I picked up The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian's Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker -- by Sami Al Jundi and Jen Marlowe -- after reading a review of the book in The Jewish Daily Forward. The review is by Israeli-American Emily L. Hauser, and here's how it begins:
Americans often hear about Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the U.S.-Israel relationship. We read Israeli authors in translation, buy Israeli products, and anyone within driving distance of a JCC can hear an Israeli speak on a nearly weekly basis.
What we don't often hear are Palestinians.
This is, I believe, understandable — particularly for the Jewish community. We want to know more about ourselves, our brothers and sisters, our homeland. We want to support our people and our future. We know the story, and don't feel a need to hear the version told by Israel's enemies.
But perhaps that's exactly why we do need to consider Palestinian voices — because after all these years, Israel and the Palestinian people are still enemies.
(Read her whole review here: Hearing Palestinian Voices.) Reading Emily's review made me curious about the book, so I picked up a copy last winter, and last spring I shared my own review (Book review: The Hour of Sunlight.) In my post about the book last March, I wrote:
This book wasn't always easy for me to read, but it is powerful and it is worth reading, especially for anyone who (like me) may have more access to Israeli narratives about the Middle East than to Palestinian ones.
My review reached the attention of Jen Marlowe, the American co-author of the book. I learned that she'd actually given a reading in Williamstown in recent memory, which I had somehow missed. And then she mentioned that she would be happy to return to the Berkshires to share the book and to engage in conversation about it, if there were interest.
This coming weekend, a coalition of local organizations -- the First Congregational Church of Williamstown, the Jewish Association at Williams College, the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires, and my congregation -- are partnering to bring Jen Marlowe back to northern Berkshire.
On Sunday night at 8pm she'll speak at First Congregational Church in the Fellowship Hall. She'll share words about the book and how it was written (we're hoping that if we can get the audio-visual setup to work, she can also show a short video of her co-author Sami al-Jundi) and will read an excerpt from the book, after which she'll take questions and sign books. On Monday evening at 7pm, she'll come to Congregation Beth Israel to discuss the book informally with people who've read it or are in the process of reading it.
It's something of a truism these days to say that Israelis and Palestinians, and the Diaspora communities who feel connected with those two communities, have different narratives and that understanding one another's narratives is part of the path to peace. Still, cliché or no, I believe it. Generally speaking, my community and the Palestinian community tell different stories about the last sixty years. Encountering each others' stories, with openness to the ways our truths may collide, has to be a first step toward forging a better future.
As the folks at Encounter note,
While the Jewish community continues to be one of the most influential stakeholders in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most American Jews have never met a Palestinian, nor seriously encountered Palestinian narratives or perspectives...
Underlying all of Encounter's work is the core belief that innovative strategies for peace will be created only when influential stakeholders in a conflict have opportunities to meet one another, to open themselves to previously disregarded points of view, and to develop relationships across political and ideological divides.
(I had hoped to participate in an Encounter trip for rabbis and Jewish educators back in 2008. Even though the trip was canceled, I still admire Encounter's core values. And I admire the participants in the joint Israeli-Palestinian program which is taking Israelis and Palestinians on "field trips" into one anothers' lives and stories -- see Looking Each Other in the Eye. I think our world needs more of these sorts of endeavors.)
Connecting with the American co-author of The Hour of Sunlight is a much smaller stretch than connecting with Palestinians or entering into Palestinian territory. But I still think it could be a valuable opportunity for greater understanding. "A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step," as Lao Tzu wrote -- or, in a more Jewish idiom, "It's not incumbent upon us to finish the task, but neither are we free to refrain from beginning it." (Pirkei Avot) Listening to one voice we might not otherwise have heard isn't enough, but it's a beginning.
For more: Jenn Smith's Rebel turns to peace in the Berkshire Eagle focuses on Jen's upcoming visit to town.