Sami Jaber moved to Santa Fe from the de facto Palestinian capital of Ramallah in 1995 and works with Creativity for Peace, an organization that brings teenage girls from Palestine and Israel to Santa Fe to work together. He will speak about the peace process at 7 pm, Feb. 5 at Temple Beth Shalom. Last Valentine’s Day, Jaber opened Alfanoose Café, a Middle Eastern restaurant (1412 Second St., 505-989-3444).
SFR: I’ve noticed you watch Al Jazeera in Alfanoose. Do you see differences between its coverage of the conflict in Gaza and that of Western media outlets?
SJ: The media here is culturally different and more sympathetic to Israel. The media here shows us what they want to show us, what they think we can handle. Here I have about 12 Arabic channels and on them, we see the kids, the people in the cities. On Al Jazeera and the other channels, we see what’s going on in real time.
Have you felt any anger from the Jewish community in Santa Fe about the current conflict in Gaza?
We [Muslims and Jews] are so close historically. We’re cousins; we have the same blood. It goes all the way back to Abraham. I have a lot of Jewish friends who come into the restaurant. We all know how close we are; there’s no anger. We all feel terrible for the people whose lives are being lost. The people of both countries are the victims.
What do you think needs to happen for peace to finally come about?
If we put our hands together, we can assume change. But we don’t have leaders; we have businessmen who are working for their own causes and working for themselves and their agendas, not for the people. It’s the people who are the victims, on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides.
What have you done personally to help build peace?
Peace starts with working with young people, to teach them to forget about the past. My family, for example, is from Lifta. I didn’t grow up there, but my father did; he still has a key. It’s in Israel now and there are people living in my grandfather’s house. In 1971, I went to my grandfather’s house and had coffee with the people who lived there now, talked to them. To my father, that house is still ours; to me, it is in the past. Therefore, we can’t change the minds of some people, but we can teach young people something else. The only solution is to work together and for the countries to do business together.
What can people in Santa Fe do about the current conflict in Gaza?
The problem is that the economy is so bad that people aren’t thinking past that. But there are five or six peace groups here in Santa Fe that are doing things. Most of the members of those groups that I know are Jewish. Most of the Jewish people here support the Palestinian problem. They understand that if you destroy stores, trees, everything, you destroy people.
Was this latest battle a surprise to you?
No. Bush promised us in 2005 that we would live side-by-side in our own state. But all we have now is what’s going on in Gaza.
Do you think Obama will handle the situation better?
In my opinion, Obama won’t do anything. He’s kept silent. He talks in generalities. When you don’t talk, it means you accept what’s happening. There’s no excuse for his silence. So, I have no hope that Obama will do anything. He gave a speech when the bombings happened in Mumbai. He talked then. Why doesn’t he talk about Gaza now?
What would you like to hear him say?
When we talk about the problem, we have to be specific. We have to separate what’s going on from the history. We’ve been fighting for years; something was going to happen. But we need to work for the next generation, and to support both Palestine and Israel.
How often do you talk to your family back home?
I have my mother, brothers, nephews, sisters and friends there. I talk to them every day. But how they watch from Ramallah is the same as how we watch from Santa Fe. They can’t get there to help. Most of the stores and schools are closed. They are afraid it will come into their neighborhoods.
And right now, no one can get in. Even the UN isn’t sending in aid workers.
They need clothes, medicine, everything. There are bodies lying in the streets because ambulances can’t get down the roads, and there is no power at the hospitals. I will go again in the summertime, with a group of maybe 25 to 30 people. It’s important to see with your own eyes what is going on.
How do Palestinians respond to Americans?
Palestinians separate between political leaders and foreign policy from the individual people. For us, the best people on earth are Americans. We know Americans live in a broken country; we can’t blame the Americans. We do the same thing. There was corruption in the Fatwa Party so, in the last election, the people elected Hamas. We have no choice; we wanted to punish the corrupt people. It’s the same as why Americans elect who they do. You vote against Republicans to punish Bush.
Has there been much discussion about Gaza in the restaurant these last few weeks?
Oh yes. That’s why I opened a restaurant. I wanted a place where people could come gather and talk. It’s a community here and people come to watch the news and to eat and to talk—not just about Gaza, but everything.
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