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The Detroit Jewish News - March 14, 2007

NEWS: "Zeitouna Story" documentary about Ann Arbor Jewish/Muslim group debuts

Refusing To Be Enemies: The Zeitouna Story, a 58-minute documentary about six Arab and six Jewish women who struggle to overcome their prejudices, fears and anger through dialogue, will premiere at the Michigan Theater on Sunday, March 18 at 7 p.m. A chance to talk with the Ann Arbor filmmaker and the women of Zeitouna (all Washtenaw County residents) will follow.

Produced and directed by Laurie White, founder of eyedream1world productions and a pioneering member of Zeitouna, this film profiles the unique sisterhood of these twelve women who find that their diverse backgrounds have more in common than they originally believed.

Inspired by participation in Zeitouna, Laurie White saw the group's experience as a teaching model for others to achieve respectful coexistence over the hardest issues. The film captures how trust in the group is gradually built and how this marks the beginning of a process whereby each Zeitouna women reaches a new understanding of one of the most divisive struggles of our time: the Israel-Palestine conflict.

"It is through Zeitouna that I was able to hear the voice of the 'other' - their pain and their joy, only to realize that it mirrors my own," says Wadad Abed, member of Zeitouna. "This has profoundly transformed me. I am now more than ever committed to become one."

The film culminates in a two-week sojourn in Israel and Palestine, an inspiring testament to the power of dialogue and the critical role that personal transformation takes on the long road to peace.

"There's a groundswell in our nation right now for different models to address conflict in the Middle East," says Lori Carey, Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor. "This film is coming out at a powerful time. A growing number of Americans believe that military force alone doesn't offer lasting solutions. We're hungry for alternatives that can work. And the women of Zeitouna offer a way for people to trade suspicion and fear of others for trust and genuine caring."

The 12 members of Zeitouna are Wadad Abed, Randa Nasir Ajlouny, Manya Arond-Thomas, Rula Kort Bawardi, Irene Butter, Johanna Epstein, Leonore Gerstein, Carol Haddad, Benita Kaimowitz, Huda Karaman-Rosen, Aida Khalidi McGugan, and Laurie White.

Since the summer of 2002, Zeitouna has participated in many teach-ins, demonstrations, and conferences about peace and the Middle East. Members have spoken in high school classrooms and lectured at a wide range of institutions, including universities, libraries, and communities of faith.

Zeitouna's work is invigorated by connecting to a national and international network of groups using similar approaches to focus on the Israel/Palestine conflict including Palestinian and Jewish Living Room Dialogue Groups in California and Womens Coalition for Peace and Women in Black in Israel. Participating in events such as the Midwest Dialogue Conference, in Louisville, Kentucky and Peacemakers Camp in Yosemite, California, keeps Zeitouna in touch with local and global ongoing efforts.

Community pride in Zeitouna's accomplishments is high. "The existence of Zeitouna is inspirational," says Ken Fischer, president of the University Musical Society, University of Michigan. "These women and their example add considerably to the many riches we already possess in our community and need to nurture for the benefit of everyone."

The film will feature an original score composed, arranged and performed by local musicians, Shaun Williams and Laith Alattar, balancing and blending western and eastern instrumental traditions.

Director Laurie White, a long-time activist in many arenas, recognized the power of film to affect socio-political change while working as a producer with Michael Moore on his film Roger and Me. Some of White's other film projects include Come Unto Me, a profile of controversial Detroit artist Tyree Guyton, and No Excuse, a commissioned documentary on domestic violence for the Mayor's Taskforce on Increasing Safety for Women.

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