental level. Public diplomacy initiatives may aim at facilitating cooperation amongst interested representatives from Islamic and Western governments for a co-produced series of structured comics and animation through which cultural values may be communicated.

Global peace and stability requires, first and foremost, an understanding and respect for different cultures and perspectives. Comics and animation, as mediums for the exchange of cultural ideas and norms that facilitate understanding, seem to be fitting formats for innovative public diplomacy initiatives with this aim.


*Michael Chou and Youssef Morshedy both appreciate and enjoy comics and animation. Michael is completing a combined medicine and arts degree at the University of Melbourne. Youssef is studying journalism, mass communication and business administration at the American University in Cairo. They co-wrote this article as part of Soliya's intercultural dialogue program. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 23 October 2007,
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.

Monday, October 22, 2007

CAIR on IslamoFacism Week of Hatred

Robert Spencer is main speaker for upcoming Islamophobic campus tour

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 10/21/2007) - The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) revealed today that the main speaker for an upcoming series of "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" lectures at university campuses nationwide recently offered a keynote address at a European gathering that included representatives of racist or "neo-Nazi" political parties.

Author Robert Spencer, who is scheduled to appear beginning next week at universities such as Brown, DePaul and Dartmouth, is regarded by American Muslims as one of the nation's worst Islamophobes. His virulently anti-Islam website promotes the idea that life for Muslims in the West should be made so difficult that they will leave.

Spencer recently spoke at a so-called "Counterjihad Brussels 2007" conference in Belgium attended by those with links to far-right parties such as Filip Dewinter of Vlaams Belang (Belgium) and Ted Ekeroth of Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden). Both parties have been accused of either having a racist platform, a neo-Nazi past or having links to neo-Nazis and other racists.

Vlaams Belang is the successor to the Vlaams Blok party, which was banned in 2004 for being an illegal racist political faction. (Vlaams Belang's founders were Nazi collaborators in World War II.)

Of Sverigedemokraterna, the International Herald Tribune wrote: “Sverigedemokraterna, or the Sweden Democrats, have been part of this country's political landscape for almost 20 years, but they were considered too close to the Nazi-inspired far-right to contend for large numbers of votes.” (7/7/06)

SEE: European Organizations Gather in Brussels to Organize Resistance to Islamization and Shariah

SEE: Court Rules Vlaams Blok is Racist

Robert Spencer's Jihad Watch Board Vice President "Hugh Fitzgerald" wrote on that hate site: "Only one group, only one belief-system, distinguishes itself by appearing incapable of fitting in. And that is Muslims, and Islam ... if one really knew what Islam contained ... then how could any decent person remain a Muslim?"

He also recommended that western nations be "Islam-proofed the way a house is child-proofed," compared Muslims to Nazis and urged that they be boycotted: "[I]t should not be hard to find ways to limit the spread or practice of Islam. And if in addition to whatever local, state and federal government officials do, private parties simply conduct their own boycott of goods and services offered by Muslims, in the same way that they would have refused to buy, in 1938, a German Voigtlander camera..."

Other speakers on the "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" tour include Ann Coulter, who refers to Muslims as "rag heads," and Daniel Pipes, a supporter of the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II and of the views of French racist Jean-Marie Le Pen.

“All those who value religious tolerance and diversity should be concerned about the growing links between European racists and American Islamophobes,” said CAIR Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper.

Publicity for the tour got off to a bad start when it was revealed that the poster promoting the campus events used a photograph that purportedly showed a Muslim woman being stoned to death, but which was in fact an image from a fictional movie.

CAIR, America's largest Islamic civil liberties group, has 33 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787 or 202-744-7726, E-Mail:; CAIR Communications Coordinator Rabiah Ahmed, 202-488-8787 or 202-439-1441, E-Mail:; CAIR Communications Coordinator Amina Rubin, 202-488-8787 or 202-341-4171, E-Mail:


Janet I. Tu, Seattle Times, 10/20/07

A controversial week of events, billed as Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, launches at the University of Washington and some 100 other colleges next week — drawing condemnations from Muslim groups here and across the country.

The UW College Republicans, organizer of the local events, say the week is intended to foster awareness of the terrorist threat posed by a small number of extremists within Islam.

But some local Muslims say the week fosters Islamophobia and racism and attempts to paint all Muslims as terrorists.

Beginning Monday, the group plans to hand out information sheets describing what the week's activities are all about.

And it's hosting two events open to the public: a showing of "Suicide Killers," a documentary about suicide bombers, at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Smith Hall, and a talk by conservative author and talk-show host Michael Medved at 7 p.m. Thursday in Kane Hall.

Amin Odeh, a board member with the local Arab American Community Coalition, said he agrees that "radical anything is dangerous — radical Muslims, radical Christians, radical Jews. Education is needed."

But Odeh says Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week makes too general a link between extremism and Islam, and that the term "Islamo-fascism" links fascism with an entire religion.

"Unfortunately, when people hear the term they don't think of only a small group of extremists, but of Islam in general," he said.

Hala Dillsi, a member of the UW Muslim Student Association, believes Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week promotes fear and intolerance. She is distributing green armbands and encouraging people to wear T-shirts that are green — traditionally the color associated with Islam — on Wednesday in solidarity with local Arabs and Muslims.

The student group also is organizing a forum Oct. 29 in which professors and local Muslims discuss and answer questions about Islam.

Members of the Muslim Student Association, along with other organizations, also plan to hold protests outside Wednesday and Thursday evening's Awareness Week events.

Assistant Chief Ray Wittmier with the UW Police Department said his department is meeting with student organizers on all sides "to make sure everybody stays safe."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Other Israel Film Festival Nov. 8-15, New York




The First Annual OTHER ISRAEL FILM FESTIVAL will take place in New York City, November 8-15, 2007. The event will be held at the JCC in Manhattan, Symphony Space and Cinema Village.

20 percent of Israel’s population is Arab. Muslim, Bedouin, Christian, and Druze from different ethnic, religious, cultural and social backgrounds are defined collectively as Arab Citizens of Israel. Through a week-long festival of award-winning films, guest filmmakers, panel discussions, special gala events & receptions, photography exhibits, musical performances and much more, OTHER ISRAEL FILM FESTIVAL will illuminate the lives of the Arab Citizens of Israel who are rarely seen outside the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This festival will be unique – it is not about the conflict – it is not about taking sides – this festival is about people,” states Festival Founder Carole Zabar. “Through the Festival, Arab Israelis who have long been a part of Israel’s art and film scene will bring Israeli Arab perspectives and culture to an audience that has never heard this voice before. This is a unique opportunity to showcase the accomplishments of Israeli Arabs and for festival goers to meet Arab actors and directors as well as the Jewish Israelis with whom they work and colaborate with great success.”

The First Annual OTHER ISRAEL FILM FESTIVAL will celebrate its Opening Night Gala on Thursday, November 8, 2007, with an unforgettable evening featuring great food, music, friends and film! Other Israel is proud to present the International Premiere of ON HOLD, directed by Rokaya Sabbah.

During the 2007 Jerusalem International Film Festival (July 5-14), the OTHER ISRAEL FILM FESTIVAL participated in a juried competition to present the “Other Israel Award” to a film that through creative use of the medium furthers awareness and challenges conventions about the Arab citizens of Israel. The Festival’s Closing Night will be a special director’s presentation of the 2007 Other Israel Award winner, Yusef Bilal’s Crossing Borders.


Arab Labor (US Premiere) - In this new satire TV series written by Sayed Kashua, Amjad is a thirty year-old Arab Israeli journalist, married to Bushara, a social worker and father to Maya. In his attempt to make it to the top, he is going through a process of "Israelization", often mocked by his family and not accepted by the majority he is trying to belong to.

Atash (Thirst) - A family of five, their two goats and donkey live in the middle of nowhere far from their village home. They earn a meager living by producing & selling charcoal, made from the surrounding trees. One day the father decides to provide running water for the family by illegally diverting water onto their land. The three women recoil from the idea but the teenage son obeys submissively anything to be allowed to continue attending school. The water surging through the pipe parallels the surging resentment the family feels towards the father. He brought them to this place against their will and they know the reason they left their home is also the reason they can never return, but the newly free-flowing water on their land re-awakens the instinctive desire for freedom they have been repressing all these years.

Behind the Walls - In Israel's Central Prison, the security officer is corrupt, supplying drugs and stirring the hatred between Jewish and Arab prisoners to his advantage. Uri, in for 12 years for armed robbery, and Issan, in for 50 years for PLO violence, command the respect of their cells. When the Arabs are framed for the murder of a Jewish prisoner and a young inmate commits suicide rather than lie about what happened, Uri and Issan form an unlikely partnership. 1984 Oscar® Nominee-Best Foreign Film, Winner of Fipresci Prize-Venice International Film Festival.

Crossing Borders - The film follows Aisha Sidawee and Umima Abu Ras, two Arab women in Israel joining “Ta’ayush”, a feminist movement, and documents them through a period filled with tension and conflicts, both personal and social ones. Winner of the Other Israel Award at the 2007 Jerusalem Film Festival.

Empathy – The film composed of multiple stories composed together and arranged in reverse chronological order to enable the viewer to consider events that took place previously with a fresh perspective.

The Film Class - Rahat is by no means an ordinary place. It is afflicted with pessimism, unemployment, poverty and violence. It is partially populated by the Black Bedouins who were brought to the Negev, and the Middle East at large, as slaves. Kidnapped in Africa by Arab slave traders, they were auctioned-off in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Zanzibar. Until 50 years ago, the Black Bedouins were enslaved by the White ones. When the director of an adult women’s film class first started working with the group, he had no knowledge of it. The women never mentioned the issue he found increasingly intriguing. Only after about 18 months of working and making short films together, did he work up the nerve to suggest that they make a film of their history. Suddenly, a small and modest course in filmmaking became a place in which a great taboo comes into the open. The women still suffering discrimination to this day unveil a story which few have spoken of.

First Lesson in Peace - explores the Jewish–Arab relations through the eyes of a six year old girl, the director's daughter, when she starts school at the mixed Arab-Jewish primary school - Neveh Shalom -The Oasis of Peace. The film follows the clashes and encounters she goes through during her first year in school and her first year in the reality of the Middle East.

Maktub - Ataf, a Druze Israeli police officer is assigned to investigate a murder case. During the investigation he experiences strange flashes, which endanger his life and his relationship with his Jewish Israeli girl friend Michal; the police officer in charge of youth cases in his unit. These flashes lead him to meaningful understandings concerning one of the fundamental beliefs of the Druze society – reincarnation, drawing him closer to his people, who will not tolerate the idea of him marrying anyone but a Druze, but also reinforcing his great love to Michal.

No Longer Achmed (US Premiere) – Achmed Hamdoon, a young Arab Bedouin, was raised in the family tin hut, a few meters away from the locked gate of Kibbutz "Lotem" in West Galilee, Northern Israel. Having longed for the kibbutz life most of his youth, he finally pulls out and moves to "Lotem", changing his name to the typically Israeli name Meidan Sade. The clan is outraged and sees him as a "traitor". But Meidan, no longer Achmed, feels he cannot access better opportunities in the Israeli society as a Bedouin. Indeed, he becomes "the first Hamdoon" to carry ammunition while guarding the Kibbutz, completes his high school degree, and finds a new Jewish "cultural" mother. The price, however, is high. Meidan is lonely, unable to find a Jewish girl who will accept him as he is, nor a Bedouin girl who will not frown on his extreme crossing of ways.

On Hold (International Premiere) – deals with the decision of an Arab Israeli couple to leave Israel and move to Spain. The film focuses on the preparations for the move, as well as on all the related mental and moral questions - Should they stay in a country that even though was the home of their ancestors is defined as the home of the Jewish people? Should they stay and fight for their rights or should they follow their dreams and go on a journey looking for another “promised land”? This journey leads them to look into their surroundings: her Muslim family, his Christian family, and their friends, Jews and Arabs, just to realize they are not alone in this dilemma.

Pickles, Inc. - In the Arab Israeli village of Tamra, eight widows decide to challenge convention by starting up a business venture -- the Azka Pickle Cooperative -- seeking financial independence for themselves and their children. With little formal education or work experience outside the home, the women face numerous hurdles as the business struggles to expand to stores throughout Israel -- while their personal lives reflect the joys and sadness of family weddings, bereavement, and loneliness.

Ringo & Taher - Taher, a little boy from Jaffa has a small dream, which is to own a dog. One day, that dream comes true in the form of a little puppy he finds in the street and names Ringo. But in Taher’s world, raising a dog is unacceptable, and so he decides to raise the puppy on his own, out of his strict father's reach.

Roads (US Premiere) - 13 year old Ismail who lives in a drug infested neighborhood in Lud looks for a way out of there for him and his younger brother. Daniel, an ex-soldier with post traumatic stress disorder, buys drugs from Ismail for his own personal escape attempt. There, in the lowest place in Israeli society, they might find their way out in each other.

Shadia - A spirited Israeli-Arab girl challenges the traditional Muslim lifestyle planned for her by fighting to become a World Karate Champion. Shadya’s conflict as an “Israeli-Arab” and as an “Arab-Woman” emerges when she meets the Palestinian karate team and when she marries at the peak of her career.

Since You Left - In his autobiographical essay, Arab-Israeli actor/director Mohammad Bakri returns to the grave of his former mentor, the writer and communist Emile Habibi, and attempts – using archive footage, personal films, and documentary materials – to account for the personal and political transformations that have occurred in Israel as well as within his own thinking since the author’s death.

Syrian Bride - A Druze woman from Golan Heights, Israel is engaged to marry a Syrian television star whom she has never met. If she moves to Syria, however, she will never be able to return to her home.

Trumpet in the Wadi - Based on the novel by Sami Michael, Trumpet in the Wadi is a sensitive love story between two outsiders in Israeli society. Huda, a Christian Arab woman from Haifa, is drawn to her upstairs neighbor Alex, a new Jewish immigrant from Russia.

Special Presentations:

* WORKING TOGETHER - Arab and Jewish filmmakers in an open discussion about their experiences working together. Moderated by Richard Pena, Program Director, Film Society of Lincoln Center and Associate Professor of film at Columbia University.

* ARAB ISRAELI 101 - From the commentator of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Middle East” (Mitchell G. Bard), comes Arab-Israeli 101. Join writer / Middle East specialist Jeff Helmreich to learn everything you wanted to know about Arab Israelis and were afraid to ask.

* CITY OF ORANGES - Through the stories of six families - three Arab and three Jewish - City of Oranges illuminates the underlying complexity of modern Israel. Join Symphony Space Artistic Director Isaiah Scheffer and author Adam LeBor in conversation about his NY Times-editor’s-choice book.

* UNRECOGNIZED - A fascinating slide show presentation by the artist Tal Adler, a photographer, teacher and social-political activist who comes face to face with the issue of the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev and their inhabitants.

* SLING SHOT HIP HOP with DAM - A unique evening comprised of live performance of the first and leading Arab Israeli rap group DAM (Da Arabian MC’s – Suhell Nafar, Tamer Nafar & Mahmoud Jreri), excerpts from the new film Sling Shot Hip Hop, documenting the Arab hip-hop scene presented by director Jackie Salloum, and discussion with DAM about the role their music plays within their social, political and personal lives.

* Beyond the Wall: KIDS WITH CAMERAS – Jerusalem. Twenty-four Jewish and Arab children were given cameras and photography lessons and sent out to photograph Jerusalem’s old city though their own perspectives. The results are remarkable. See Jerusalem from the vantage points of kids who live in the same city, but whose worlds are far apart.

Additional Panels and discussions:

* Q&A with actor / director Mohammad Bakri following “Behind the Walls” and Since You Left.

* Q&A with producer Nitza Gonen following Pickles.

* Q&A with director Tawfik Abu Wael following Atash.

* Q&A with director Jony Arbid follwing Ringo & Taher.

* Q&A with director Yusef Bilal following Crossing Borders.

* Q&A witt director Rokaya Sabbah following On Hold.

* Panel discussion on Bedouin Society in Israel following The Film Class with director Uri Rosenwaks, Vivian Silver, Executive Director of the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development (NISPED, a not for profit institution for social and economic development in Israel, the Middle East region, and in developing countries around the world); and Amal Elsana-Alh'jooj, director of AJEEC – the Arab Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation, a division of NISPED.

* Panel discussion on Educating for Co-existence following First Lesson in Peace. Panelists and moderator TBA.

* Panel discussion on Identity of Arab Israelis following No Longer Achmed, with director David Deri and additional panelists.

* Discussion on Women in Arab Israeli Society following Shadya with feminist journalist & filmmaker Lilly Rivlin, and Mona Eltahawy, an award-winning New York-based journalist and commentator and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues.

Guest Filmmakers:

Mohammad Bakri (actor–BehindTheWalls, director–SinceYouLeft).

Mohammad Bakri was born in the Arab village of Bi'ina in the Galilee in 1953. Bakri began his professional acting career in plays in several theaters in Israel and the West Bank notably the Habima National Theatre in Tel-Aviv, the Haifa Theater and al-Kasaba Theater in Ramallah. After a few years of acting in Israeli film, Bakri began to act in international films in nations such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Canada. Bakri also directed two documentary films including the controversial Jenin, Jenin and most recently the autobiographical documentary Since You Left.

Tawfik Abu Wael (director-Atash)

Tawfik Abu Wael was born in the Arab town of Um El-Fahim in Israel, in 1976. He graduated from Tel Aviv University, where he studied film directing, and worked in the film archive from 1996 to 1998. He taught drama at the Haan Arafe School in Jaffa from 1997 to 1999. His previous works include the shorts Bread (1997), Hashish and the Moon (1997), and Diary of a Male Whore (2000), and the documentary Waiting for Sallah El-Din (2001). Atash is his first feature film; it won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2004 Cannes Internationa Film Festival.

Uri Rosenwaks (director – The Film Class)

Born in the southern city of Be'er Sheva, Uri Rosenwaks has been writing, producing, and directing documentary films and specials for Israeli TV for the past ten years. The Film Class is his most recent documentary and has been presented in festivals throughout the world, winning both audience and critic alacclaim.

Yussef Bilal (director – Crossing Borders)

Born in the town of Dabbourieh in 1979. After graduating Communication & Cinema studies at Emek Ha'Yarden division of Ben Gurion University in 2002, Bilal worked as a correspondent of Ma'ariv, one of Israel's leading daily newspapers, as well as coordinated and supervised numerous social and educational film projects. Yusef Bilal's first full-length documentary film Crossing Borders (2007) was named Best Documentary in The Spirit of Freedom category of the 2007 Jerusalem International Film Festival and is the winner of the OTHER ISRAEL AWARD.

Jackie Salloum (director – Sling Shot Hip-Hop)

Born and raised in suburban Michigan, Salloum began her current project, Slingshot Hip Hop, a feature-length documentary chronicling the lives of Palestinian rappers in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel, in the summer of 2003. During this same period, she completed “Planet of the Arabs”, a video art critique of Hollywood’s representation of Arabs and Muslims that went on to garner her the "Best Editor" award at the Cinematexas film festival and a 2005 Sundance Film Festival official selection. The anxiously anticipated Slingshot Hip Hop, now in post-production, has already brought the voices of her young subjects to concert audiences in Amsterdam, Ireland, New York City, and San Francisco and to the tens of thousands of people who have watched the trailer on-line.

Jony Arbid (director/writer – Ringo & Taher)

Jony Arbid is a well known actor who has appeared in numerous award winning films. Among them The Little Drummer Girl, The Flying Camel, Fictive Marriage, Final Cup, Café Stories, and Dark Night. Throughout his career as an actor, Arbid also participated in many TV series ("101", "Shalva", "Zinzana", "Deep Blue") and theater performances (Chan Theatre, Akko Theater Festival, Fringe Theatre, The Jaffa Arab-Jewish theater). In 2003 he directed “Crazy Night” (i.e. "Layla Majnun") in the Jaffa Arab-Jewish Theater. Ringo & Taher is his first feature as a director.

David Deri (director – No Longer Achmed)

Director and scriptwriter, graduate of the Sapir College Film & TV school in the Israeli Negev. Among his award winning films are Until Tomorrow Comes starring Yael Abecassis, nominated for five Israeli Film Academy Awards, winning Best Drama and Best Actress categories, and Say Amen, an autobiographic documentary named one of the best five documentaries of the year 2005 by Israeli Film Academy.

Rokaya Sabbah (director – OnHold)

Born in 1982 in the Arab village of Tur`an, Israel, Graduated form "Camera Obscura" School of Arts in Tel-Aviv, majoring in directing and screenplay writing. In 2004 directed the Making of Paradise Now and recently finished directing a 52 episode documentary of On Hold supported by The New Israeli Film Fund & The Second Authority For TV & Radio. She is currently working on her first feature film Till The Moon Sets, developed with the support of The Israeli Film Fund.

Nitza Gonen (producer – Pickles)

Gonen has directed and produced a variety of television and cinematic projects, focusing on drama films and innovative documentaries, as well as concerts and operas events. Her films deal with human and social issues.

Among the groups supporting this unique Israeli Arab festival are numerous US based Jewish and non-Jewish organizations. These predominantly Jewish organizations are supporting this non-Jewish event as they share the common goal of preserving the welfare of Israel while sustaining a peaceful existence and the long-term stability of the democratic Jewish state. Israel’s Declaration of Independence promises equality for all its citizens, economically, educationally and socially – Jews and Arabs alike. Ultimately, empowering Israeli Arab citizens to become more involved in the process that affects their daily lives as well as educate the American Jewish community on majority-minority relations in Israel. This support is a collective effort to promote co-existence between Arabs and Jews. And what better tool than the all encompassing medium of film to change perception, evoke emotion and unite all the people of Israel.

Supporting Organizations:

UJA-Federation of NY; NYU-Taub Center for Israel Studies; Columbia University-Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Culture; Ort America; American Israel Friendship League; Hashomer Hatzair; Givat Haviva; Yad b'Yad-Hand in Hand; New Israel Fund; The Abraham Fund Initiatives; Ford Foundation Israel Fund; Isaac and Ishmael; Search For Common Ground; JCP-Jewish Community Project; Jerusalem Foundation; Ameinu; Meretz USA; Ma'ayan; Generation R.

Tickets and information: General Admission: $11 / $7 for JCC and Symphony Space members; Festival Pass: $35 (Good for five general admissions. Must be exchanged at Box Office 30 minutes prior to show time. Special events excluded). Special Events Admission: Opening Night Gala: $35; Closing Night Reception: $25; Sling Shot Hip-Hop with DAM: $20; Unrecognized / City of Oranges: $11 / $7 for JCC and Symphony Space members. Tickets available starting October 8th online –, or call 646.505.5708, or at the screening locations – The JCC in Manhattan, Symphony Space, Cinema Village.

For more information on the OTHER ISRAEL FILM FESTIVAL, please visit the web site at

For press and media inquires, please contact SPRINGER ASSOCIATES PR, 212-354-4660

Gary Springer or Shane Marshall Brown


Statement issued by Debbie Almontaser in New York Arabic School controversy

This was released this week and published by several media including the New York Times:

Statement from Debbie Almontaser:

Good evening. My name is Debbie Almontaser. I am the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, which is known as KGIA. Over a two-year period beginning in 2005, I devoted my life to establishing a school that reflected not only my vision, but the ideas of a design team that included other educators, prospective parents, community members, and the Arab American Family Support Center.

In early August of this year, under pressure from The New York Post, The New York Sun, and right-wing bloggers, representatives of the mayor, the chancellor, and New Visions demanded that I resign as KGIA’s principal. They threatened to close down KGIA if I refused. The next day, I submitted my letter of resignation. Because I believe that I am the person to carry forward the mission of KGIA, I have today submitted my application to become the principal of KGIA. I have also asked my lawyer to begin preparing a lawsuit against the D.O.E. for violation of my constitutional rights.

When I first discussed with New Visions for Public Schools the creation of an Arabic dual-language public school in New York City, controversy was far from my mind. I was thrilled to create a unique school that would provide a rigorous regents-based curriculum with Arabic language and cultural studies, and that would equip students for work in such areas as international affairs diplomacy and cross-cultural understanding. As with the more than 60 other dual language programs in the city, KGIA was created to foster multilingual and multicultural education. It was also joining many New York City public schools that use theme-based approaches to inform and enrich curriculum across subject areas. As an Arab-American Muslim, born in Yemen and raised in the U.S., establishing KGIA was my American dream. It turned into an American nightmare.

On Feb. 12, 2007, the Department of Education announced the establishment of KGIA. In the days following, right-wing blogs began spinning KGIA as an Islamist school with a radical extremist jihad principal. And local New York City papers fanned the flames with headlines like: “Holy war! Slope Parents Protest Arabic School Plan,” “A Madrassa Grows in Brooklyn,” and “Arabic School Idea Is a Monstrosity.” From the day the school was approved to the day I was forced to resign, The New York Sun plastered my picture on its website with a link to negative articles about KGIA.

Leading the attack was the “Stop the Madrassa Coalition” run by Daniel Pipes, who has made his career fostering hatred of Arabs and Muslims. The coalition conducted a smear campaign against me and the school that was ferocious. Members of the coalition stalked me wherever I went and verbally assaulted me with vicious anti-Arab and anti-Muslim comments. They suggested that, as an observant Muslim, I was disqualified from leading KGIA, even though the school is rigorously secular, and its namesake, Khalil Gibran, was a Lebanese Christian. To stir up anti-Arab prejudice, they constantly referred to me by my Arabic name, a name that I do not use professionally. They even created and circulated a YouTube clip depicting me as a radical Islamist.

Then in early August, The New York Post and the Stop the Madrassa Coalition tried to connect me to T-shirts made by a youth organization called Arab Women in the Arts and Media. The T-shirts said, “Intifada NYC.” Post reporters aggressively sought my comment. Because the T-shirts had nothing to do with me or KGIA, I saw no reason to discuss the issue with the media. I agreed to an interview with a reporter from The Post at the D.O.E.’s insistence. During the interview, the reporter asked about the Arabic origin of the word “intifada.” I told him that the root word from which the word intifada originates means “shake off” and that the word intifada has different meanings for different people, but certainly for many, given its association with the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, it implied violence. I reiterated that I would never affiliate myself with an individual or organization that would condone violence in any shape, way, or form. In response to a further question, I expressed the belief that the teenage girls of AWAAM did not mean to promote a “Gaza-style uprising” in New York City.

Although The Post story distorted my words, it accurately reflected my view that I do not condone violence. That should have been the end of the matter. D.O.E. officials should simply have said that it was clear that neither I nor KGIA had any connection to the T-shirts. They should have pointed out that I had devoted my entire adult life to the peaceful resolution of conflict and to building bridges between ethnic and religious communities. In other words, they should have said that the attacks upon me were utterly baseless. Instead, they forced me to issue an apology for what I said. And when the storm of hate continued, they forced me to resign.

In closing, permit me to explain why I am speaking out at this time. While I have been the victim of a serious injustice, the far larger offense has been to the Arab and Muslim communities of New York City. In the years since 9/11, our communities have been the object of the most vile and hateful attacks. The attacks on me are part of a larger campaign to intimidate and silence marginalized communities. Among other strategies, the right-wing is trying to get people from other communities to view Arabs and Muslims as threats to their safety and security. As a result, well-meaning people sometimes act out of fear—not just a knee-jerk anti-Arab, anti-Muslim response, but the fear that, if they do not succumb to right-wing pressure, they too will become targets.

Those seeking to harm our communities would like nothing more than for me to remain silent in response to their hate. For the sake of the Arab and Muslim communities and for all marginalized communities, for the sake of the families of KGIA, and for the sake of all of us committed to creating a society that we can be proud to leave to future generations, I stand here today to say that they will not prevail. I will continue to stand against division, intimidation and hatred; I will stand for a society based on mutual respect and understanding and dignity for all our communities. These are values to which I have devoted my entire adult life and career.

I am applying to be the principal of KGIA because, as its founding principal and the person who envisioned the school, I believe I am the person most qualified to be its educational leader. Throughout the planning process, I worked with a wonderful and devoted design team comprised of educators, parents, students, and community members. I would like to continue that work and to build KGIA into a model dual language school that, to quote KGIA’s mission statement, “helps students of all backgrounds learn about the world” and fosters in them “an understanding of different cultures, a love of learning, and desire for excellence in all of its students.”


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Role of Public Opinion in palestinian-Israeli conflict: By Ziad Abu Zayyad

The role of public opinion in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
Ziad Abu Zayyad

JERUSALEM—The importance of public opinion stems from the fact that in democratic regimes it can play a determining role in the shift of power between the different political forces. Political leaders and parties must always bear in mind that, come election day, it is the voters who will be judging their performance and deciding whether they deserve to be reelected, or whether they should be voted out for having disappointed their electorate. Thus the agenda of political parties must always take into account the wider public agenda and concerns.

This principle does not apply in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

On the Palestinian side, this process has been hampered from the outset and, eventually, blocked. For the first time, Palestinian public opinion was instrumental in replacing the Fatah regime with the new Hamas regime that promised transparency, good governance, and the eradication of corruption. The result was political and economic disaster—as a consequence of the boycott of the elected Hamas government by the international community and the embargo it imposed on the occupied territories.

Furthermore, Palestinian public opinion has been fed with illusions throughout the many years of the Palestinian national struggle for liberation and independence. At the same time, it is influenced by the daily atrocities committed by the Israeli army and the Jewish settlers against the Palestinian people. These practices by the occupation are intensifying hatred and distrust among the Palestinians on the one hand, and ratcheting up the rhetoric and causing knee-jerk reactions and extremism on the other. The Palestinians are so blinded by frustration and despair that they cannot contemplate the possibility of any positive development within Israeli society or public opinion.

Another example is the issue of the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands inside Israel. Palestinian organisations have persistently maintained that there would be no compromise or solution without the achievement and implementation of this right. UN General Assembly Resolution 194 was constantly invoked to stress this right. However, no one has clarified the fact that the resolution was drafted not by the Security Council but by the General Assembly, which lacks the power to enforce its implementation — not even if it should revert to the Security Council. The reason is the U.S. position vis-à-vis the conflict and the pressure it places on the member countries not to support the enforcement of Resolution 194, and because Israel will not allow the return of Palestinian refugees, as its main concern is to ensure the Jewish character of the state and to preserve its Jewish majority. As a consequence, although the present Palestinian leadership is ready to reach a compromise on the right of return in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Palestinian people have not caught up with the leadership and still believe in the attainability of the right of return. When the time comes — if ever — Palestinian public opinion will not have sufficiently matured to agree to a compromise, and the leadership will be faced with the task of having to convince its people to acquiesce to such a compromise. It will most certainly prove a difficult task, but not an impossible one.

As for Israel, although it is a democratic country where a change in government occurs periodically, Israeli public opinion is subjected to systematic intimidation by competing ideological parties or rival political leaders, through which they expect to dictate the national agenda and the voters' priorities. Israeli public opinion is constantly fed with disinformation about the real cause of the conflict and the intentions of the Palestinian people, focusing on the Palestinian call for the right of return. Additionally, Palestinian attacks against civilian targets in Israel are generating fear among the Israeli public and fanning hatred and suspicion. Right-wing groups in Israel present the conflict as the product of a historical Islamic hatred against the Jews, arguing that there is no chance for a real compromise with the Palestinian national movement. The fact is that the lack of a political solution to the conflict has strengthened the religious movements on the Palestinian side, giving credence to the argument of the "historical hatred." Moreover, in the wake of the failure of the Camp David II talks in 2000, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak raised the slogan that there was "no Palestinian partner," and convinced Israeli public opinion that the failure was wholly attributable to the Palestinian attitude or demands. This, of course, was not true because Barak himself contributed considerably to the breakdown of the talks.

Another process is taking place these days. While Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert claims that he is exploring with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the possibility of resuming political talks to reach a settlement to the conflict, Barak, currently the Israeli defense minister, is warning that the time is not ripe for a political settlement, and is intensifying military operations against the Palestinians to abort any possibility of a political process.

The fact is that Barak is looking ahead to next year's elections in Israel. He is planning to run as the leader of the Labor Party. His advantage is his impressive military background. And to win the elections and become the next prime minister, he must place the issue of security at the top of the Israeli voters' priorities. To do that, he is accelerating the military operations, heightening the tension and, most likely, instigating Palestinian retaliation—this will play into his hands.

To conclude, I believe that both Palestinian and Israeli societies are traumatized societies and are incapable of playing an effective role in changing the attitudes of their respective leadership. Public opinion on both sides is subject to perverse influences and, as such, is unable to contribute positively towards the efforts aimed at ending the conflict. This represents a challenge to peace movements and civil society organisations on both sides to join forces in a search for common ground to promote dialogue, break taboos, and build bridges of confidence and understanding between the two peoples.


* Ziad Abu Zayyad is the co-publisher and editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and a former Legislator and Minister in the Palestinian National Authority. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service, 11 October 2007,
Copyright permission is granted for republication.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Common Ground News Service Original Features: Report from Sudan and Youth News

Common Ground News Service
Report this from Sudan
Ellen Davis

Durham, North Carolina - Apostasy is the term applied to religious conversion by those who abhor it, who see conversion as a form of betrayal — of family, community, even nation. Underlying the accusation of apostasy is the understanding that religious conviction and practice are public matters. The supposition of many, across both East and West, that religion is a matter of personal salvation and therefore concerns only God and the individual, has not been widely shared by most peoples and cultures throughout history.

Both the term and the intense emotions that attach to it belong to the special mindset of the three monotheistic faiths, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

One might reason that conversions from one monotheistic religion to another should not arouse hostility, since all monotheisms acknowledge the one God of Abraham and prohibit any other. Yet history consistently shows otherwise. The persecution of "apostates" began as soon as there existed more than one form of monotheism. The 1st century Jew, Saul of Tarsus — better known as St. Paul — had a successful career tracking down and imprisoning Christians, which was terminated only by his own blinding conversion experience. From the 4th century to the mid-20th century, the persecution, massacre or forced conversion of Jews were regular occurrences throughout Christianised Europe. This history of violence, including now the aggressive and militarised forms of proselytising practiced by a small number Islamic groups, is a major factor in the abhorrence of conversion within each of the three monotheistic communities.

There is, however, something new under the sun, namely religiously motivated cooperation among monotheists of different faiths. Sudan might currently be the last place on earth where one would expect to see creative forms of inter-religious cooperation, and at the same time, a diminution of hostility to conversion. Yet such cooperation is evident, especially since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between predominantly Muslim Northern Sudan and the largely Christian South. One notable example is a campaign to promote public education about HIV/AIDS, jointly undertaken by the government and churches in Northern Sudan. This is a dramatic shift for the government, which for years denied that Sudanese Muslims suffered from the disease.

Pressure for such cooperation comes from within the Muslim community, both within Sudan and without. Sudanese Muslims are increasingly vocal about their own experiences with HIV/AIDS, and fear a holocaust such as other African countries now suffer. Syria and other Arab states have broken their silence about the reality of AIDS within their own populations.

This new cooperation is also made possible by the fact that many church groups are giving priority to the work of reconciliation. Christians in Sudan are reaching out in new ways, crossing boundaries between Muslims and Christians as well as between Christians of different tribes, in order to heal wounds left by more than 20 years of unabated war.

The churches of Southern Sudan have created much of whatever fragile infrastructure exists there. Church-based clinics, schools and flood-relief teams provide services to all residents, regardless of their religion. Schools offer a secular curriculum, focusing on reading, writing, language, math and computer competency. In many areas, even devout Muslim parents are choosing these schools over madrassas (Islamic religious schools), because they believe the modern curriculum promises the best future for their children.

The church-run schools are staffed by both Muslims and Christians. Classes in religion are taught with the children receiving instruction in their own traditions: education — not conversion — is the object. The headmistress of one church-run school, a Muslim, recently married a Christian in the same village; neither converted, since inter-religious marriage has been legalised by the new government of Southern Sudan. Even when the question of conversion does occur, it does not tear apart the community that has formed for the sake of education. If a child expresses a desire to convert, the parents are informed, and their wishes for the child are respected by the school.

These Sudanese Muslims and Christians are not religiously apathetic, nor are they religious relativists — most of them are strongly committed to their own traditions. Yet their very commitment is resulting in forms of cooperation that lower and even bring down walls of separation that the three monotheisms have often erected and reinforced. These educational initiatives are thus traditional and at the same time innovative, even revolutionary. In a place like Sudan, probably that strange combination is the only thing that might yet bring healing, build communities and create a future for a people who has seen far more war than peace.


* Ellen F. Davis, professor of Bible and practical theology at Duke University, is active in theological education in Southern Sudan. She has long been engaged in inter-religious study and dialogue. This article is part of a series on apostasy and proselytism distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News (CGNews), 9 October 2007,
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


~Youth Views~ Iran-US relations: a path of disaster or a path of hope
Douglas Foote and Dives Diaves

Boston, Massachusetts/Twin Cities, Minnesota - When it comes to foreign policy toward Iran, Americans have been continually let down. Overreaching US intervention was one of the many roots of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, which in turn was a factor in making the Middle East a more dangerous place for Americans. This was demonstrated quite fiercely and memorably by the taking of American hostages. When George W. Bush took office, there was much optimism that he – with his pragmatic governing record – could be to Iran what Nixon was to China.

Since September 11, 2001, however, the United States has reverted from a multilateral foreign policy approach to aggressive unilateralism. Despite the conciliatory messages coming out of Iran following 9/11, and the shared strategic goal of eliminating the Taliban in Afghanistan, Bush and his advisors made the decision to view Iran as an adversary. The language coming out of the administration has been so harsh that many see military conflict with Iran as inevitable.

Thousands of miles away, another hard-line leader took office. Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the Iranian presidential election of 2005. Like Bush, Ahmadinejad is prone to making statements that are not conducive to diplomacy and negotiation, such as his public assertion that Israel should be "wiped off the map", the rollback of his moderate predecessor's open door policy toward international organisations, and his numerous condemnations of Bush which blur the line between policy criticism and personal attack.

The conduct and policies of both the Bush and Ahmadinejad administrations are detrimental to the already tense atmosphere in the Middle East. However, Iran and the United States – despite their differences in creed, culture and worldview – have a great deal to learn and benefit from each other.

Bush can benefit politically by taking such a hard-line stance against an Islamic nation in the wake of 9/11, and Ahmadinejad can shore up support for his regime by pointing out the evils of America's war in Iraq and support for the "Zionist entity" of Israel, but the poll results and cheering crowds are only fleeting gains. They ignore the possibility of a relationship that could have a positive, stabilising effect on the region for years to come.

There appears to be a gap in both countries between the peoples' wishes and governments' actions. According to a June 2007 CNN-Opinion Research Corporation Poll, only 30% of those polled were in favour of the Iraq War, and given the current climate, a military confrontation with Iran holds little sway.
Recently, Americans voiced their opposition to the administration and its policies at the ballot box and took control of the legislature away from Bush's Republican Party in an election that was seen largely as a referendum on the current administration's failed policy in Iraq. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, an intellectual and military architect of post-9/11 Middle East policy, resigned in the wake of the new elections.

Similarly, Iran's population (two-thirds of which is under the age of 30), while generally considered socially restricted, has expressed its desire for change by way of protest, online publications, and elections.

A recent city council election in Tehran gave victory to two supporters of Ahmadinejad and 11 of his opponents. A poll conducted in May 2005 by the Amir Kabir University found a mere 5% to10% of respondents support the religious conservatives and 85% support a secular democracy, numbers that led columnist Thomas Friedman to call Iran "the ultimate red state."

Clearly, both the American and Iranian citizenry are focused more on solving the problems that currently exist than causing new ones.

There is a need for a change in attitude and shift in language in the Bush administration. While Iran is indeed a strategic competitor in the Middle East, this does not make them "evil". Even though the Iranian president may not express overwhelming gratitude towards more conciliatory language, the main audience should be Iran's youth, which is more liberal, democratically minded, and politically active than former generations. It is important to act strongly and fairly to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to eliminate the emergence of radical individuals, regimes, and non-state actors that thrive on conflicts in the region.

In order for Iran to become a regional leader in one of the more tumultuous area of the world, Ahmadinejad must act in a way that engenders respect. Stop aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Shi'a militias in Iraq. Involvement in two of the bloodiest conflicts of the decade – whether it is direct or not – is not something that garners favour with a populace that feels its domestic needs are not being addressed.

After 9/11, the Iraq invasion, the Israeli-Hezbollah War and all the other ongoing conflicts in the region, do we really need more talk of violence? These two men can either walk down a path of disaster or a path of hope, and we pray that they choose the latter.


* Douglas Foote, is a student of political science, communication and media studies at Tufts University and Dives Diaves is majoring in political science at the University of Minnesota. They co-wrote this article as part of the Soliya's intercultural dialogue program. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News (CGNews), 9 October 2007,
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.

Muslim, Jewish and Christian Women tour the US

For Immediate Release

Susanne Waldorf, Program Director
Partners for Peace
Cell phone: 641-220-3147

Muslim, Jewish & Christian Women Tour US:
Israelis & Palestinians Living with War & Building for Peace

“Jerusalem Women Speak: Three Women, Three Faiths, One Shared Vision”
National US Speaking Tour -- Oct. 27 to Nov. 18, 2007

What does it take to build peace after decades of persecution, war, occupation and conflict? Rarely do we see Israelis and Palestinians -- who have suffered the death of loved ones, through persecution and war, loss of their ancestral homes and discrimination -- working together to envision a new future.

Three women -- Christian, Jew, and Muslim -- whose families have suffered the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will discuss current realities and their hope of a better future for all. They will speak about ongoing efforts to cooperate peacefully to solve problems built on sixty years of conflict and military occupation.

* Wejdan Jaber, a Muslim Palestinian from Gaza; a USAID “Clinton Scholar,” holds an MA in Public Administration & International Management from the Monterey Institute for International Studies, Monterey, California.

In 1948 her parents and grandparents fled Al-Maghar village, leaving behind two houses and farms where her family had lived for generations. They were given haven in a UNRWA Palestinian Refugee camp and later moved to Gaza city where Wejdan was born and raised.

* Abir Kopty, a Christian Palestinian citizen of Israel; nominated as one of Israel’s twelve “People of the Year” in 2005, was the first Arab woman participant in a prime time socio-political reality TV show on Israel’s commercial Channel 2.

She was born & raised in Nazareth where her family had lived for generations; now, because of its annexation into the Israeli state in 1948, they are treated as second-class citizens.
Ms. Kopty has been active in the Coalition of Women for Peace & in Ta'ayush, an Arab-Jewish collaborative effort to eliminate segregation and racism inside of Israel and between people in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

* Hagit Ra’anan, a Jewish Israeli; her parents were members of the Irgun -- a clandestine Zionist paramilitary organization, which fought to establish the state of Israel. Her husband was killed during the 1982 war in Lebanon while serving with the Israeli military. She works with†bereaved Palestinians and Israelis to promote reconciliation and a political solution to put an end to further suffering from ongoing conflict and violence. She also works within Christian, Jewish and Muslim schools in Israel to help create bridges between children now largely isolated from one another.

To schedule Interviews, talk show appearances, editorial board meetings and community presentations contact us. Partners for Peace mission is to help achieve a just and permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For more information on Partners for Peace and the tour visit

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Partners for Peace 14th National Jerusalem Women Speak tour Schedule:

Tour Schedule:
Washington, DC Saturday, Oct. 27 - Saturday, Nov. 3
Frederick and Hagerstown, MDThursday, Nov. 1 - Friday, Nov. 2
Albuquerque and Santa Fe, NMSunday, Nov. 4 - Tuesday, Nov. 6
Phoenix, AZWednesday, Nov. 7 - Friday, Nov. 9
Las Vegas, NVSunday, Nov. 11 - Tuesday, Nov. 13
LA and Santa Barbara, CAWednesday, Nov. 14 - Sunday, Nov.18

Speakers’ Biographies:

Wejdan Jaber (Age 39)
A Muslim Palestinian from Gaza, Ms. Jaber was awarded a USAID “Clinton Scholarship,” in 2000 and in 2002 a Master’s in Public Administration and International Management from the Monterey Institute for International Studies, Monterey, California.

During the 1948 war, Ms. Jaber’s parents, carrying her one-month-old brother, fled Al-Maghar village, leaving behind their two houses and farms where her ancestors had lived for generations. They were sheltered in UNRWA’s Al Buraij refugee camp (south of Gaza City) until the war in 1967, when they moved to Gaza City in search of a safer place to live.

Ms. Jaber underwent five operations during childhood to correct her hips, which had dislocated at birth. Her experience of growing up with a disability, she says, helped her recognize that, as she needed help, she was also able to help others. She volunteered with the General Union of Disabled Palestinians and in 1998 became a board member of this organization.

During the past two years, Ms. Jaber worked as an Academic Counselor on the USAID Presidential Scholarship Program for the Academy for Educational Development (AED).† She was formerly employed in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Gaza, and the UN Special Coordinator’s Office (UNSCO).

Ms. Jaber currently lives in Ramallah, where she serves on the board of Filastiniyat, an organization which advocates for the greater inclusion of women and youth in all aspects of Palestinian society through media and political monitoring programs. As a human rights and women’s rights activist she believes that all human beings are equal and have the right to live their lives in peace and with dignity.

Abir Kopty (Age 32)
A Christian Palestinian citizen of Israel, Ms. Kopty was nominated as one of twelve “People of the Year” in Israel in 2005. She was the first Arab woman participant in a prime time socio-political reality TV show, “Leader Required,” on Israel’s Commercial Channel 2.

Ms. Kopty, formerly the Media Coordinator and Spokeswoman for Mossawa, the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, Haifa, has been a commentator on various Israeli TV and radio programs and a columnist for "Ynet," an Israeli online news website.

A British Council “Chevening Scholar,” Ms. Kopty recently finished a Master’s in Political Communication from the City University of London and now plans to earn a doctoral degree in film production.

She was born and raised in the city of Nazareth where her family has lived for generations. Since the creation of the state of Israel, members of the Arab community in Israel have been treated as second-class citizens and denied national minority status.

Ms. Kopty is active in several political movements and social change organizations focused on feminism, human rights, and Arab-Jewish relations. She is involved in the struggle to end the occupation, the fight to gain full and equal rights for Arab citizens in Israel, and the women's liberation movement, particularly focusing on Arab women’s status in Israel.

She approaches activism with the belief that a lasting peace will be achieved only when political, moral, social and economic justice are secured for all people in Israel and the Occupied†Palestinian Territories, and when all walls dividing them – both physical and psychological - are removed.

Hagit Ra'anan (Age 57)
A Jewish Israeli born in Tel Aviv, Ms. Ra'anan now lives in Kiryat Ono, a city in the Tel Aviv district. Her grandparents, Zionists from Lithuania (Poland at that time) and the Ukraine, left for Palestine in the 1920's, fearing that Europe was on the verge of a catastrophe. Her grandfather's sister chose to remain in Poland and perished in the Holocaust.

Both Ms. Ra'nan's parents were members of the Jewish underground movement to end the British Mandate and create the State of Israel in the late 1940's. At age 18, she completed her compulsory military service in the Gaza Strip.

During the first week of the war in Lebanon in 1982, Ms. Ra'anan's husband was killed in combat near Beirut while serving with the Israeli military. For the last seven years, she has been a member of the Bereaved Families Forum, an organization that brings together bereaved Palestinians and Israelis to promote reconciliation and a political solution that will put an end to violence and further bereavement.

Ms. Ra'anan is the founder of Bridges of Peace, an organization which works on many projects, including visiting children and adults in Israeli hospitals, visiting Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and coordinating permits for Palestinians to enter Israel. She also works with children in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim schools within Israel to help create a culture of peace and build bridges between these three communities, now largely separate and isolated from one another.

Ms. Ra'anan, a spiritual healer, believes that dialogue and compassionate listening are necessary first steps toward the healing that must take place between Palestinians and Israelis.

This tour is the Fourteenth National Jerusalem Women Speak tour organized by Partners for Peace.

The response to past tours has been remarkable. Audiences have been moved and challenged by our speakers' stories and surprised to learn that today, in the midst of ongoing conflict, Palestinians and Israelis are able to travel together to speak about their lives, their fears, their hopes, and their work for a just and sustainable peace.