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Naked from Sin: The Ordeal of Nahla and Sami Al-Arian

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  • The Muslim Chronicle
    February 25, 2002 NAKED FROM SIN The Ordeal of Nahla and Sami Al-Arian By Alex Lynch COUNTERPUNCH http://www.counterpunch.org/lynchnahla.html There were no
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 27, 2002
      February 25, 2002

      The Ordeal of Nahla and Sami Al-Arian

      By Alex Lynch

      There were no streetlights down the long back-road; the arms of
      the yellow gates were left open just enough for a car to fit
      through. The darkness of the hidden stretch of road left the
      Muslim community center of north Tampa secluded from the outside

      In the parking lot, a photographer was politely asked to leave
      until she said she had an appointment with one of the sisters.
      Effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Muslim communities
      in America have been powerful. Many Americans reach out in
      understanding; others have sought retribution through vandalism
      and intimidation.

      The children didn't seem to notice anything had changed. A dozen
      of them ran from the playground past the Mosque and through the
      courtyard squeaking and sweating on a humid January night under
      the floodlights. Nahla Al-Arian walked quickly out of the
      community center for greetings and offered tea for comfort. A
      number of women dressed from head to toe in finely detailed cloth
      chatted to one another in Arabic and offered to watch Nahla's
      youngest daughter while she spoke with the reporter.

      Being an Arabic woman in the United States has proved trying since
      Sept. 11, being a Palestinian is another matter entirely. Once,
      while at a local mall, Nahla offered to help a woman with her baby
      carriage down an escalator. The woman gasped and pulled the
      carriage away from Nahla as if she were "going to kidnap the
      child," Nahla said. Because she wears a hijab (Islamic
      head-covering) she has often been looked at in trepidation and
      mistrust and when she and her kids visited her homeland in 1998,
      now occupied by Israel, they felt they were looked at like
      "animals and terrorists".

      Nahla's older brother Mazen, spent 3 years of his life in federal
      custody without being charged for a crime, 1,307 days from
      1997-2000. The secret evidence the government had held against him
      proved not to be so incriminating according to an Immigration and
      Naturalization Services judge.

      Nahla spent those three years fighting for his release and
      lobbying to end the use of secret evidence.

      In November of last year, while doing laundry, Mazen was again
      detained after Attorney General John Ashcroft received powers
      given to him by Congress to round up those he felt were a risk to
      national security. Two months earlier in late September, her
      husband was put on 'paid leave' from his job as a tenured
      professor of computer engineering at the University of South
      Florida for an appearance he made on the conservative talk show
      The O'Reilly Factor. O'Reilly claimed Al-Arian had ties to
      terrorists and pointed to an earlier speech he made when a comment
      was translated in English to "Death to Israel". Al-Arian said the
      producer deceived him by saying he was to speak for the Muslim
      community in the U.S. to educate viewers and avoid unwarranted
      attacks on American-Arabs.

      In December, when Sami's student and faculty supporters were gone,
      the university's board of trustees, a group of local conservative
      business leaders hand-picked by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, recommended
      to university President Judy Genshaft that Al-Arian be fired.
      Nahla's husband of 23 years has been the center of attention in
      local news and has received quite a bit of national news as well.
      He's been called a terrorist link in the United States by some
      pundits in the media, but has also been a rallying point for civil
      libertarians and academicians.

      Their eldest son Abdullah, a Duke University undergrad and intern
      to Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., was asked to leave the White House
      without explanation while attending a briefing with members of the
      Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The incident caused all
      other groups participating to walk out in protest.

      The FBI has shown up unannounced, searched her home and
      confiscated some of the family's possessions. There have been
      death threats on her husband and the media have humiliated her
      family. Since Sept. 11 she and her family have been treated with
      suspicion, harassed and yet her voice remains soft and centered,
      her movements are gentle and direct.

      "She is such an inspiration," Jodi Nettleton, co-president of
      Graduate Assistants United at USF and a campus activist said. "She
      is so strong and has such courage to stand up during these times.
      And she's just such a sweet woman."

      Although she's been through a lot before and after Sept. 11, she
      is a woman who says she can't complain. Talking to a reporter
      seems like too much attention, but she does offer some insight.
      "You know, sometimes I wake up at five in the morning and I start
      thinking about all of this and can't get back to sleep," she said
      staring at her thin fingers through her hijab. "I feel very scared
      for my family and I feel insecure."

      "This is stuff she's had to go through her whole life," Laila
      Al-Arian, Nahla's daughter said. "She's a Palestinian refugee.
      She's very strong in her convictions even though she's soft

      Only Mazen, the eldest, was born in Gaza in a country once called
      Palestine. Nahla was born in the city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 75
      miles northeast of the holy city of Mecca. Her father was an
      Arabic teacher there and supported the family, which eventually
      grew to seven children. Nahla was a shy young girl who didn't
      speak much, remained dedicated to religion and studied
      meticulously at school. Nahla's father knew the value of education
      especially for stateless Palestinians. He made it a priority for
      all of his seven children and made countless sacrifices to ensure
      that they were given a higher education in college. "My father
      always used to say, 'education is a Palestinian's only weapon,'"
      Nahla said.

      When Nahla was very young, her father brought the family to the
      occupied Palestinian territories (Nahla still refers to it as
      Palestine) every year for vacation to keep the old homeland close
      to his children's heart. Nahla remembers a little family that
      lived in Gaza whom was close to her family when they vacationed
      during those long hot summer days in the early 1960s. She
      remembers the family was not rich, but didn't struggle, most of
      all though, she remembers how happy and humble they were. Speaking
      of that little family brings a smile to Nahla's face.

      In the beginning of the summer of 1967, Nahla's father again
      prepared his family for a vacation in Palestine. Days before
      departure on June 5, the news came through her father's little
      transistor radio in Jeddah. The Israeli army had attacked and
      bombed the Egyptian air force that lay idle. The Six Day War had

      "My father literally fainted and fell on the floor right in front
      of everybody when he heard the news on the radio," Nahla said. "It
      was devastating." At the end the Six Day War, Israel, armed by the
      Americans, humiliated the Arab world. Israel now occupied Syria's
      Golan Heights, Egypt's Sinai as well as the Gaza Strip and the
      West Bank in Palestine. The biggest embarrassment though, was the
      loss of Jerusalem.

      Gamal Abd-Al Nasser, the charismatic Egyptian socialist president
      who tried so hard to unite the Arab world in a Pan-Arab political
      alliance, offered to resign afterwards.

      By 1971 the political environment in the Arab world had changed.
      The Saudi Arabian leaders had begun a closer relationship with the
      West, and Palestinians, already immigrants there, were finding it
      more difficult to stay. It wasn't long before Nahla's father began
      having trouble with the Saudi government.

      "The whole situation was very similar to Mazen's many years
      later," Nahla said. "There was a lot of secrecy involved."

      Nahla's mother was crushed.

      "She cried as if somebody died, she was very scared about what the
      future held for us," Nahla's brother Mohamed said.

      The family was again displaced and unsure of what to do. In a
      moment of clarity, or necessity, Nahla's father decided on Cairo.

      Contrasting her mother, 11 year-old Nahla was very excited to move
      from Saudi Arabia to the cultural center of the Arab world. Cairo
      was a place of modern buildings, the arts and excellent education
      and was the center of the Arab world for women's freedom. She
      would no longer be forced to wear a hijab, she would have a choice
      in Cairo. "Saudi Arabia was much more strict, especially for
      women. Segregation was everywhere. In Cairo, women had choices.
      I was very happy to leave Saudi Arabia even though my mother was

      At 12 years-old in October 1973 Egyptian president Anwar Sadat
      earned the respect of his countrymen when he invaded the Sinai on
      the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Eventually the Israelis
      countered and sped toward Cairo where Nahla was introduced to war.
      Living in Eastern Cairo with Israeli planes flying above, the
      family got up in the middle of the night to break the Ramadan fast
      but wasn't allowed to turn the lights on for fear of Israeli
      bombs. The young family was left in the dark and if someone
      accidentally turned on a light in the house, neighbors would
      scream at them to turn it off for fear of being targeted.

      "That was the worst thing, I don't ever want to experience
      anything like that again." Nahla said. At 14 years old Nahla was
      devastated when she witnessed the death of a close girlfriend who
      was run over by a street trolley right next to her. The difficulty
      in watching a close friend die stayed with her for many years.

      During those years in Cairo, there was a cultural revolution.
      Cairo was being heavily influenced by the West, Sadat was
      liberalizing the economy and the Americanization of Cairo was in
      full swing. Like many girls in Cairo, Nahla stopped wearing her
      hijab. She went to the movies, public parks and enjoyed the open

      But when she reached the age of 15, she began to have deep
      questions about life and faith and drew inspiration from a close
      friend who was a devout Muslim. Unlike most girls her age, Nahla
      began wearing her hijab again and started taking religion

      She was ridiculed by some men in Cairo for wearing it in a time of
      social change. There were very small Islamic youth movements
      beginning though. Cairo was starting to show the ugly side of
      Westernization such as greed, disparities in wealth and sexual
      promiscuity. Mosques began to reach out to those in need, a place
      where the increasing amount of poor people could go for free
      schooling, food and medical attention which outlines the
      traditional sense of Islamic charity in the Arab world.

      "People turned to God for justice. Going back to God was a revolt
      against mass consumerism and wearing the head-covering was a
      revolt against being treated as sex objects for young woman,"
      Nahla said. "It was liberating to wear the hijab again."

      An Islamic Marriage

      It was about this time that Nahla's older brother Mazen began
      hanging around with another Palestinian. His name was Sami
      Al-Arian. Nahla never paid any attention to Sami, he was just
      another guy to Nahla. Yet the friendship between the young
      Palestinian boys in Cairo was a very special and intellectual one.
      They went to lectures, spent their money on books and conversed
      for hours at a time on philosophy, religion and politics.

      "My parents used to get mad at Mazen for spending all of his
      allowance on books," Nahla said proudly. "Mazen is a walking
      encyclopedia, he really has a photographic memory."

      Nahla's grades were excellent, even better than Sami's. When it
      was time for college she chose to study English Literature even
      though she was accepted to study medicine. She studied
      Shakespeare, Milton, Keats and Blake and was enjoying college

      Every once in a while she would sneak into Mazen's room and read
      letters that were written to him from Sami who had moved to
      America and was studying engineering in Illinois. Sami was very
      active in America, he organized Islamic groups, gave speeches on
      awareness of Islam and even went to prisons to speak to Muslim

      "I learned a lot about him through his letters," Nahla said.
      "I loved reading those letters and I learned a lot about his
      personality. I was impressed."

      In 1979, after earning an undergraduate degree in engineering,
      Sami came back to Egypt to look for a wife. When Mazen said his
      younger sister was available Sami jumped at the opportunity, as he
      had already been attracted to her for some time. And thus began
      the four steps of an Islamic marriage.

      First, Sami's mother came to visit Nahla and although they never
      once spoke of Sami, Nahla was quickly given approval. "My mother
      and grandmother fell in love with her," Sami said. Second, the
      future bride and groom sat down together to make sure there was a
      mental and mutual agreement.

      "After one visit we felt we were ready to accept an engagement,"
      Nahla said. Third, the men of Sami's family gathered with the men
      of Nahla's family for a formal marriage proposal. Nahla's father
      traveled from south Yemen and didn't accept Sami's proposal until
      he got the word from Nahla that she was sure. Nahla's father had
      only one stipulation, after starting a family Sami had to promise
      that he would see to it that Nahla would finish her education, of
      which Sami agreed.

      The fourth step is the signing of the marriage contract finalizing
      the union. Nahla is quick to point out where she comes from
      marriage is important and not taken lightly. "In our culture, a
      man enters through the front door, not the window," Nahla said.
      "To go to the family of the woman to ask for her hand shows that
      he is willing to commit. Marriage is not just between a man and a
      woman, but between two families," Nahla said.

      Sami said he had been attracted to her years before he proposed
      but never said anything and after reading Sami's letters to Mazen,
      Nahla felt attracted to him from a distance as well. "I had
      proposals from other men who were much richer than Sami. But
      because he was religious and I felt I we were connected, I chose

      By then, Sami had been accepted in a graduate program in computer
      engineering at North Carolina State University. As an English
      Literature student in Cairo, Nahla thought she would be able to
      understand English when she arrived in North Carolina. "Wow was I
      surprised, I didn't understand a single word, it was nothing like
      what I had studied," she said.

      In order to learn, she started watching Star Trek re-runs over and
      over until she improved.

      By 1981 she had given birth to Abdullah and Laila. Abdullah now is
      a senior at Duke University majoring in political science and
      history, a columnist for The Chronicle, a campus newspaper. Laila
      is an undergrad at Georgetown University and was recently elected
      to the editorial board of La Hoya, also a campus newspaper.

      After Leena was born in 1985, Sami fulfilled his promise to his
      father-in-law and Nahla went back to college after a six-year
      hiatus earning a degree in religious studies from USF and has had
      two of her papers published in nationally recognized periodicals.

      For many years she lived the American dream. She was free to teach
      Islam in the Muslim community where she now has 270 students from
      many different countries and races. After graduating from North
      Carolina University, both Sami and Mazen were offered doctoral
      degrees from USF and afterwards were given jobs as professors at
      the Tampa university. Both Sami and Mazen organized groups
      centered around Arab and Palestinian causes. The World and Islam
      Studies Enterprise and the Islamic Concern Project.

      After the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 was
      connected to a previous speaker both Mazen and Sami were targeted
      by the U.S. government for whom they were associated. Later,
      another speaker ended up becoming the leader of the Palestinian
      Islamic Jihad, a militant group connected to terrorist attacks on
      Israeli civilians.

      The links prompted an FBI to investigate and brought unwanted
      attention to USF. Both Sami and Mazen were placed on paid leave in
      1995 pending the FBI investigation, and an inquiry by William
      Reece Smith, an attorney hired by the university to conduct an
      inquiry on his own. Lama, the youngest in the family, had a
      nightmare about one of the FBI agents that searched Nahla's home.

      Sami was eventually given his job back but in 1998, Mazen was
      detained by federal agents without being charged for a crime. The
      Secret Evidence Act allowed the government to hold illegal aliens
      it deemed a threat to national security.

      The detention became a national issue and catapulted Sami into the
      national spotlight in his stance against the use of secret
      evidence. But Sami was not alone Nahla and many other Muslim women
      gave speeches in New York, Washington D.C., Georgia and Michigan.

      "It was the Muslim women that stood up for Mazen the most. Many of
      the men were themselves scared of secret evidence.. For myself, I
      had to learn to push my shyness to the side to be able to speak in
      public but I had no other choice," Nahla said showing off smiling
      pictures of George W. Bush on his 2000 campaign trail holding her
      youngest daughter Lama in his arm.

      On a nationally televised debate, after three years of working the
      legal system for Mazen's release, Republican nominee for president
      Bush spoke out against the use of secret evidence.

      "Millions of people were listening to him when he said that," Sami
      said. "I couldn't believe what I was hearing. At that moment, he
      had every American Muslim on his side."

      By October 2000, Judge R. Kevin McHugh, after viewing the
      government's secret evidence against Mazen, released a scathing
      review of the government's mistreatment of Mazen and proclaimed
      that "WISE was a reputable and scholarly research center and the
      ICP was highly regarded. Not one excerpt of the composite
      depicted (Al-Najjar) engaging in fundraising for any (terrorist)

      The government then appealed to Attorney General Janet Reno to
      review the case on behalf of the government to which she denied.
      In November, Mazen was finally released, but the government had
      been embarrassed.

      When the tragedies of Sept. 11 occurred, Sami, Mazen, Nahla and
      the Muslim community of north Tampa immediately released a
      statement distancing and denouncing them as acts of cold-blooded
      murderers. But the USA Patriot Act was pushed through by a
      landslide and in a perplexing move, the government suddenly linked
      Mazen to terrorists again in a statement released through the
      Department of Justice even after Judge McHugh thoroughly denied
      the government on every front less than a year earlier.

      On Sept. 26, Sami was asked to appear on The O'Reilly Factor
      where, according to Sami, he was to speak for Muslim Americans in
      the U.S. Sami was then questioned by host Bill O'Reilly about ties
      to terrorists and then mentioned that if he were the FBI, he'd be
      following Sami everywhere he went. Over the next few days, threats
      were sent to USF where he was a professor of computer science. The
      administration immediately put Sami on paid leave until an
      investigation of the threats was undertaken and the campus calmed.

      On Nov. 13, 2001, an Atlanta appeals court ordered Mazen deported,
      yet, no country was willing to take him since he had been
      considered a terrorist threat in America. Add to that the fact
      that he is a stateless Palestinian and he has absolutely nowhere
      to go.

      Yet 15 INS agents took him by surprise and pushed him to the
      pavement in his apartment complex while he was doing laundry
      and didn't identify themselves until after he was subdued.

      "He thought he was being kidnapped," Nahla said. "He had no idea
      who they were." Mazen's daughters were still in the apartment and
      when the agents finally told him who they were, he struggled to
      let his daughters know what was going on. Mazen was then
      manhandled by the agents as was apparent by the bruises and
      scratches on his arms and hands. His daughters didn't know until
      over an hour later what had happened and for a week the family and
      his lawyers had no idea where he was taken.

      Since that day in November last year, Mazen has been under 23-hour
      solitary confinement in Coleman Federal Correctional Facility
      about 75 miles north of Tampa. He is only allowed one phone call
      per week for 10 minutes, three-hour visitation on weekends only
      and is strip-searched twice a day. "They even check behind his
      ears for weapons," Nahla said. "If it was already held in an open
      hearing that he is not a threat, why detain him again in a high
      security correctional facility?" Martin Schwartz, a Tampa attorney
      defending Al-Najjar said.

      Three days after Mazen was detained, Nahla and Sami appeared on a
      live local television show, The Cathy Fountain Show. A neighbor in
      Mazen's apartment complex, who witnessed Mazen's detention, called
      the show and described how Mazen was treated "like a dog" and went
      on to explain that it reminded him of how blacks were treated
      during the civil rights era.

      "I just started crying," Nahla said. "I was shocked to hear the
      description of how my brother was arrested because until that day,
      we hadn't heard from him. Then (Cathy Fountain) asks me what I
      thought of it while we were on live television."

      "It seems heartless and inhumane to detain him now," David Cole, a
      constitutional law expert at Georgetown University Law Center in
      Washington said (in November).

      Unfortunately, Mazen's health is deteriorating. He was detained
      during the holy month of Ramadan where Muslims fast and one of his
      attorney's, Joe Hohenstein said he and Mazen's family were
      "worried that he may not be receiving proper treatment for his

      "Nothing is helping my brother," Nahla said. "He is suffering
      terribly from the 23-hour solitary confinement."

      On one of the family's weekend visitations recently, Lama was
      complaining about school and Mazen began crying. "He cries for
      anything," Nahla said. "He even cries when he prays. "

      Life went from bad to worse for Nahla when USF's board of trustees
      called for an emergency meeting to discuss what to do about Sami
      who was still on paid leave. The board recommended to university
      president Judy Genshaft in a 12-1 vote that Sami be fired, the
      single vote coming from the only academic on the board. University
      Provost David Stamps immediately sent Sami a letter of intent to

      By the time school had come back in session, controversy split the
      campus in two and a national debate has since ensued. On Jan. 9,
      2002, the USF Faculty Senate voted not to support Genshaft's
      intent to fire because of the lack of due process at the
      clandestinely held emergency meeting in December. Afterward, the
      state and national faculty union, the ACLU and numerous civil
      libertarian groups followed suit as well as scathing editorials
      from the local St. Petersburg Times to the New York Times and the
      American Association of University Professors (AAUP) also sent
      words of discouragement to Genshaft.

      The student government voted to support Genshaft although 14 of
      the 36 senators abstained because they said the student body
      hadn't been properly polled to represent them. The Coalition of
      Progressive Student Coalitions, which includes 15 campus groups,
      decided unanimously not to support Genshaft and so did the
      graduate assistants union.

      Although most people don't agree with Sami's views of the Middle
      East with statements such as 'Death to Israel,' what is at issue
      with the firing of Sami is academic freedom, especially for a
      tenured professor as he is. "Sami didn't mean death to any
      particular person or peoples when he said that," Nahla said of the
      English translation 'death to Israel.' "He only means death to the
      occupation. The Palestinian people are treated like dogs and it
      just such a horrible injustice."

      Many people have also questioned Sami why he even went on
      O'Reilly's show in the first place and find it hard to believe he
      is gullible enough to get duped by the show's producers. "It's
      true, he always thinks positively of people," Nahla said. "We have
      to treat all people with positive assumptions until they prove
      otherwise. As Muslims, we believe in the goodness of human nature
      and that people are not evil."

      Nahla smiles proudly and shows the remnants of her old shyness
      when she speaks of her husband and in a passing tone mentions that
      the word "Arian," Sami's last name and the name she adopted when
      she married him, actually means 'naked from sins' in Arabic.
      Although she has grasped the courage to overcome her shyness to
      speak in public and has avoided becoming cynical, the effects of
      having her husband and brother arrested, treated like second-class
      citizens and admonished in the media are beginning to show.

      "She's definitely been affected by all of this," her brother
      Mohamed said. "She is not the same person as she was before Mazen
      was first taken in 1997. She was much stronger and happier then."

      "I felt at home here until Sept. 11," Nahla said. "After that I've
      felt like I'm living in a nightmare. I don't know what will happen
      to my husband and my brother or my kids.

      "I have a lot of sleepless nights because of these worries," she
      said. "I feel better after reading the Quran. When I put my
      sacrifice in place of other Palestinian women, I feel grateful
      that (Mazen and Sami) are still alive. Then I think I'm not
      suffering enough. God gives me patience and makes me feel guilty
      if I complain."

      The media has been a quandary for Nahla. At once it has been
      extremely helpful, cruelly invasive and inflammatory. Bill
      O'Reilly of The O'Reilly Factor first created the problem for Sami
      by digging up speeches he made 12 years earlier and later took a
      stand against the USF administration's intent to fire, while
      calling for the head of President Genshaft.

      "I have anxiety when I watch American television, especially talk
      shows that are sometimes very aggressive toward Muslims in
      general," Nahla said. "I feel tormented by the media how it
      portrays that American people are against us."

      She then goes on to explain that the people she meets are not
      against her family and speaks of when she recently visited a
      friend at Tampa General Hospital. A white man who was walking by
      shook Sami's hand and wished him and his family good luck.

      One particular media critic, NBC terrorism correspondent Steven
      Emerson, has gone after the family with a fervor and at a speech
      given locally in January mentioned he was very hopeful that Sami
      would be picked up by the FBI in the next coming days.

      "I was crying everyday after that," Nahla said. "You know, they
      accuse us of being hateful after so much horrible injustice. I
      just can't understand it sometimes. The media doesn't look at us
      as if we're human beings sometimes."

      The Muslim community where Sami is imam, or preacher, is a 15-acre
      piece of land that includes a mosque, school, playground, a center
      for picnics and offices. At their Muslim community, 20 percent of
      the board of directors are women and includes members of six
      different countries.

      "Sami is the one who wanted to open the board for women," Nahla
      said. "Every member's vote weighs equally." Recently though, the
      most important aspect of the community to Nahla is the emotional
      support she gets from her friends. Especially now that her brother
      is back in jail and Sami is under fire.

      "I am very lucky," Nahla said. "When I feel sad my friends
      surround me, without their help I wouldn't be able to make it. If
      I ever need help with my children they are there for me. They just
      want me to ask for help so they can reach out to me."

      The parochial school in the community where Nahla is a teacher has
      over 270 students. "We teach tolerance," Nahla said. "We are proud
      of the fact that it has a wide curriculum. Above all, we emphasize
      tolerance and promote fairness."

      Nahla is a religious woman and takes pride in the fact that Islam
      accepts other forms of religion. "God wanted people to be able to
      choose," Nahla said.

      She explains that Osama bin Laden and the Taliban are a very small
      group of extremists out of 1.2 billion faithful. "It is not fair
      to judge Islam by a small group of crackpots," Nahla said.

      Yet, the community is isolated from the rest of Tampa, secluded
      down a long stretch of road. Muslims are still new to America and
      the adjustment to understand American culture has not been an easy
      one. Many times, Nahla's students tell her they are scared of the
      clash of cultures. They feel Americans don't want to understand
      their culture and ever since Sept. 11, they've become a source of
      hatred. One of the sisters spoke about how a man was following her
      in his car and how she took off her head covering to avoid him.
      Nahla said American women sometimes smile at her strangely.

      In 1998, Nahla decided to take Abdullah, Laila and Leena to the
      Palestinian territories to get a sense of where they come from.
      They landed in Cairo where they took a six-hour cab ride to the
      Egyptian-Palestinian territory border where Israeli soldiers
      checked their American passports. They were made to wait almost
      half a day but eventually were allowed in. Nahla took them to meet
      relatives in Gaza and once again met up with the little family she
      knew as a child. "They remembered me from when I was a baby,"
      Nahla said. "But their living conditions had deteriorated
      incredibly. They were despondent and living in absolute squalor."

      In Gaza, where the vast majority of men are unemployed there is a
      saying that states 'Palestinian men can beat Israeli men in bed
      because they're always at home.'

      In 1982, hundreds of Palestinians were massacred in the refugee
      camps of Sabra and Shatila when Ariel Sharon was defense minister
      for Israel. Back then Sharon lobbied to have Palestinian men
      sterilized, now Sharon is Prime Minister and has dashed any hopes
      the Palestinian's once had since Sept. 11. "The Palestinian people
      are completely despondent right now," Nahla said. "I see children
      killed for throwing stones, they are portrayed as animals." Nahla
      and family were able to roam freely in Israel and the Palestinian
      territories because of their American passports, a fact that
      others were jealous of, Nahla said. Palestinians have to put in a
      request weeks and even months in advance just to go to a movie or
      a lecture and more times than they are turned down.

      They visited and attended mosques in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and
      Hebron but one particular occasion in a northern coastal city
      where a lot of Israeli tourists were vacationing hurt Nahla when
      her children said they felt like foreigners in Palestine.

      "The tourists were looking at us like we were terrorists," Nahla
      said. "It was very sad for me to have my children looked at that
      way." "That was a bizarre experience." Laila said.

      Throughout her life, Nahla has been treated like a second-class
      citizen without ever being able to call a country home. Her
      brother is suffering in solitary confinement and her husband
      ostracized. Even through this, she has decided to believe in the
      positive aspects of human nature and shield herself from becoming
      pessimistic, something that truly isolates her from American

      "We have to understand the human side of suffering and
      humiliation," Nahla said. "I refuse to be cynical."

      Alex Lynch can be reached at: shanachie51@...
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