By Jen Marlowe
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It was in an Israeli jail that his unlikely transformation began. Al Jundi was welcomed into a highly organized, democratic community of political prisoners who required that members of their cell read, engage in political discourse on topics ranging from global revolutions to the precepts of nonviolent protest and revolution.
Al Jundi left prison still determined to fight for his people’s rights — but with a very different notion of how to undertake that struggle. He cofounded the Middle East program of Seeds of Peace Center for Coexistence, which brings together Palestinian and Israeli youth.
Marked by honesty and compassion for Palestinians and Israelis alike, The Hour of Sunlight illuminates the Palestinian experience through the story of one man’s struggle for peace.
PRAISE FOR THE HOUR OF SUNLIGHT
"This moving memoir vividly portrays aspects of Palestinian life rarely encountered by the English reader: childhood under occupation in Jerusalem's Muslim Quarter, the hidden world of Arab security prisoners in Israeli jails, and the stories of Palestinians struggling to transform their oppressive reality through dialogue, nonviolence and cultivation of a shared vision of the future with Israeli Jews. Sami Al Jundi's story, with its triumphs and tragedy, should be required reading for those who ask, 'Where are the Palestinian peace activists?'"
—Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Professor of International Peace and Conflict Resolution at the American University and Director of the Peacebuilding and Development Institute
—Akiva Eldar, chief political columnist, Ha'aretz, and co-author of Lords of the Land
—Mary Elizabeth King, author of A Quiet Revolution
—Carolyn Forché, professor, Georgetown University, and author of The Country Between Us, The Angel of History, and Blue Hour
—Joanne Mariner, Director of Human Rights Watch's Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program
—Roane Carey, editor of The Other Israel and The New Intifada
—Peter Weinberger, United States Institute of Peace
ALSO BY JEN MARLOWE
Darfur Diaries (with Adam Shapiro and Aisha Bain)
This book is dedicated to those we have loved and lost:
To Sami's mother, Myassar Al Jundi, known as Um Samir by most, called Yamma by Sami and his siblings, and to the people of Zakariyya, known by her true name—Yusra.
To Sami's brother Azzam Al Jundi, who always reminded us to laugh, especially at ourselves.
To Alma Rous Lazarus, who we never met, but whose loss we feel deeply.
To our friend Aseel Asleh, in whose memory we pledge to continue our struggle for peace with justice.
This book is also dedicated to the children in our own lives whom we love deeply: Nasser, Asala, Yazan, Mera, Emil, Renée, Alex, and Maya. We hope you will have a chance to meet someday.Your future is why this book was written.
Al Jundi kids enjoying a snowy day in Jerusalem circa 1972. Order from left to right: Sami, Samir, Riyyad, Azzam, Samira. Courtesy of Sami Al Jundi.
We have on this earth what makes life worth living: the final days of September, a woman keeping her apricots ripe after forty, the hour of sunlight in prison, a cloud reflecting a swarm of creatures, the people's applause for those who face death with a smile, a tyrant's fear of songs.
Mahmoud Darwish, from "On This Earth" Translated by Carolyn Forché and Munir Akash
The Hour of Sunlight is Sami Al Jundi's life story. Dialogue and details have been reconstructed; however, the memoir expresses with full honesty the essence of Sami's life experiences. In chapters where the events were lived jointly by the authors, both authors' memories and experiences are intertwined. We recognize that memory can be like mercury; difficult to pin down.
Some names have been changed, either because they could not be recalled, to protect someone's privacy/identity, or because of a request from the person being written about. In some cases, composite characters were created, as the number of different people to identify and remember would have been difficult for a reader. This is particularly true during the chapters dealing with Sami's ten years in Israeli prison, but is also true in other instances. For example, a few of Sami's earlier childhood stories occurred with various friends; these stories have been all attributed to Sami's two closest friends. Some aspects of Sami's life we have not revealed in this book, in order to protect those he cares about.
We have retained the use of many Arabic words, whenever it felt appropriate to the tone of the narrative. The first time an Arabic word is encountered in the text, there is a footnote defining it. If the word is used again, it is defined in the glossary. The transliteration of the Arabic words is based on colloquial Palestinian Arabic and does not follow standard literary Arabic transliteration. This choice was made to facilitate understanding for a general readership.
How to name places is always contentious, as the politics of naming has much to do with the politics of control over those locations. For example, the city where Sami was born is called Al Quds in Arabic, Yerushalayim in Hebrew, and Jerusalem in English. Generally, we named places the way Sami speaks about them—in Arabic. There are, however, some exceptions to that. Because certain English place-names contain resonance for English-speaking readers, such as Jerusalem, Hebron, and Nazareth, we chose to keep those names (and a few others) in English, rather than using the Arabic Al Quds, Al-Khalil, and Nasra. Occasionally, the Hebrew name of a city or town is also used. We made this choice when Sami was referring to the location in the context of it being the home of an Israeli friend. This is by no means meant to abdicate the Palestinian connection or claim to any place, but is rather an effort to respect how the person mentioned in the passage calls his or her home.
Sami Al Jundi
SAMI AL JUNDI WALKS THROUGH the cobblestone streets of the Old City in Jerusalem, greeting passersby.
"Sami! How are you?" an elderly man says in Arabic, shaking his hand vigorously.
"He was my cell mate in Asqalan prison," Sami tells me after the man continues on his way. "He taught a course about world revolutions."
"Habibna! Salaam!" Sami calls out warmly to another man across the road buying falafel. "That one is in my poetry writing group. We are meeting tomorrow night at the Palestinian National Theatre."
Sami's cell phone rings as we move inside the coffee shop to work on the chapter about his blind mother's childhood, fleeing from her village as a little girl during the war of 1948.
"Yoel! Shalom!" Sami greets the caller in Hebrew and then covers the mouthpiece of the phone and whispers to me apologetically, "Sorry, Jen, this is my old friend Yoel who was in my Israeli-Palestinian dialogue group.... He is inviting us to lunch at his home this Shabbat...."
I have never known anyone like Sami Al Jundi.
I first met Sami in June 2000, when I began working at the Seeds of Peace Center for Coexistence in Jerusalem. Sami and Ned Lazarus had cofounded the Seeds of Peace Middle East follow-up program in 1996. They picked me up at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station in Al Buraq—Sami's battered blue Ford Transit that had been their primary source of bringing Israeli and Palestinian youth together for the past four years.
We went straight to work that afternoon, organizing a dizzying array of activities for the summer program. It was two months before the Camp David final status talks of the Oslo Accords would fail, and less than four months before the Second Intifada would erupt. But sitting with Sami, Ned, and the rest of the staff at the Seeds of Peace Center for Coexistence, working out program plans, I had no idea how precarious the peace process actually was, or how all we were doing would soon be rendered impossible.
As I watched Sami coordinate logistics and transportation, dispatching his brothers all over the country to bring Israeli and Palestinian youth to the Center to work together on art, drama, and photography projects, I certainly did not yet realize what an extraordinary human being my new colleague was. I got some inkling of it from the hours I spent driving with Sami in the Ford Transit. But it was only starting in 2007, when Sami and I first began work on this book, recording in detail his earliest memories, discussing in depth his beliefs and passions, that I gained a full appreciation for my friend and his inspiring journey of perseverance and personal transformation.
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Sami is his unshakeable belief that not only is it possible for Israelis and Palestinians to live together on this land, but that both peoples would benefit from the presence of and relationship with the other. Sami passionately believes that the only way forward is to work jointly, Israelis and Palestinians together, to end the occupation and all forms of violence. Basil Liddell Hart, British military historian and general, wrote that the best way to vanquish your enemy is to disarm him. The most effective way to disarm your enemy, according to Sami, is to turn your enemy into your friend.
During his decade in Israeli prison, Sami found a book about Mahatma Gandhi. He read an anecdote about a Hindu man who murdered a Muslim baby and came to Gandhi repentant, expecting to burn in hell. The punishment Gandhi issued? The Hindu man must adopt a Muslim orphan and raise him as his own for twenty years, providing him with an Islamic education. Twenty years ... It took twenty years to build a life, Sami reflected, but only seconds to destroy one. The foundation of Sami's vision for the future rests on one basic premise: it is better for all of our children if every child's needs and rights are secured. The solution is not nearly as complicated as everyone claims: a full end to the occupation, and full normalization of relations. Palestinians will experience independence with dignity and honor and Israelis will experience security. Sami's life work has been to build the people who are ready to take this step. He knows from years of experience that it is hard, painful work. But the alternative is far more agonizing.
There will be those who vehemently disagree with Sami, either with his view about the interconnection between humankind (which he calls "the human being circle") or with his suggestion for a solution to the conflict (one confederation, with equal rights for all people). There will be those who object to his description of the brutality he experienced at the hands of Israeli security officials, and others who will be made uncomfortable by his description of the violence and hypocrisy he witnessed at the hands of fellow Palestinians. Sami makes no attempt to soften any piece of his life story or worldview. He is not hesitant to state that which may not be politically expedient. Sami tells his story with honesty, humor, pain, and, ultimately, compassion for all Palestinians and Israelis.
"I am ready to live with my family in a small tent, if it means that everyone else has their own tent," Sami said to me once. "It will be better than prison."
Sami's ultimate dream is for his children, together with the children of his many Israeli friends, to be able to play together in the sunlight every hour that it shines. May this book assist, in some small way, in the realization of that goal.
THE SUN WAS JUST BEGINNING TO RISE, but I was already sweating. It was going to be a hot day, even for August. One by one, the ten workers climbed into my blue Ford Transit, greeting me warmly. Wassef handed me a bunch of juicy grapes.
"These grapes are from today?" I asked with appreciation.
"I cut them from the vine just half an hour ago," Wassef replied as I began to drive away. He reached over and touched my shoulder. "You know, Sami, you deserve better! Stop the car!"
"Just stop the car!"
I did, confused. Wassef slid open the door and jumped out. He leapt over a low stone wall and returned with a bunch of grapes still perspiring with dew. He held them up. "You will eat grapes from the moment, not from the morning!"
"Did you just take someone's grapes?"
He laughed. "Don't worry. These belong to my brother, Karim. He'll be thrilled to have given you grapes." Karim means generous. His brother had been aptly named.
The drive from Halhoul to the city of Asqalan began. I had spent more than four years of my life in Asqalan but had not seen anything outside of the prison walls. My passengers saw very little of the city as well, aside from the stones they lifted and the concrete they mixed. Abu Hussein tore a chunk of the round taboun1 bread for everyone, still warm from his wife's clay oven. "It's from your sister, Um Hussein," he said as he handed me a piece. I knew Um Hussein must have risen before dawn to mix the flour and knead the dough in order to bake it before the morning prayers. Issa passed around a bottle of cold water. I popped in a cassette of the Egyptian singer Sheikh Imam. They called him "Sheikh" out of respect because he was old and blind and had been a scholar of Qur'an in his youth. His music wasn't religious, however, but political. Sheikh Imam sang about revolution and love for ordinary people and the simple life. We sang along, all of us eating grapes from the moment.
The Israeli checkpoint was half a mile ahead of us. I shut off the music as tension seeped into the van. I veered my Transit off the road, joining a line of old, dilapidated cars and vans heading west, creeping around rocks and trees on a path in the Hebron hills that scarcely existed, all of them filled with Palestinians going to work inside the Green Line,2 none of whom had permits from the Israeli army to be there. We bounced and jolted our way over rocks and bushes past Nuba and Beit Ulla villages in order to bypass the checkpoint. It was illegal, according to Israeli law, and it was dangerous, but what choice did we have? We had the right to work to feed our families. Military jeeps regularly patrolled the area. If we were stopped, my Transit would be taken to the checkpoint. The workers would be forced to squat in the punishing sun all day with their hands on top of their heads, released in the evening to return home dehydrated, humiliated, and without the day's wages. As a Jerusalem resident, I would not be detained; however, I would be fined hundreds of shekels. But it was difficult for the patrolling jeeps to catch us. In 1995, there were multiple routes through the mountains and we knew them all.
My Transit crawled forward. The mountain way met the road just past Kharas village. We drew a collective sigh of relief as I guided the van back onto the asphalt. We had safely crossed the Green Line and were back on the main road to Asqalan. We joked and sang once more, consuming the remainder of the warm bread and fresh grapes.
The rocky landscape covered with olive trees became fields of grass, groves of fruit trees, and one bizarre orchard of enormous satellite dishes, fenced off with chain link and topped with barbed wire. The Ford Transit sailed along, heading west toward the Mediterranean. I scarcely had to steer. My van knew the way.
Through the grape orchard, I could make out the minaret of the old Zakariyya mosque rising above the houses. The hills on the other side of the road, also part of Zakariyya's rich, fertile land, were covered with pine trees. This was my mother's village.
A large rope lay ahead in the road. Suddenly it began twisting and turning. It was a snake, crossing from the forest to the grapevines. Wassef stood up and shouted excitedly, "Get the snake, Sami! Run him over! Aim at his head; we can smash him! Yallah,3 Sami, quickly!" Everyone pressed toward the front of the van, their heads and hands filling the reflection in the rearview mirror.
My eyes flicked to the tree-covered hill where the snake had come from. In 1948, my mother was a little girl huddled under those trees with her brothers and her granny, peering through the grapevines to the homes they had just fled, afraid for their lives. I slammed on the brakes of the Transit, jolting the excited workers. The snake slithered past the front tires, which had been but an inch away from crushing its head.
My passengers slumped back into their seats in disappointment. "It's just a snake, Sami. Why won't you run over it?"
I watched the snake languidly continue toward the grapevines.
"There are three reasons why I didn't kill this snake. Maybe he is exactly like us, leaving his home early in the morning in order to feed his family."
"And the second reason, Sami?"
"This is my mother's village. The nature in this area—the trees, the rocks, this snake—is almost all that remains. This snake may have been a witness to what happened in 1948. He is a connection to the people of Zakariyya, one of the only souls still protecting this village. If someone kills this snake, it won't be me."
I then told my passengers everything that I myself had only recently learned.
I have always known that my mother was from Zakariyya and my father was from Deir Yassin. Zakariyya is an ancient village; it can be spotted on a mosaic map dating back to Roman rule, when it was called Caper Zacharia. I heard stories about life in Zakariyya regularly when we visited my mother's relatives in Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. The memories of their homes were still fresh and their descriptions vivid. I could almost smell the lemon trees in their yards. But when the stories turned to the Nakba,4 their voices grew dim and their eyes glazed over. I never pressed for details. In prison, I had studied maps of historic Palestine, learning the names and locations of the more than four hundred destroyed villages.5 I had identified Zakariyya on the map then, later seeing Zekharya on an Israeli road map. Like so many of our places, the Israelis had Hebraized the original Arabic name. Zekharya was now an Israeli moshav.6
A few years after I was released from prison, I began transporting workers from Halhoul to Asqalan. I drove past Zakariyya daily, but I never entered. My instinct told me I would not be welcome. But one day, after I dropped the workers off in Asqalan, my curiosity won over my trepidation. I had to know what it felt like to step on the land of my native village.
I steered the Transit off the main road. How could I explain what I was doing there should I be asked? It would not be wise to tell the current residents that I had roots in this village. But I did not want to be treated as a visitor merely passing through.
I located the mosque easily, though it was deep inside the moshav. A house from the original village was next to it that I guessed had once belonged to my extended family, the Adawis. It appeared that an Israeli family was now living in the house. I parked the Transit next to the chain-link fence surrounding the abandoned mosque and shut off the engine. The mosque was in a state of decay; stones were missing from the base of the minaret as if someone had taken a large, jagged bite out of it. According to the legend I had often heard from the old people in Dheisheh, the Israelis had tried unsuccessfully to topple the minaret, using bulldozers. A Palestinian was brought to drive the bulldozer for the final attempt. In the middle of the operation, his arm became paralyzed. He jumped out of the bulldozer and ran away. So the minaret remained, damaged, but standing tall and proud. I placed my hand on its warm stones. This mosque, one of the only remaining original buildings, was Zakariyya. The old Zakariyya. The real Zakariyya.
I brooded for the rest of the drive. Many Palestinians had remained in their villages inside the Green Line after 1948. Why had the people of Zakariyya fled from the tranquility of the old mosque?
My mother knew immediately that something was wrong when I arrived home that night. She took her fingers off the large Braille book she had been reading and placed them on my face, deciphering my mood.
"You are angry, Sami. What is wrong?"
"I went to Zakariyya today."
"Ahhh, did you, my son?" She removed her fingers from my cheeks and pressed them together. "How was it there?"
My anger boiled over. "How could you have left that beautiful village? Tell me!"
"Ya Sami, I wasn't more than thirteen years old, just a small girl!"
"Damn your father then, and all his generation!"
My mother was shocked. "No, no, my son! You mustn't say that! Your grandfather was a hero. And he is a shaheed.7 The British killed him in 1939, long before the Nakba."
A shaheed? From the British? I had not known that. My temper eased. I sank down on the couch next to my mother. "How was he killed? What happened to Zakariyya?" I suddenly realized that I knew almost nothing of the personal history of the woman who had raised my eight brothers and sisters and me. "What is your story, Yamma?"8
My mother closed her book. She turned to face me on the couch. Running her fingertips over my face one more time to satisfy herself that I was no longer angry, she took my hands in hers and began talking.
"My mother and father went from Zakariyya to Yaffa before I was born so that my father, Ahmad Adawi, could find work. He got a job in the harbor. I was born in Yaffa in 1934. When I was nine months old, my mother was pregnant with my little brother, your uncle Mustafa. One day, she had a craving for taboun bread. Our neighbor had a clay taboun oven outside her home and baked the flatbread daily. My mother lifted me in her arms to go ask them for a piece of taboun
- On Sale
- Feb 1, 2011
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Bold Type Books