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Ann Arbor News editorial - Sunday, March 18, 2007

Untold stories For every report of violence, publish one about peace


Since our community relies on its local newspaper as a primary source of information, I am asking that greater responsibility be taken to present the broadest spectrum of events to your readership. Specifically, I would like to see an increase in your coverage of Palestinian and Israeli civilians who are adopting nonviolent methods to build peace and to promote protection for the human rights of all people in the Middle East.

Currently, thousands of courageous Israeli and Palestinian civilians transcend political, economic and cultural boundaries to work to end the conflict. This is incredibly uplifting, inspirational news. Yet, those heroic human beings face tremendous challenges in spreading their message both at home and abroad. Militants, however, who make up a tiny percentage of each population, command disproportionate local and international attention. The imbalance is disturbing and skews our understanding of the true state of affairs.

Therefore, I request that for every report about violence emanating from Israel and the Occupied Territories, The Ann Arbor News consider including an article or segment about individuals working to build a foundation for peace. Those are efforts that are truly newsworthy and there are so many of them about which we know nothing.

A good place to start would be focusing on the ongoing work of a marvelous example that exists in our very own community, the women of Zeitouna. This is an informal, grass-roots effort to build relationships across historical divides that has blossomed into something profoundly great. The group's name comes from the Arabic word for olive tree or olive. It began with six Jewish women and six Arab women acknowledging a desire and a need to get to know each other better. As a result, they have now been working for peace and justice in their own way since the summer of 2002.

This is how they state their mission: to embody and promote the peaceful and just coexistence of the Arab and Jewish peoples through connection, trust, empathy and actions focused on supporting a sustainable future for Palestine and Israel.

The women are dedicated and passionate in the formation of this model. They have met regularly on alternate weeks in each others' homes for five years, sharing food, personal narratives, articles and books, and above all, practicing dialogue. This method of communication has been key to deepening their respect for one another and fostering the personal transformation of each woman. Collectively, the women of Zeitouna concur that only through the experiences of belonging to Zeitouna have they become able to hear the voice of the "other'' and see their own reflection in one another.

Zeitouna is committed to educating others by its members sitting on panels, speaking to groups, participating in seminars and conferences. They sponsor and participate in political activities consistent with their mission and objectives and grounded in the principles of dialogue.

Today, at our very own Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, the public is invited to attend the world premiere of a documentary of Zeitouna's story. The movie's fitting title is "Refusing to be Enemies.'' Not only do 12 women from our community "star'' in the movie, but also it was written and directed by a local filmmaker and longtime Ann Arbor resident, Laurie White. A member of Zeitouna herself, White possesses a special lens through which to view and portray the extraordinary ideas held by the ordinary civilians in our midst.

It is clear that no matter what happens on a political level among Palestinian and Israeli government officials, lasting peace will only take root from individual acts and widespread engagement of ordinary civilians.

We must hear the voices of all people in all communities who are committed to building a stable, dignified future for our world. The more awareness we have of this kind of work, the more effectively we can support their efforts and the more dedicated we can be in our own efforts. I believe in the power of community and the cumulative impact of small actions. Accurate, balanced reporting is the first and essential step in leading us in this ethical direction.

To contribute essays to Other Voices, contact Mary Morgan, opinion editor, at 734-994-6605 or mmorgan@annarbornews.com.

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