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Detroit Free Press, Twist - March 10, 2007

Peace talks
Group of Arabs and Jews shares story in film

March 10, 2007

BY PATRICIA MONTEMURRI

Six Arab and six Jewish women from the Ann Arbor area have met for years in a heartfelt, and sometimes heart-wrenching, effort to deal personally and locally with one of the world's most entrenched conflicts -- the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Their group is called Zeitouna, which is Arabic for olive branch.

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And now their stories and a two-week trip some of them took last summer to the Mideast are chronicled in a documentary premiering in Ann Arbor on March 18 -- "Refusing to be Enemies: the Zeitouna Story."

They are women who are Jewish, Christian and Muslim. They range in age from 32 to 76. The group includes Irene Butter, who survived a Holocaust concentration camp, and Huda Karamen-Rosen, who left her Palestinian village as the war that created Israel engulfed her homeland in 1948.

Zeitouna, says Laurie White, 51, a psychotherapist who produced and directed the documentary and is a founding group member, "has become a sisterhood."

Part of the group's exploration involves becoming better listeners, to each other and to their own inner voices.

"Dialogue is more about my perspective and yours, not mine OR yours," explains Laurie, who was a contributor to the making of Michael Moore's acclaimed "Roger and Me" documentary. The film chronicled the auto industry's decline in Flint, Laurie's hometown.

"Dialogue is not about winning. ... It's not solution-focused, because it's open-ended and slowed down," says Laurie, who is Jewish. "It lets go of the need for results."

Huda, raised a Muslim in Haifa, now part of Israel, tried a similar discussion group that fizzled.

"I realized why previous dialogue groups didn't work," Huda says. "We were all going with our own agenda -- 'I have to teach them my way is the right way, and their way is wrong.' Now, we are really meeting to listen to each other, and to learn who each other is ... to connect, to build bridges."

Manya Arond-Thomas, 56, who is a life coach, says she has savored the blooming of relationships.

"What was wonderful for me is that I never personally had Arab or Palestinian friends" before Zeitouna, Manya says.

Rula Kort Bawardi, 38, an event planner in Ann Arbor, who grew up a Palestinian Christian in east Jerusalem, joined Zeitouna a year ago.

"I grew up going through checkpoints. For me, Jews or Israelis were soldiers with machine guns. They weren't civilized women who sympathized with my pain -- and we've sympathized with their pain," Rula says.

The dialogue group's all-women makeup has contributed to easy conversation.

"Women can connect, ... and we enjoy getting to know each other," Rula says. "Having a group of only women made us develop this friendship between us."

The group's topics often grow out of current events. But, at their latest gathering, they talked about what they were going to wear to the movie premiere.

Patricia is a Twist writer. You can talk to her at 313.223.4538 or pmontemurri@freepress.com.


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