I met Carmen Jarrah at an interfaith group in Edmonton that was assembled in response to the loss of many tender lives in Gaza last summer. The objective of the group was to figure out collective actions that could be undertaken by Jews, Muslims, Christians and others on the basis of human dignity and justice.
While the group has since fizzled out, I was touched by how much Carmen had invested into the issue, both emotionally and intellectually. I was moved to witness her break down on occasions.
Born to Lebanese parents in Brazil, Carmen has been writing and editing professional communications for over 30 years in Edmonton. She is a freelance photographer, international volunteer and has travelled extensively in the Middle East. Smuggled Stories from the Holy Land is her first book.
Carmen told me how she was investing her own money into this book and that half of all proceeds from the sale of this book would be donated to an educational foundation. I asked her a few questions about the book and she was kind enough to respond with the following.
Source: Permission given by Carmen Jarrah to use this image.
What prompted you to write this book?
Several reasons prompted this book. I went. I witnessed. I heard. And, I simply could not forget.
I journeyed to Israel and Palestine for the first time in 2009 with eight other members of the Arab Jewish Women's Peace Coalition from Edmonton. The coalition fell apart less than a year later. Subsequently, I returned to the Holy Land in 2010 as a volunteer olive picker/peace activist and in 2011 as a pilgrim, part of a first-of-its-kind interfaith group from Canada.
I was compelled by a line of graffiti that I witnessed on the Israeli-built separation wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, "Now that I have seen, I am responsible."
I was motivated by the suppressed Palestinian narrative, and biased and inadequate mainstream media reports to raise greater awareness about the reality in the Holy Land. This book fulfills a promise I made to some of the Palestinians that I met and stayed with to "tell people in my country" about their continued suffering.
Smuggled Stories from the Holy Land is also my non-violent way of protesting the occupation and colonization of Palestine, my way of showing solidarity with the Palestinians, my way of saying, "Harper, you do not speak for me."
Who is the intended audience for this book?
This book is meant for Western voters, people who want to know what "all the fighting is about," who wonder why after decades of peace talks, peace is still elusive in the Holy Land.
How is this book different from the others out there on the same subject?
Perhaps, this book is different in the ordinariness of the author, ready to retire, a mother and grandmother, a lover of Nature and learning, a peace activist and advocate for human rights.
This book details some of my experiences in the Holy Land: meeting with other peace groups, picking olives for Palestinian farmers, participating in sit-ins and demonstrations against Israel's military occupation of Palestine; recording stories of dispossession and displacement of Palestinian life in the shadow of outposts and settlements, behind a colossal, concrete, apartheid-type wall, and stories of Israeli and Palestinian peace-builders.
I tried to convey the "conflict" using copious quotations, graffiti, posters and banners, allowing the Palestinian voices themselves to tell the history of the region and their experience living under military occupation.
What is the main thesis of this book?
Advocating for justice and human rights is everyone's business. We are all one family. We are all responsible.
What do you hope to achieve from this book?
Greater clarity. When it comes to what is euphemistically called the "conflict," in the Middle East, misinformation, too little information and not so clever lies and propaganda by mainstream media abound. The Palestinian narrative rarely reaches western audiences. Indeed, I feel a bit like a modern-day-female-David going up against the world's media conglomerates, but I am undeterred and determined to try, despite the fact that I am but one small voice. I am not delusional about my book making any difference in advancing peace or that peace will come to fruition in my lifetime; however, I realized there would be no peace for me, until I did what I could, despite any obstacle, despite my limitations, both real and imagined.
I am hoping those who read the book, the voting public, will better appreciate the reality for Palestinians and put pressure on our elected officials, will question why western leaders continue to announce publicly ad nauseam their unwavering friendship with Israel, often while Israel is dropping bombs on Palestinians in Gaza, what that friendship means, its cost, and will demand a return to the once-upon-a-time-Canada as peace-keeper and protector of universal freedoms and human rights.
I believe it is important for people who are unaware, to know that not all Israeli Jews agree with their government's treatment of Palestinians, many volunteer their time advocating for Palestinian rights. I want Arab youth in particular to know about Yehuda Shaul, a former commander in the Israeli army who later felt remorse for his actions against the Palestinians and now dedicates his time raising public awareness of soldier abuses. I want people to know about the elderly Jewish grandmothers with Machsom Watch, who volunteer daily at checkpoints to advocate for Palestinians and document soldier abuses. I want people to know that Palestinians are not Hamas. Palestinians are human.
Personally, I hope to mitigate my feelings of helplessness and frustration, to act, do my part, use my knowledge and training to remedy a wrong rather than simmer in silence. I hope to illustrate that an ordinary person can do extraordinary things.
What is the message for peace activists?
Activists are already involved and I am grateful for such individuals working to advance peace and justice; however, I cannot help wonder how can we grow in numbers from being the minority to becoming the majority. More voices need to be heard from using a variety of mediums, film, photography and print. The "word" wields great power. If I could clone an activist, particularly one with writing skills, I would, in great numbers, to counter what passes for journalism.
I'd echo a message in a brochure produced by the Holy Land Trust that I brought back home with me from somewhere in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which says, "If a picture is worth a thousand words then an experience is worth a thousand pictures."
Go and see for yourself, document and convey to others what you heard and witnessed.
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