Review by Marguerite Wright of event held on December 1st 2012

On Saturday 1st December Brighton and HoveProgressive Synagogue hosted a talk about the newly appointed prize-winning book « The Hour of Sunlight » by Palestinian author Sami al Jundi and his American Jewish co-author Jen Marlowe.

About 40 people, members and non-members, Jewish and non-Jewish attended the meeting held at the Cornerstone meeting place in Hove.

Sami and Jen were supposed to be in the UK to attend the award ceremony for the Middle Eastern Monitor’s first-ever ‘Palestinian Book Award’, which took place the previous evening. However, despite having applied 9 months ago, granting of Sami’s visa was still being processed, so he addressed the meeting via Skype and not in person.

Sami reached his home computer a little late ; held up by traffic because, he told the meeting, Jerusalem had returned to normal although the previous week, during the hostilities in Gaza, there was noone on the streets and everything had been closed.

Now in his fiftieth year, Sami had been imprisoned for ten years when he was 18 for helping two friends make a bomb which was intended to be used against Israelis. The teenagers were far from expert in such things and the bomb exploded while they were preparing it, killing one and injuring the two other friends.

It was while in prison that Sami became an avid reader and, inspired by the thoughts of Ghandi and Mandela, decided to dedicate himself in the future to non-violent conflict resolution. This he has been doing ever since leaving prison, working in an organisation called « Seeds of Change » bringing Jewish and Palestinian youth together to try and achieve understanding.

It took several years to persuade Sami to share his experiences in a book. He said that his life had not been in any way out of the ordinary. In his co-author Jen’s opinion it is this very fact which makes the book so important ; recounting as it does the experiences of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

She read out one passage in which the five year old Sami, who had lived all his life behind the wall which divided Jerusalem until 1967, was convinced that all Jews (he had never seen any) had long tails like a cat. As an adult he discovered that Jewish children living the other side of the wall had been under the same delusion about Palestinians !

The multiple meanings of the reference to the sunlight in the book’s title were explained : the most basic being the one hour a day the prisoners were allowed out of their cells ; more importantly sunlight referring to enlightenment and peace ; also sunlight as the imagination taken far from prison by reading the works of great authors such as Shakespeare ; light in the minds and imagination of Sami’s parents who are both blind ; and sunlight in the hearts of those who do good as opposed to darkness for perpetrators of evil.

Sami spoke of the dread of many living in Israel that there would be another war; far greater in magnitude than any which had gone before. He said that such a war would result in no winners only losers. His hopes and desires for the future were that all living in Jerusalem, regardless of religion, would be able to go about their daily lives with the same kind of  « normality » we experience here in Western Europe, as opposed to what passes for normal at the moment.

Sami’s speech became increasingly impassioned, perhaps because of the frequent cuts in internet contact on the Skype connection. Background noise and the squeaks of his children sometimes made it difficult to hear him. Although he was speaking in English, peppered with the Arabic word « y’ani » (that is to say/Imean/I feel/actually), it was Jen, who claims to speak excellent Sami,  who ended the meeting  explaining that those who rejected extremist influence were on the same side.