Thursday October 11, 2012

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Some stories are hard to tell. The story of Sami Al Jundi is one.

As a teenager living in Palestine, Al Jundi, now 50, was angry and wished to overthrow Israeli occupation. With two friends, he began to build a bomb to use against police. During the execution of this process, the bomb exploded prematurely, killing one of his friends instead.

He and his other friend were arrested, tortured, and interrogated. At age 18, Al Jundi found himself imprisoned with a 10-year sentence.

While in his Israeli jail cell, Al Jundi was introduced to a subset of prisoners who organized themselves and studied political discourse as well as precepts or commandments of nonviolent protest and revolution.

When Al Jundi left prison, he left with the resolve to continue his fight -- but with a mindset for peace. He co-founded with Ned Lazarus the Seeds of Peace Center for Co existence in Jerusalem, a program that brings together Palestinian and Is raeli youth.

Today, Al Jundi's life is still distinguished by his challenges as much as by his perseverance.

He has co-written a memoir with former Seeds of Peace colleague Jen Marlowe. "The Hour of Sunlight: One Pales tinian's Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker" was published in February 2011, after four years in the making.

On Sunday, Marlowe will revisit Williamstown to present a talk on the book, though Al Junci cannot join her as, she said, he hoped to.

"Sami is still denied the ability for the book to become a platform as he wanted it to be. It has always been his idea to jointly speak to audiences, something we could do together all over the country," said Marlowe in a phone call from London, after just visiting Palestine.

"He applied for a visa on March 30, 2009, I believe. He still hasn't gotten an answer. For over three years, he's just been waiting," she said.

Seattle-based Marlowe, 41, visited Wil liams town last April to present a talk at Water Street Books. On Sunday, she'll present as a guest of Congregation Beth Israel, the Wil liams College Jewish Association, and the First Congregational Church of Williamstown.

"This is an exciting opportunity for members of our community to hear a perspective on Israel which we don't usually encounter," said Rachel Barenblat, rabbi of Congre gation Beth Israel.

"I think it's most common for American Jews, in particular, to encounter the Middle East narrative as told by Israelis and by Americans who've made aliyah (emigrated to Israel). This may be true for American Christians as well, though I'm not sure. I think it's valuable for us to hear the voices of Palestinians who are committed to dialogue and co-existence -- maybe especially the voices of those who, like Sami Al Jundi, were at one point violently angry with Israel and with Israelis."

Marlowe said she has been enlightened and drawn into this narrative, beginning with her own experiences working with Seeds of Peace and ultimately befriending and working with Al Jundi.

"It becomes a phenomenal experience when diving into a life story together," Marlowe said, recalling her time working on "The Hour of Sunlight."

"In this case, it helped a lot that we already had a strong friendship and lots of trust built up; otherwise, this project might not have been possible. There were moments when I think the experience (of writing) was traumatizing, for him to revisit these things," she said.

They wrote the book, she said, not as a recorded and transcribed interview, but through an intense process of writing and reflecting and reviewing Al Jundi's experiences.

Though the process was emotionally laboring and time intensive, Marlowe said the book has become a "source of pride" for Al Jundi, "something he (can) hold and feel good about."

Last month, the Middle East Monitor announced finalists for the inaugural MEMO Palestine Book Awards. From more than 20 submissions, "The Hour of Sunlight" is among the five short-listed for an award.

Marlowe said Al Jundi hopes to attend the awards ceremony with her scheduled for Nov ember in London.

"I think we both would say we hope the book will play some role in encouraging a peaceful and just resolution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict by education," said Marlowe. "The first step to understand equality is to understand their story."



What: An evening with Jen Marlowe, co-author of ‘The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian's Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker' (2011), written with Sami Al Jundi.
The event is co-presented by Congregation Beth Israel, the Williams College Jewish Association and the First Congregational Church of Williamstown. Marlowe will read some short excerpts from the book, share some of her experiences writing it and hold a question-and-answer period and a book signing.

When: Sunday at 8 p.m.

Where: First Congregational Church, 906 Main St., Williamstown.

Admission: Free and open to all

Information: For more on the book, www.donkeysaddle.org.

For information on the event, write to Rabbi Rachel Barenblat at rebrachel@cbiweb.org.