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Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam honors Ruth Dayan and Samih al-Qasim

Wednesday 17 January 2007

On January 11, Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam honored two veteran peacemakers, Ruth Dayan, and Samih al-Qasim, with the “Partner in Peace” award. The evening ceremony was both festive and convivial, with some sixty guests and a similar number of Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam village members. Among those attending were Israeli and Palestinian dignitaries, members of the diplomatic community and friends of the honorees.

The Partner in Peace Award

Ahmad Hijazi opened the event with an explanation of the Partner in Peace Award itself, which begins a new tradition in the village. The Award is intended to honor local peace workers, and supporters of Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam overseas. It was first awarded in 2006, to Mr. Hermann Sieben, who heads the German Friends of Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam.

This year’s award has been funded and inspired by philanthropist Mr. Richard Goodwin, Director of the Board of the American Friends of Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam, and founder of the Middle East Peace Dialogue Network. Mr. Goodwin also underwrote an honorarium of $1,000 for each recipient. Both Ruth Dayan and Samih al-Qasim announced that they would donate this amount to educational causes close to their hearts.

Following these words of explanation came a screening of a short film on Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam, and an introduction to the honorees by Abdessalam Najjar.

Samih al-Qasim

Abdessalam spoke first about Samih al-Qasim, who is universally known in Palestinian society as a poet, writer and journalist, of the first magnitude. He is the author of more than fifty books, many of which have been translated into numerous languages. Recently, Samih al-Qasim won Egypt’s Naguib Mahfouz prize for literature.

Quoting from al-Qasim’s writings, Abdessalam stressed the humane vision that characterizes his work and his dream of a better future for all human beings. Although he has spent time in prison for his positions and once belonged to the communist party, al-Qasim does not today describe himself as a “political” writer or an “activist”. “Somebody else should sing for peace. On the hills and in the valleys of my country, peace has been butchered.” And: “I don’t write for The People, The Nation, or History. I write for myself. I try to keep my sanity by writing. If my poems express people’s concerns, that is because we have a lot in common. I’m trying to stay alive by writing, but what I write seems to take on cultural and political dimensions.” As Abdessalam pointed out, his writing traverses a wider territory than that of Palestine and Israel, reaching out to embrace the suffering and pain of people everywhere, then making the connection between these global and local manifestations of suffering.

Samih al-Qasim is a revolutionary of the humane kind. He considers no cause to be worthwhile if it leads to loss of life (one’s own or that of others). The struggle for country is for the living in it, not for the dying in it. He is not for “explosive belts” but for “explosive thought” that will overcome the conflict: “I hate occupation and its symbols, but I don’t hate the Jews, or all Israelis. There are Israelis who are my partner in the battle against occupation, and I respect them. I believe our struggle against occupation should not strip us of our humanity. If we lose that, they have won.” Now 67, Samih al-Qasim continues to write, his creative genius unchecked.

The major misfortune of the evening was that Samih al-Qasim was unable to be with us. A tragic death in his close family, just prior to the event, kept him away. However, writing a month before in Nazareth’s leading newspaper, Samih al-Qasim gave what amounted to an acceptance speech:

“I am pleased that Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam ... has honored me with this peace prize, which is given to peace activists who work for a better future for the people in our country and all people in the world. In my town of Rama many people are working for peace, and I have decided to distribute the humble contribution of the prize towards various institutions, giving each of them five hundred Shekels, and also a contribution of five hundred Shekels to the youth club of Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam”. Al-Qasim writes that “Although such a small amount cannot help a lot, it represents a challenge for all wealthy local people - and I am not one of them - to pay attention to the educational activities for peace and nonviolent education. Please support these activities. If not, our community will suffer. A thousand thanks to Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam - this marvelous place - we are with you, our hearts are with you, and God is with you.” (Kul al-Arab, December 15, 2006.)

Ruth Dayan

Abdessalam next turned to Ruth Dayan, narrating some of the impressive events in her life, and mentioning her dialogue work and activism on behalf of children and women. In clear, faultless English she elaborated upon some of these stories, describing her friendship with Palestinian poet and journalist Raymonda Tawil, with whom she visited Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam to plant a peace forest, back in 1978. Among her many activities, Dayan helped form Maskit, a fashion house that marshaled the talents of underprivileged women and returned the earnings directly to them. She also founded the Jewish - Arab social group “Brit Bnei Shem / Ibnaa Sam” and has worked on behalf of newcomers to Israel, for Bedouin welfare and rights, and for women’s causes.

A colorful instance of Dayan’s dedication to Palestinian - Jewish dialogue was her visit to Nablus during the time that her husband, Moshe, was serving as the defense minister (“I married a farmer, not a general,” she noted wryly). Moshe Dayan objected to these activities, precipitating the couple’s divorce.

Now in her 90th year, Ruth Dayan remains an activist, busily championing a variety of causes, the most prominent of which, in recent years, has been women’s empowerment.

A meal and a music performance followed presentation of the award

The Award was presented to Ruth Dayan by Mayor Rayek Rizek and village member Smadar Kremer. Afterwards, everyone enjoyed a delicious buffet meal prepared by Salim Layous and organized in cooperation with the hotel.

The meal also permitted the guests to mingle. Among those who attended the event were Israeli and Palestinian community leaders including MK Ran Cohen and friends in the diplomatic community, including the ambassador of Japan with other members of his staff, the ambassador and wife of the ambassador of Sweden, and the wife of the French ambassador. Two prominent members of the American Friends of Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam were there: executive director Deanna Armbruster and director Jeanine Shama.

The good food put everyone in fine spirits to enjoy the artistic segment of the program, which was provided by Galilee musician Ibrahim Eid and his ensemble. Ibrahim had already appeared in the village just a few months ago when he joined Jewish Israeli singer David Broza on the stage to open the Roger Waters concert.

Till late in the evening, long after most of the guests had departed, the musicians remained with a circle of Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam residents, playing well-loved songs and making music, the universal language of the heart.

External web links

An interview with Samih al-Qasim
A review of Al-Qasim’s Sadder than Water (in English translation)

Ruth Dayan’s story is told in: Or did I dream a dream?: The story of Ruth Dayan (ISBN: 0297765256).

Media coverage

The event was covered in the Arabic press in the following articles:

Panet
Yahala
Baybna
Bettna
Al-Arab
Shefa-Amer
Doniafun
Ashkra
Panet

Portfolio

The audience - Abdessalam Najjar speaking Ditto Ditto Rayek Rizek presenting prize to Ruth Dayan Rayek Rizek, Ruth Dayan, Ahmad Hijazi Abdessalam with Ruth Dayan Smadar Kremer, Rayek Rizek, Ruth Dayan Abdessalam, Ruth Dayan Abdessalam, Ruth Dayan Abdessalam, Smadar, Ruth Dayan Abdessalam, Smadar, Rayek, Ruth Dayan The Award Samih al-Qasim in NSWAS, May 2006

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