Sunday, January 17, 2010

Refusing to be Enemies

When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he's come from,
where he's headed.
that way, he'll have strength
enough to answer
Or, by then you'll be
such good friends
you don't care.

from "Red Brocade"
by Naomi Shihab Nye

On Sunday, January 24, the Diversity Committee of Emerson School will show "Refusing to be Enemies", a movie that tells the story of the women of Zeitouna and their efforts to better understand what being Jewish or Palestinian means to them and to the other women in their group. Several women of Zeitouna will join us after the movie to talk about their experiences and offer ideas to help with conflicts in our world, our community, our school, and our personal lives.

The women of Zeitouna are twelve Ann Arbor women, six of whom are Jewish and six of whom are of Palestinian origin, Muslim and Christian. They have been meeting regularly for several years, making sure that they listen to each other with respect and caring. The movie is the story of their coming together and their meetings. These women are not working to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are only working to understand each other, believing that by getting to know each other as people they can not be enemies. You can read more about their story and see a trailer of the movie at their website "refusing to be enemies".

"Refusing to be Enemies" contains references to the violence of the area but has very little graphic content. However, it is not for young children who, at the very least, will probably find it boring. Middle School students and mature fifth graders will benefit from watching the movie along with parents and friends.

Parents have asked that I suggest some books for upper elementary and middle school students who might want to view the movie. There are many books available about what is happening in Israel and the West Bank. Not surprisingly, it is not easy to find one that offers a truly unbiased point of view. In fact, the presence of bias often depends on your personal experiences and point of view. I do not suggest that any of these books, or even all of them as a whole, will offer a truly fair or accurate picture of the causes and meanings of the conflict. Instead, I offer them as a starting point for your discussions.

Emerson was lucky enough to have Naomi Shihab Nye visit our school several years ago. As the librarian I was doubly blessed because I got to drive Ms. Nye to her next stop and enjoy an outstanding dinner and discussion with her. Ms. Nye writes poetry and novels for middle grade and older readers. She also has one delightful picture book. The quote at the beginning of this post as well as the one at end are from Nye's poetry collection 19 Varieties of Gazelle. The poems in this collection and her two other collections of poems from the Middle East--The Flag of Childhood and The Space Between our Footsteps--carry great emotion and offer insight into the lives of people living in the Middle East as well as those who have emigrated to other parts of the world.

Habibi, Nye's first novel for middle grade readers, moved me personally as it describes a girl's first visit to the land of her father. In Habibi Liyanne travels to Jerusalem and the small Palestinian village where her father was born. The family stays long enough for her to enroll in a Jerusalem school so Liyanne sees more of the good and bad, the confusion and the beauty of this once alien place. Nye's picture book, Sitti's Secrets tells a similar story of a little girl visiting her grandmother in a Palestinian village. It ends with a clear and concise plea for world peace.

Samir and Yonatan by Daniella Carmi won the Batchelder Award from the American Library Association for its portrayal of a young Palestinian boy who finds himself in an Israeli hospital ward. He believes that the Israeli's are to blame for his brother's death so he is not eager to interact with the other boys in the hospital. Gradually, however, Samir gets to know these boys and befriends Yonatan. Together they offer a strong message for understanding and for peace. The author was born in Tel Aviv and currently lives in Jerusalem. This book is suitable for grades five and older.

A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird with Sonia Nimr looks at war and peace through the eyes of a Palestinian boy. It clearly has a Palestinian bias but carries a strong feel of the impact of war on all who live through it. This book is best suited for middle school students.

When I Was a Soldier: A Memoir by Valerie Zenatti is a Batchelder Honor Book. This gritty, frank book well be best appreciated by young adults. It tells the true story of a young Jewish girl from France whose family immigrated to Israel. Like all Israeli youths, she joins the army soon after her 18th birthday. Using memories and journal entries, Zenatti tells her story as a rebellious young woman who wonders about her friends, her family, her boyfriend, and her personal commitment to her adopted home while facing life and death decisions on a regular basis.

Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat gives a brief overview of the conflict before settling into her own story which begins with the Six-Day War. She writes with the grace of the poet that she is. The author was born in Ramallah and earned a degree in English literature in the West Bank. In addition to writing, she works with young people dealing with injustices in their lives. This is another book that is aimed at Middle School readers.

Deborah Ellis visited children caught up in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict at orphanages and schools, at McDonald's and at the Holocaust memorial, at home and in public to find out how they were dealing with life in a war zone. In Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak they talk about sibling rivalry and wanting a special toy or pet, but they also talk of families separated, friends lost, and dreams put on hold. Throughout all of the stories, there runs a thread of hope that their lives will be better and at least some of their wishes will come true. While the writing is simple, I suggest that readers wait until reaching fifth grade or older to tackle this book.

Let's change places," the teenagers said.
"For a week, I'll be you and you be me."
Knowing if they did,t hey could never fight again.

Listen to them.

from "Trenches and Moats and Mounds of Dirt"
by Naomi Shihab Nye


Kathy B. at forwordsbooks said...

Thank you for this. I am going to track down the movie. Your book list has many of my favorites. Have you read A Bottle in the Gaza Sea by Valerie Zenatti? It was the winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teen Readers last year. It is the story of an email/IM relationship between an Israeli girl and a Palestinian boy during the 2003 intifada. By far one of the most accurate portrayals of the feelings on both sides I have read to date.

Linda said...

Kathy, Thanks for the suggestion. I will look for A Bottle in the Gaza Sea.