Israeli and Palestinian peace activists were scheduled to speak in Juneau this week, but only the Israeli made it through the heightened security.
The Palestinian, Hisham Sharabati, will speak by teleconference after being turned back by Immigration and Naturalization Services in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
His Israeli counterpart, Devorah Brous, will speak at four events from Friday through Monday. Brous and Sharabati are both on the Middle East staff of the Compassionate Listening Project, a U.S. based nonprofit dedicated to promoting Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, which is sponsoring their speaking tour along the west coast.
Sharabati is a fieldworker for the Palestinian human rights organization LAW. He documents human rights violations, such as injuries, closures, restrictions on movement and restrictions on health services.
Sharabati began working as a youth activist when he was 14. He helped start a youth peace organization, filmed documentaries of Palestinian life on the West Bank. In 1994 he was shot in the leg by Israeli soldiers while filming riots.
As a result of his activism, Sharabati has been arrested six times, the first time when he was 17. Apparently he was denied entry to the U.S. because he indicated on his visa he had not been arrested for "crimes." He views his incarcerations as detentions for his political views and human rights protests, rather than criminal activity.
"Countries that call themselves democracies don't prosecute people for their political activities," Sharabati told the San Diego Tribune. "By treating me this way U.S. officials are behaving like many dictator countries in the Third World."
He said he was sent home to Hebron despite pleas from his American friends, including several rabbis. His Juneau sponsors are also disappointed Sharabati was turned back.
"I think it's extremely unfortunate that the extra security that we seem to think we need to go through requires that a person with a very strong human rights records can't explain the reasons for the discrepancy they discovered and be allowed in," Paige said. "He'd been thoroughly reviewed by our embassy people before recieving his visa."
An INS spokeswoman told the Tribune the increased caution is necessary since Sept. 11 to protect all Americans.
"We are on heightened security and we are very closely scrutinizing the temporary visitors coming to the United States," INS spokeswoman Lauren Mack said, "with particular emphasis on individuals from certain countries, those known to harbor terrorists or sponsor terrorist activity."
Brous has been continuing the speaking tour without Sharabati. Brous founded Bustan L'Shalom, a group promoting justice and land rights through political ecology initiatives in neglected Israeli and Palestinian villages.
Brous also co-organized weekly interfaith peace vigils held for the past two years in the Old City of Jerusalem/Al Quds. Last year she helped establish, stock and staff a medical clinic for the Jahalin Bedouin community in East Jerusalem, which now serves 1,000 people, and a school for Jahalin children, which opened in September 2001.
Brous will be at a potluck dinner at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Northern Light United Church, followed by her presentation and two videos "Children of Abraham" and "Crossing the Line" at 6:30 p.m. On Saturday youths ages 10 to 18 are invited to join Brous and a group of teachers at a round table at Northern Light United Church at 7:30 p.m. People who missed the Brous' presentation and the teleconference with Sharabati on Friday can catch it on Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Chapel by the Lake's Smith Hall, followed by a dessert potluck. On Monday Brous will speak at 6 p.m. the Juneau World Affairs Council at the Dimond Courthouse.
Her visit to Juneau is sponsored by the Juneau World Affairs Council and People for Peace, with support from the Juneau Friends Meeting, Northern Light United Church, Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Chapel by the Lake and the Juneau Cooperative Church Council. For more details on the tour and speakers, visit www.mideastdiplomacy.org.