Tag Archives: Sami Al Jundi

Made in Deir Yassin

(Today marks the 68th anniversary of the Nakba. The Nakba, which means “catastrophe” in Arabic, refers to the ongoing displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people, a process that was set into motion with the creation of the state of Israel. I offer here a segment of The Hour of Sunlight, the book I co-wrote with my dear colleague and brother, Sami Al Jundi. Sami’s origin on his father’s side is Deir Yassin, a village that was depopulated shortly before the creation of Israel, in which an infamous massacre took place. This passage took place when Sami was approximately 17 years old, in 1979.)

(Excerpt from The Hour of Sunlight by Sami Al Jundi & Jen Marlowe)

Now that I had dropped out of school, I needed work. Our neighbor Abu Ahmad had a job in a large Israeli factory making kitchen cabinets. They needed more workers. Abu Ahmad and I took an Egged bus to the factory to talk to the supervisor, Giora, about a job. The factory was in Givat Sha’ul. Givat Sha’ul had been built on the ruins of my father’s village, Deir Yassin.

deir yassin

The depopulated village of Deir Yassin

Giora, a big blond man with thick glasses and the knitted skullcap typical to settlers, looked at me disdainfully but hired me right away. My job was to deliver sections of cabinets to their next destination on the assembly line, shuttling back and forth with a small forklift. I also wrapped the finished cabinets in thick plastic, preparing them to be shipped to Europe.

Giora barked orders and shouted at us, even at workers older than his father. The word Arab was added to whatever other adjective he slung at us, whether dirty or lazy. There was only one non-Arab working with us—an old, balding Iranian Jew named Rahamim. Rahamim was quiet, gentle, and a bit peculiar; he combed his thinning hair over his bald spot with a toothbrush. Giora did not spare Rahamim his abuse; Rahamim was Mizrachi after all, only one step away from being Arab.

More than hating Giora, I hated working in an Israeli factory located in Deir Yassin.

“Where’s your job, Sami?” people in the Old City asked me.

“Deir Yassin,” I had to tell them.

“Deir Yassin? Aren’t you from Deir Yassin?”

I lowered my eyes and shrugged.

My grandmother visited from Jordan. Tears sprung to her eyes when I told her where I worked. “Is your Uncle Abu Ismail’s house still there?” I did not know how to tell her that only a few buildings from the original Deir Yassin remained, and the Israelis had turned them into an insane asylum.

My grandmother gripped my arm tightly before I left for work the next morning.

“Sami, please. Bring me a fig.”

During my lunch break, I walked to the heart of Deir Yassin. I watched the crazy people wandering in the yard between the homes of my people. When no one was watching, I plucked a fig and a lemon from nearby trees. I gave them to my grandmother that evening. She held the lemon to her nose, breathing deeply the fragrance of her village. Then she cradled the fig to her cheek. “The figs in Deir Yassin,” she said. “There are no figs in the world like those from Deir Yassin.”

The next day I wrapped the cabinets, staring out the large window overlooking the valley covered in fruit trees. All the workers here were nothing but traitors, and I was the worst of all. We were disrespecting the blood that had been spilled here. Maybe the souls of the massacred were still hovering in their demolished village. How could I possibly justify myself to them?

Before wrapping the next cabinet in the thick plastic, I carved words across its face with a screwdriver. I did it again the next day, and the next. The following week, I plugged the forklift backward into the charger, mixing the electric signals and blowing out its circuits. Each time shame overwhelmed me, I found some new way to sabotage the work.

Abu Ahmad figured out what I was up to. “Sami, you have to stop this. You’re going to cause problems for all of us.”

I looked straight into Abu Ahmad’s eyes. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

The manager began to receive phone calls from Europe about defective cabinets. It was obvious that I was the culprit; I was the only one with access to all stages of the assembling.

“You piece of rubbish, you disgusting Arab, I’m going to fire your ass! I’m calling the police!” Giora shouted at me.

I shouted right back, “You want to call the police, you fucking settler, fine! Call them! But you can’t fire me, because I quit!”

I stormed out of the factory and never returned. But I smiled each time I imagined customers in Belgium and Italy unwrapping their new kitchen cabinets, only to find the Arabic words I had carved deeply across their doors:

Made in Deir Yassin!

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Radical kinship: Black and Palestinian prisoners

There is an amazing history of “radical kinship” between the Black and Palestinian prisoners experience (as evidenced by a new exhibit called “George Jackson in the Sun of Palestine” which includes letter of solidarity between Palestinian and American prisoners among other artifacts). Some of the same spirit that motivated this exhibit was why I reached out to Black prisoners in the U.S., and invited them to read and respond to “The Hour of Sunlight“–the book I co-authored with my brother and former colleague Sami Al Jundi, who spent 10 years in an Israeli prison for militant anti-occupation activities as a teenager. Below is the response from Kenneth Foster Jr, previously on Texas death row, now serving a life sentence without parole:

“First and foremost, I have read “Sunlight” and it’s a fabulous book. It was really touching for me in a lot of ways. Mainly from the prisoner perspective, but also just through the literary expression of the struggle and familyhood. I greatly enjoyed it.

I have already begun working on the questions (that you sent me.) However, I just don’t feel my answers are adequate. I felt this need to go into a greater dialog. This reminds of this “dissertation” of sorts that I wrote about the Irish struggle for independence from the British. The book emphasized great meaning to the Irish people learning the language. It creates identity. And bond. And as descendants of Africans, we know the language is the first thing to go when an oppressor is seeking to subdue a people. So, I spoke about how Black leaders tried to institute Swahili, but it didn’t catch. I wrote about the unfortunate nature of that and how I think it greatly affected our position here in this country. When I get on books like this it instills that kind of feeling in me.

The reality of my life is that I grew up in prison. I came to prison in 1997 at the age of 20. At the time of this writing I am 39, which means in 1 more year I will have spent the equal amount of time inside that I did outside.

Therefore, any experience that I shared with Sami Al Jundi has been that of a prisoner of book coverconscience. While Sami’s motivations were different from mine–his being politically motivated and mine being criminally motivated–we shared one similar thing entering prison: REGRET! I, too, suffered “the nightmares within nightmares” for the decisions I made. And in the same token, while the nightmares continued, “it’s done. I instructed my brain to convince the rest of me. It’s time to turn the page.”

That is often the hardest part about prison and conversion–changing. There is an enlightenment that falls upon a chosen few of us, and once that page is turned there is no turning back. It’s these ties that bind ones like Sami and I. He, as I, realized–“I had the power to determine the size of my universe.”

Then, the most emotional thing that stood out to me was the criticism and aggression that Sami faced as he sought to be a peacemaker. For one who has had the street gang experience, and then grown out of it, I can deeply relate to those that seek to change the ways of their life. I have come to see (personally and educationally) that it usually takes something tragic in one’s life to turn that page. Sami’s was a bomb and prison. Mine was death row. Like Sami, “I came to realize that war is a holocaust for all human beings.”

From our different sides of the world, Sami and I now fight for the beauty that we KNOW resides within humanity, and it is summed up well in the story of Mazdak and Mani:

“Humans have both a dark side and a light side. But they don’t coexist separately, like oil and water; they’re mixed together like water and wine. You can’t distinguish them easily. It is only through our actions that we can hope to free our light. Our responsibility is to behave in ways that will help us find our light. WE HAVE TO SRVE THE LIGHT.”

Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he said- “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” followed by American lawyer Clarence Darrow– “As long as the world shall last there will be wrong, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever.”

There’s two things the Palestinians and Blacks in America have in common–they are targeted and they are oppressed. Both are a people who struggle for identity and a place to call home without attack. Both are a people who roots in a land and have been repeatedly sought for uprooting.

Such targeting comes with many effects–mentally, physically, and spiritually. For a people to be under constant bombardment can not only alter the natural state of one’s personality, but will also put a people in a state of desperation. These are the pains of wanting to be heard. Therefore, we see the misdirected and tainted actions of suicide bombers in the East and gang violence in the West. However, they are actions that can be changed with the efforts of peace, love and respect.

When those things are lacking, human beings turn from the best that is within them and tap into the worst. In both cases you have a people that face off against entities that seek to subjugate them. And what is more desirable than the pursuit of happiness? For Biblical believers–Muslims, Jews, and Gentiles alike–it’s said from the beginning to “Be fruitful and multiply.” It’s in people’s genetics to want to thrive. And as long as the core of a people’s identity, integrity and dignity is under attacked we shall wallow in the annals of destruction and never prosperity.

There is most definitely a history of organized activities inside U.S. prisoners, unfortunately, it is one that was waned over the years due to token concessions that have been gained inside and outside the walls.

The 60’s and the 70’s gave birth to prison movements as the Black Power and Civil Rights movements were going at full steam. Along with that came cultural education. As concessions grew, the passion for advancing these struggles (culturally and politically) decreased. However, they do still exist across this land. From state to state it may vary, because each state in the U.S. has its own history of oppression and resistance. Therefore, the level of activism and outside support networks differ. But, I feel confident in saying that we have lost the steam that the trendsetters had.

What will always separate the level of struggle between Palestinian and American prisoners is the Palestinian people identify as ONE people; just as the Irish people who founded the IRA did when fighting for independence against the British. Identity is the soul of a people’s struggle. This will always be the greatest ailment for American prisoners, because American prisoners are so multi-cultured, therefore the Rights I seek may not be neighbor’s want/need. Only when the fingers on the hand close into a fist can a  hard blow be struck. Until then any strike will be mediocre at best.

However, there is always the calling to HUMAN Rights. When we move past religion, sexual preferences, etc, we all have a desire, and Right, to be free of abuse and afforded the opportunity to better our lives, be it inside or out. The men of influence inside American prisons are not tapping into that the way Palestinian prisoners did when they held large weekly meetings in the courtyard for all the movements of the PLO. If every prison group focused on the Universal Rights due to us all we would be a force to be reckoned with.

While I don’t know the state of organization currently in prisons for Palestinian political prisoners, I do know that they–like the Irish Republic prisoners–possess the blueprint to righteous struggle and it’s something American prisoners could learn from very much!

 

 

 

 

 

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In honor of Palestinian Prisoners Day, an excerpt of Sunlight

Today is Palestinian prisoners day.

To mark the day, and to honor the thousands of men, women and children who are directly impacted by Israel’s detention policies, which has long been a central element in upholding occupation, I would like to offer an excerpt from the book that I co-authored with my brother Sami Al Jundi, The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker.

Sami, a Palestinian man from the Old City of Jerusalem, spent ten years in Israeli prison. He was arrested at the age of eighteen for his involvement in militant activities resisting Israeli occupation. Sami describes that nearly every waking hour in prison (aside from two) was spent either sitting on his mat reading, or sitting in a circle with fellow prisoners and discussing what they were reading.

The two hours a day not spent in study?

One was the hour the prisoners were permitted to go outside to the courtyard–the hour of sunlight.

The other was the hour each day that a song from the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum was played over the prison loudspeakers:

(note: to understand the passage, it is helpful to know that Sami’s mother was blind.)

I was homesick whenever I was sick or in pain. Our hour each evening with Umm Kulthum had a similar effect. We sat in the cell listening to her voice emanate from the loudspeaker, each of us in our separate world. It was the one time of day we allowed ourselves to indulge in memories. I sat on my mat the entire hour, knees bent and arms wrapped around my legs, my head bowed down, closing myself off from my cell mates. I thought about my mother. She loved me more than anyone else in the world did—and by getting myself locked away in prison, I had broken her heart. As Umm Kulthum’s rich voice filled the prison and penetrated each prisoner’s heart, I wondered whether my mom was thinking about me at that very moment and whether she was crying. I cursed myself for the times I had shouted at her because I did not like the food she had prepared. I imagined her warm voice as she would caution me, “Sami, you need to take care and be gentle and kind with other people.” Words coming from her mouth always sounded like prayers. Before I left the house each morning, she would ask God to protect me and remove any bad person from my path. And then, pressing her hands against my cheeks, forehead, lips, and nose, she would make a copy of my face to store in her mind. She knew instantly by touching my face whether I was happy or angry or sad. She read my face like Braille. I felt the same soothing breeze listening to Umm Kulthum as I felt when my mother read my face.

To stop the approaching tears, I forced my thoughts to my classmates and friends. What did they look like now? What were they doing? Some of them might be in university, others married and starting families. What did they think of me? Did they see me as a hero? Or had I disappeared from their consciousness entirely? Umm Kulthum made me yearn for the Old City streets, my school, the souq, my home, playing cards with Abbas and Badawi. Umm Kulthum finished her song and the guards shut off the loudspeaker. We sat for a moment in silence, then shook off our feelings and returned to our books.

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The Hour of Sunlight: Book Review by Reggie Clemons, on Missouri’s death row

Dear friends,

A few months ago, I sent a copy of my book “The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker” to my friend Reggie Clemons. Reggie is on death row in Missouri, awaiting the outcome of arguments that took place in front of the Missouri Supreme Court–a decision that will determine whether he gets a new trial, has his sentence commuted, or if Missouri gets the green light to proceed with Reggie’s execution. (Reggie was convicted in connection to the 1991 murder of two sisters, Julie and Robin Kerry.) Through my friendship with Reggie, I have come to admire his intelligence and thoughtfulness. I was interested in how Reggie, having spent 20+ years on Missouri’s death row, would relate to ‘The Hour of Sunlight’ which details my dear friend Sami Al Jundi’s 10 years in Israeli prison for having been involved in militant anti-occupation activities as a youth.

This is the book report that Reggie wrote:

“The Hour of [shining’ Sunlight” reads like most all well written tails and true stories, that can only be gleaned and reaped from real life. Where the multi layers of truth and parallels, line up to track the course of reality, in ways all fiction writers envy.

The foundation of Sami Al Jundi’s life and lessons were laid long before he was born, with the curse upon his mother’s eyes, striking her with blindness. This intentional or unintentional curse from a neighboring woman living next door, saying “Look at this precious little girl with such gorgeous green eyes!” laid waste to any illusion that life is or ever will be easy in the struggle for sanctity or survival. By Sami having parents that were both to be obeyed and looked after, it laid the foundation for Sami to be a born and well-groomed leader by circumstances of birth right. In this family tragedy of living and seeking a place to call home on a never-ending battle-field, it is this blindness that reflects our own refusal to see the way through to peace and compromise, where the abundance of land and food, the world over, is enough.

Unfortunately, in the course of life’s grooming of Sami, his apprehension over choices continued to haunt his life’s journey. Starting with his quest to train to be a soldier for the struggle by violence in Lebanon. His determination for self sacrifice and when to lead or be lead, was critically wounded with substantial indecisivie doubt, in his own confidence to make the right decisions. This apprehension and doubt would later damage and hamstring Sami in the face of adversity, planting a damaging seed in his heart of aversion to seeing the way through the crucible of conflict and confusion.

Sami had gained and known the hero’s courage and determination it took to put his life on the line to care for others when he, along with his neighbor and brother, returned to the house to save his neighbor’s daughter. Pushing back fear thorugh the perils of bombs, bullets and bloodshed, Sami was able to save the little girl from under the bed and help feed the frightened and worried people in the shelter. This heroic moment added to Sami Al Jundi’s desire and thirst to be there for the sake of helping others on the edge of losing hope in the face of danger.

The internal conflict between a person’s heroic desire to make the world a better place and the human instinct of self preservation would play out during Sami’s time in prison. Prison is historically designed to weaken a person’s sense of dignity and self-respect, for the purpose of making one submit to unnatural ideals and logic of what is a civilized human being. For however strong Sami’s desire to heal humanity, he was not immune to this scraping and hollowing out of the soul, which leads to making a person more selfish and submissive to the status quo rather than th risk of giving one’s self to sacrifice and extreme criticism.

In the corners, corridors, and hollow halls of the geo-political ‘think tanks,’ there is an unseen, unwavering constant effort of determination, to mark, label, identify and filter out natural leaders seeking to establish equality amongs humanity, such as Sami. This effort uses social control tools for the purpose of disruption and defanging of natrual leaders, from becoming strong, well-honed leaders. By discouragment from the possibility of success and deprivation of adequate resources, leaders for the greater cause of developing the human spirit are either broken through frustration or isolation in chambers of fear until they reach the point of discouragement and abandon the true purpose or meaning of the human cause. Meanwhile, those trained leaders that the geo-political ‘think tanks’ have selected for the preservation of the status quo are strengthened and well-provided for from the labor class coffers maintained by the higher echelon, so that the people of the world will never know what it’s like to be ruled by egalitarian humane leadership of equality and truth, even by any example of such leadership anywhere.

Sami studied hard while in prison to strengthen his mind and gird himself against ignorance; to understand the world and get a better, stronger grasp of what he was up against. You cannot change or shift circumstances, conditions or the factors at play, without understanding the essential elements that maintain their existance.

Grasping the depth of understanding is what Sami missed out on when he did not confront the aggressive, violent prisoners, when the other more aggressive power-hungry prisoners were sent in by ‘think tanks’ to create chaos. If he had confronted the ignorant aggression with full confidence and courage in his intellectual dominance and assuredness of greater purpose, Sami Al Jundi would have learned how to apply his knowledge and understanding to engage the conditions, circumstances, and individuals involved. As well as converting the illogical conclusions of aggressors into allies for humanity, or leave their senseless efforts in a state of frustration, Sami would have learned from this experience to look beyond the ponds in play and the wall in front of you, and to see the plan and people who laid the first stones of corruption, greed and egomania. He would have been able to build a window in that wall for everyone to see each other more clearly. Where the truth, for clearer understanding, still remains hidden behind walls of division that must crumble, these global fortifications of fear require that everyone on both sides are first divided and afraid of the truth.

Sami never gave himself the chance to see that the strength of what he lived by and believed in his heart and soul is self-sufficiently sustaining. That anyone, thing, condition or circumstance based on falsehood would fade and desolve in the face of the truth, along with the status quo ‘think thanks.’

If Sami had stayed around and took the chance on being wounded again and faced the fear of pain and the imperfect decision, he would have seen that people who use fear, confusion, and lies to manipulate others and circustances are only reflecting to the world their own doubts and loss of faith in humanity. Their aggression is more of a fear of facing themselves and some aspect of their false philosophy than their goal of forcing people to see things their way. The hard part is learning how to navigate through the analysis of wayward character logic, with the patience to see their awakening conversion through. Their aggression is nothing more than a glass shield that can be shattered with the right tone of courage and determination.

The learning circle of knowledge and understanding is ancient, human, universal, tribal, and has always historically brought both unity and cooperation. The system of social interaction that Sami learned about in prison is what always remained with him, until his return from the protective prison. That circle of knowledge and understanding for unity was something that would lay the ground work and base foundation for his life after release from prison.

When Sami Al Jundi got out of prison, his work witht he peace initiative was based on this circle of learning and understanding. With the Palestinian and Israeli children coming together for the central purpose of learning about one another and understanding the role they all  played in the future, these children were truly the seeds of peace and had the potential to become so much more than seeds. Some seeds don’t have enough soil to grow, some sprout but wither away under the heat of the sun, while others in fertile soil grow to bear the fruit of generations. The learning circle is most definitely and assuredly fertile ground for the souls of humanity.

Unfortunately, outside forces of the ‘status quo think tanks’ showed up in secret silence and sent in instruments of aggression and disruptive conditions.  To make sure the seeds of peace would fail, they came offering to increase the capabilities and reach of the movement, in exchange for control of the necessary resources.  With the ‘think tank’ controling the coffers from afar, like any hostile financial take-over, the think tank decided what the greater and lesser resources would contribute to or be utilized for. The death blow had been dealt long before the confusing arguments over internal power struggles and separation of the children into separate groups. The death of one of the children was inevitable and they were blindsided by not being prepared to face death. The circle of unity was broken when the conversations and discussions became choreographed by the desires of adults to control freedom. One the ancient circle of learning and understanding was broken, the roots for the Seeds of Peace lost their fertile field.

Life had offered a warning and lesson ahead of this intellectual strike from the higher echelons, when the peace activists encountered the old man whose family orchard was uprooted and destroyed. Gone were generations of family names and work, and love of nurturing plants to bear the fruit of olive branches, for the next generation the branches of peace were cut to shreds.

When the Seeds of Peace were at the conference in Israel/Al Quds, and the lady told them that this won’t last, you just don’t know it yet–that was a warning shot across the bow to the Seeds of Peace that an aggressive campaign had already been mounted and launched against the peace initiative. In the game of chess, most players will announce their intentions three moves ahead of check-mate. It all can seem overwhelming when considering all the factors and elements involved, but the mistake is always focusing too much on the opposition.

The core of the Seeds of Peace has not died, nor been weakened. Only lost to the cause and purpose of its name-sake and its essential means of creating fertile land for the human spirit. There was never any need for outside resources and all the outside resources offered could have been returned at any moment of pause. Whenever you feel frantic, lost or confused and indecisivie, just take pause and pray for spiritual insight.

The only thing the Seeds of Peace will ever need to maintain is the unifying circle of learning and understanding. There never was any real need for a building, when the real seeds are being planted in the souls of children. So the seeds of peace will always live on for the gathering of souls. As long as the Earth circles the Sun in learning and understanding the universal way of life and the balance of harmony.

Sincerely,

Reginald Clemons

Seeking Harmony & Balance

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