The Arty Semite

Hearing Palestinian Voices

By Emily L. Hauser

  • Print
  • Share Share

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.

“The Hour of Sunlight” is the remarkable memoir of Jerusalemite Sami al-Jundi, an aspiring terrorist turned peace activist. Beautifully written with co-author Jen Marlowe, al-Jundi’s story ranges from the universally accessible (recollections of childhood shenanigans) to the heartbreakingly specific (initially excited to see real Israeli soldiers up close as a young child, al-Jundi then watches them reduce his blind mother to tears).

Angered by the displacements of the Israeli-Arab wars and the strictures of life under occupation, al-Jundi, his cousin and a friend decide to join the PLO — but a bomb explodes as they ready it for use against an Israeli target, killing one and grievously wounding the others.

Al-Jundi is quickly picked up by the Israeli authorities, interrogated at length, and ultimately sentenced to 10 years in prison. While there, he becomes an avid student in what the prisoners refer to as “university” — an intense program of study intended to produce a well-educated cadre of Palestinian nationalists.

As a result of his education al-Jundi becomes something else as well: a proponent of non-violence.

Studying philosophy, literature and history (including that of the Jewish people), and delving deeply into the work of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., al-Jundi emerges from prison a co-existence advocate. Today he works closely with Israeli and American Jews in order to end what he calls “the circle of bloodshed” in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Though compelling, “The Hour of Sunlight” is not an easy book to read. Events that American and Israeli Jews may remember from one angle are suddenly presented in a new light, and painful history exhumed, often with human insight that threatens previously held understandings.

In that sense, then, “The Hour of Sunlight” is a political book, in that al-Jundi is calling for understanding that he feels has long been denied his people, and a new, shared political path forward.

But at the same time, this is a profound, occasionally even funny, account of a man too thoughtful to leave peace in the hands of politicians, and too honest to not see the suffering, generosity and simple humanity of all those caught up in the fight.

If Americans (Jewish or otherwise) want to hear Palestinian voices, meeting al-Jundi in the pages of this exceptional book is an excellent place to start.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Hour of Sunlight, Jen Marlowe, Sami al-Jundi, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Books, Emily L. Hauser

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war?
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah:
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.