'Come and See that I am Beautiful': Women try to put human face on Palestinians and dispel stereotypes

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Two women are visiting Juneau this week to raise consciousness about two Middle Eastern cultures.

The women are Bonnie Toland of Boston and Lina Haramy of Jerusalem.

Toland, 24, was born in Juneau and graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1995. After teaching Italian at Boston University, she decided to work for organizations in Boston that help bring awareness of Arabs and Palestinians to Americans.

In visits to schools including JDHS and Floyd Dryden, Toland will feature material from her unpublished manuscript, "Come and See That I Am Beautiful," a collection of children's sayings and photographs. To compile this manuscript, Toland toured the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt and Israel during the summer, fall and winter of 1999, with her headquarters with a family in Ramallah, north of Jerusalem. Ramallah has a population of about 30,000 - the same as Juneau, and, although not geographically isolated, is "politically isolated," Haramy said.

"The whole purpose of the book is to try to put a human face to Palestinians," Toland said. "I chose to speak with children because their way of viewing the world can cut through a lot of rhetoric and misconceptions." Her experience with the cultures there gave her a greater sense of compassion for Native Alaskans, she added.

Toland met Lina Haramy, 25, while dancing with a Palestinian folk dance group called Sarriyet. Palestinian folk dance, or dabke, is one of the tools that the pair will use to give local school children a taste of life in the Middle East.

"People think they know Arabs and all about Palestinians, but they have all these stereotypes," Haramy said. "I am here to show that we have a very rich culture and tradition - and hopefully learn more about the peoples of Alaska." Haramy, who has a bachelor's degree in psychology, works in drug prevention in Jerusalem. She also works with the Palestinian Counseling Center, helping children with learning disabilities and teaching leadership and mediation skills. Currently she is enrolled in the master's program in psychology at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., and is making outreach trips as part of her thesis project.

The week will conclude with a Palestinian Dinner at 6 p.m. at McPhetres Hall on Jan. 18. The a-political event will feature a dinner, the teaching of folk dance, and a slide show based on "Come and See That I am Beautiful." "The title comes from the words of a 9-year-old girl," Toland said. "The book begins will pictures of land and sea and gradually moves into close-ups of children's faces."

Tickets to the dinner are $10 for adults, and $5 for students.

According to coordinator Dixie Belcher, this is the first in a series of events intended to inform Juneau residents about the Middle East. The next dinner will be about Israel, followed by events featuring Yemen and Iran. Alaskans for Understanding sponsored the visit of Toland and Haramy to Juneau and is sponsoring the series of dinners.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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