When I learned that an Israeli and a Palestinian human rights worker would be traveling together on a West Coast speaking tour sponsored by The Compassionate Listening Project of MidEast Citizens Diplomacy, I jumped at the idea that they might be able to come to Juneau. If these two individuals could make such a journey together, then there is still hope for that troubled region of the world - a region that holds such a special place in the hearts of so many of us.
The speakers on tour are Devorah Brous, a veteran Israeli human rights and social justice activist, founder and director of Bustan L'Shalom, and Hisham Sharabati, a fieldworker for the Palestinian human rights organization LAW, as well as a journalist for LAW's magazine, People's Rights.
Devorah's activities include co-organizing the weekly interfaith Peace Vigil for Israelis and Palestinians for the past two years in front of the Kotel/Haram al-Sharif in the Old City of Jerusalem/Al Quds. Last year Devorah built a coalition to establish, stock and staff a medical clinic for the Jahalin Bedouin community in East Jerusalem, now serving 1,000 people.
Bustan co-organized establishment of a school for 100 Jahalin children that opened September 2001. In years preceding the Intifada, Brous initiated the planting of Peace Groves in Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan.
Bustan (a fruit-yielding orchard of trees in both Hebrew and Arabic) is a multi-faceted, needs-responsive group promoting justice and land rights through political ecology initiatives in neglected Israeli and Palestinian villages.
As a fieldworker in Hebron, Hisham Sharabati documents human rights violations: injuries, closures, restrictions on movement, and restrictions on health services. He helped to start the Palestinian Youth Union in 1992. The PYU works with Palestinian youth to help them rebuild their communities and start to overcome any negative effects that have grown out of the occupation.
As a result of his activism, Hisham has been arrested six times for a total of 16 months of incarceration. Hisham has been a ground coordinator for The Compassionate Listening Project since 1991.
When the response to the invitation from Juneau was positive, a group of concerned individuals began organizing a schedule of speaking events and seeking support from various groups.
Unfortunately, Hisham Sharabati was denied entry by the INS on July when he arrived in Chicago to start the tour. Since he does not consider his several detentions without charges by the Israel military to be "criminal," he did not answer yes to the question on his visa application, although he readily answered INS questions about his time in detention. But this "discrepancy" was enough to cause the INS to return him to his home.
In spite of this set-back for the tour, Hisham will participate as fully as possible in the events planned here, as he has in the other speaking engagements in California, Oregon and Washington, via telephone.
I hope these two courageous people can help us learn how we Americans can help them to build the bridges toward reconciliation that will bring security and justice for both peoples. I hope Juneau will welcome Devorah Brous and Hisham Sharabati at the events planned for Aug. 23 through Aug. 26:
Friday, Aug. 23rd - 5:30 p.m. potluck dinner and 6:30 p.m. program at Fellowship Hall Northern Light United Church.
Saturday, Aug. 24 - 7:30 p.m. roundtable discussion with youth at Fellowship Hall Northern Light United Church.
Sunday, Aug. 25 - 7:00 p.m. program followed by dessert potluck at Smith Hall, Chapel by the Lake.
Monday, Aug. 26 - 5:30 p.m. Juneau World Affairs Council reception, and 6:00 p.m. program at Dimond Courthouse.
Amy Paige has lived in Alaska since 1966 and moved to Juneau from Fairbanks with her family in 1981. She has worked in the state as a social science researcher and applied anthropologist. She is concerned about human rights.