Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Sheerin Al Araj

TEDxRamallah in Beirut; part two

This is the second installment of the series covering the TEDxRamallah in Beirut event.

In the first session we lacked focus on the speakers, but things improved after the first break.  The first session hosted Raja Shehadeh, Gisel Kordestani, Mohammad Khatib, Fadi Ghandour, and Huwaida Arraf.  I talked about Huwaida Arraf and Alice Walker in the first part of this series

Fadi Ghandour described the empowering process in neglected communities.  In the suburb of Amman, there is this community of 75,000 called Jabal Nazif (Clean Mountain) that was contrary to its name:  Garbage containers were scarce, one container for over 500 families. Taxi drivers would not venture in that area and there was no public transportation.  Schools were running down and there were no health facilities such as hospitals or dispensaries or even pharmacies…

Fadi Ghandour instituted “Ruwwad” (innovators) after meeting with the elders of the community.  A mother decided to get things in her hand and began organizing the community to collect their garbage and not wait for public institution to doing their jobs.  Schools were maintained and repainted according to the State specifications.  A computer and network facility was established for the young students to meeting and learning English:  The mothers got excited and demanded to learn how to read and write.  A hospital was constructed according to the State specifications and voluntary physicians participated in caring for the sick.  Artisan working groups were organized to earning a living…

Fadi Ghandour is founder of Aramex, a leading logistics and transportation companies and the first to go public on the NASDAQ stock exchange from the Arab world. He is founding partner of Maktoob, the world’s largest Arab online community, recently acquired by Yahoo!

The second session hosted Amal Shehabi, Sam Bahour, Steve Sosebee, Mohammad al Dahshan, the Palestinian singer Rim Al Banna, Julia Basha (Director of the award-winning movie Budrus), and Munir Fasheh.

Julia Basha is Brazilian or Lebanese descent who directed and produced the award-winning movie “Budrus” (2009).  This movie is a narrative of the community of Budrus in the West Bank who united to peacefully demonstrate against the Wall of Shame planned to cut the village.  All the political factions of Fateh, Hamas…and families joined forces and were supported by Israeli and foreign activists:  They marched every day to the construction site and girls stood in front of bulldozers that were rooting out olive trees… Finally, the Israeli authority gave up on the project for the Wall of separation to pass by the village.

Julia explained the cognitive dissonance of why foreign media refused to cover this wonderfully achievement.  It seems that the media professionals had their mental model or coherent story concerning the conflict and this new aspect of peaceful Palestinian cohesion didn’t match the model.  Thus, Julia said that narrative stories are the most effective medium to changing perspectives on a story.

The film was shown to a group of Tea Party sympathizers who believe that private property is the cornerstone for independence of State government plans.  A large man asked Julia: “Didn’t the Israeli government pay for the proprietors of the land?”  Israel don’t pay for anything owned by Palestinian, but Julia replied:  “A few accepted to sell but most of them refused.  They believed that if the Israeli government got its way once, it will repeat its nasty behavior.”  The man beamed:  this story didn’t contradict his mental model.  Julia Basha co-wrote and edited “Control Room” (2004),  and co-directed “Encounter Point” (2006)

Steve Sosebee is founder of Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) and contacted foreign surgeons from around the world to visit the West Bank and Gaza and perform urgent surgeries on handicapped Palestinian children and those in need of care not available in local hospitals.  One surgeon from Newzealanda used to come every year and perform heart surgery and saved a total of 600 children with heart conditions.  This benevolent surgeon trained many Palestinian physicians in his particular skills.

Palestine Children’s Relief Fund made a difference to 3,000 children just in 2008. Steve Sosebee produced the movie “Open Heart” (2006) and “Beit Iksa” (2008).

The third session welcomed  Abdelrahman Katanany (the zinko artworks), the Lebanese-based Palestinian rap group Katibe 5,  Alessandro Petti, Saleh Jawad, Sheerin Al Araj, and the blind psychologist Laila Atshan.

Sheerin Al Araj was born and raised in the village of Al Walajeh.  This village was vaster than Harlem in land and Israel confiscated most of the land to build colonies and left only a small portion for the Palestinian community.  Sheerin Al Araj managed to earn two master degrees, one of them in Human Rights from the University of Essex.  She worked for the UN, especially for the UNESCO in Ramallah.  In 2008, she was sent on mission to Darfur (Sudan) and had joined the security council panel of experts on Sudan.  As dramatic events development in Al Walajeh, like erecting the Wall of Shame, Sheerin Al Araj quit her job in the UN to stay in her village and focus on fighting off Israel’s incursion into the land of her village.

The funny psychologist Laila Atshan with a ready laugh was born blind and her family sent her to a British boarding school.  Once, Laila was three hours late to school and management was worried and about to call the police.  As Laila arrived, her teacher Grace said: “Laila, you must be hungry. We cooked chicken and rice.” Grace was one of the candles who lightened up Laila life and development.

Laila Atshan returned to Palestine after graduating in an US university and counseled afflicted Palestinian children, disabled people, refugees, prisoners, and survivors of political and domestic violence.  She was a consultant for UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in the West Bank.  She trained Iraqi university professors in promoting and implementing human rights.

The fourth session hosted Wael Attili (the Kharabeesh enterprise based in Amman), Khaled Sab3awi, the Mexican/US rap singer Mark Gonzales, Alice Walker, Suad Amiry, and the group of bagpipe players of Guirab.  The session ended with the Fayha group of 40 young singers singing three beautiful songs and led by maestro Barkev Taslakian; one of the song was a creative version of “Ya kudsu ya zahrata al madaen” where Christian and Moslem liturgies are inserted to show unity among the religious sects in Lebanon.

Wael Attili, founder of “Kharabeesh” (2008), a cartoon and animated story telling  enterprise based in Amman, was very emotional.  This company started with 5 founders and has already hired over 50 animators and professional graphic designers.  The employees are trained in house by working on projects.  For example, the voice-over in the Qadhafi’s cartoon is done by the driver, and the one who started as making coffee in the office is one of the best animating professionals. Wael Attili is blogger and founder of online businesses such as Tootcorp, which owns,, and

The third part of this series will resume the introduction of the other speakers.

Session One: TEDx Ramallah in Beirut (Sunflower theater)

TEDxRamallah was held in Betlehem (Beit Lahm) in the Palestinian occupied West Bank and many participated live from Beirut (Sunflower theater) and Amman (Jordan).  Many speakers were refused visa entry by the Israeli authorities, and most of the speakers had hard time reaching destination, traveling to many airports and cities, waiting in many Israeli check points before reaching Bethlehem.  For example, the US author Alice Walker (The Color Purple) had hard time crossing the Allenby Bridge.

The Israelis submitted her to four hours of silly questioning, just one of Israel harassment tactics.  The Israeli soldier had never heard of Alice or read any of her books or seen the Color Purple.  By the by, the computer search revealed information on Alice; Alice was confronted with one of her pronouncement that she will never visit Israel as long as Palestinians are under occupation.  Alice retorted: “Am I in Israel?  I am invited to Bethlehem among Palestinians.”  Alice recollected that in 1967 she asked one American politician: “Obviously, Israel will withdraw from the recent occupied lands in Sinai and the Golan Heights.” The answer was: “Israel needs all these lands”.  Alice knows that all these check points, barriers, Wall of Shame separating the West Bank from Israel proper, and apartheid policies are not sustainable and will be removed by force of the indignant Palestinians.

I attended the event in Beirut that officially started at 10 am to the end at around 8pm.  In addition to speakers, we watched performances by singles and group singers and musicians.  A large panel was exhibiting constant streams of comments arriving from over 40 cities around the world.  Food were served during the two breaks and at lunchtime around 2pm and the quantities were generous:  The event was well managed and the organizers were dedicated young entrepreneurs.

All the talks are in video on the internet.  My contribution is to extending essential summaries of the speeches so that readers may have opportunity to selecting whom and which video they want to listen to.

The Palestinian organizers are Ramzi Jaber (25 years old) and Jamil Abu Wardeh…; in Lebanon we have Joumana Jabiri and Zena Tahhan…Huwaida Arraf gave a talk and was one of the presenters.

Huwaida Arraf was under great emotional pressures because one of her best friend and activist colleague, the Italian Vittorion Arrigoni, was kidnapped and shot in Gaza the day before.  Vittorio Arrigoni refused to leave the occupied Palestinian lands since 2002 and participated in the demonstrations and peaceful activities everywhere villages needed his presence.  He was ill lately and suffered from kidney stone and was about ready to leave to Italy for health treatments. Huwaida had lost another friend activist a month ago, the assassinated young movie director Juliano Khamis.

Huwaida was born in the US and graduated a lawyer and settled in the West Bank during the first Intifada around 1990 and never left Palestine since then; Huwaida’s mother called her from Ohio asking her to return home.  Huwaidda replied: “But mother I am at home”.  Huwaida’s husband Adam Shapiro is denied entry to Israel and is living in Lebanon.

Huwaida started International Solidarity with the Palestinians and over 4,000 foreign activists have joined her peaceful struggle against Israel ignominies such as building the Wall of Shame, demolishing Palestinian private houses, rooting out ancient olive trees for colony expansions, opening newer highways to circumventing Palestinian villages, and overrunning Palestinian camps in Jenine, Jabaliya…Huwaida Arraf is currently the Chairperson of the Free Gaza Movement and has led 5 successful sea voyages to the Gaza Strip: She was on the flotilla that was savagely attacked by Israeli troops that killed a dozen peaceful Turkish activists.

In the first session we lacked focus on the speakers, but things improved after the first break.  The first session hosted Raja Shehadeh, Gisel Kordestani, Mohammad Khatib, Fadi Ghandour, and Huwaida Arraf.

The second session hosted Amal Shehabi. Sam Bahour, Steve Sosebee, Mohammad al Dahshan, the Palestinian singer Rim Al Banna, Julia Basha (Director of the award winning movie Budrus), and Munir Fasheh.

The third session welcomed  Abdelrahman Katanany (the zinko artworks), the Lebanese-based Palestinian rap group Katibe 5,  Alessandro Petti, Saleh Jawad, Sheerin Al Araj, and the blind psychologist Laila Atshan.

The fourth session hosted Wael Attili (the Kharabeesh enterprise based in Amman), Khaled Sab3awi, the Mexican/US rap singer Mark Gonzales, Alice Walker, Suad Amiry, and the group of bagpipe players of Guirab.  The session ended with the Fayha group of 40 young singers singing three beautiful songs and led by maestro Barkev Taslakian.

Part two of this series will cover in some details the content of the talks.  See you soon.

William and Hanane gave me ride to the event.  We were supposed to leave at 8:15 but we started off at 9:30.  By 9 am I thought that William had forgotten to go.  As I arrived, my name was not listed as my application was approved.  It didn’t matter, the beautiful girl with blue eyes stamped a red X on my right hand.

During the first break, I had no idea the small breakfast buffet was served outside.  I had a small mankoush and a small cup of milk, five minutes before the second session.  At lunch, I used to sneak out one sandwich at a time, while people were waiting in line to fill their plastic plate.  I was very surprised that another buffet was waiting for us at the second break, and we had sweet “maacroun”.

When the official TEDx event was over around 7pm, we had a surprise.  While listening to a speaker, a large bunch of young people sneaked in.  I thought student s from around the corner came in by order of a dedicated teacher.  This group of about 40 began a song while sitting among us; they ended up on stage and sang two other songs.

I waited for William outside, knowing that he had to hurry in order to cover the launching of a CD at a restaurant.  I waited for 20 minutes and wondered whether William left without me.  I returned and looked for William or Hanane and could not locate them anywhere.  I waited another 15 minutes thinking that pretty soon they will miss their silent passenger and make a U turn to retrieve me.  Patricia was going out and she confirmed that William is still here, meeting with someone in a corner downstairs.

We were the last persons leaving the theater and I met Joumana Jabiri and Zeina Tahhane.  Zeina claimed that she ate nothing for the day:  I have to check on Zeina reliable claim on her eating habit. I also met with Joumana parents who are originally from Aleppo.  It was way after 10:30 when we arrived home.  I felt tired even though I didn’t work in the garden today:  Most probably, I missed my nap but I focused pretty well during the entire event.

Note 1:  A TEDx Lebanon is in the planning for this September 2011.  Among the organizers are Patricia Zogheib and William Choukeir…

Note 2: of DevlnetMedia/ worked with a group of 10 Palestinian young media students to covering the event in Beirut.




March 2023

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