AFSC Iowa Hosts AMPAL President John Dabeet
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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs August 2012, Pages 42-43 John Dabeet, president of Americans and Palestinians for Peace (AMPAL), spoke to an appreciative audience at the Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting House in Des Moines, Iowa on May 31. The tireless proponent of peace in and justice for his native land, Palestine, took his audience on a journey, telling the story of his life as a child and a young man in Palestine and, later, as a Palestinian-American leader with a mission. \"I was three years old at the time of the 1967 war, and I remember seeing the Israeli tanks coming into Ramallah, my hometown,\" Dabeet recalled. He later learned that his father\'s family had been forced out of their home in Jaffa by Israeli militants in 1948 and had sought safety in Ramallah. Dabeet\'s mother, a child of 13 in 1948, was at a boarding school when Israeli paramilitary and military troops forced about 700,000 Palestinians from their homes. \"My mom, 13 years old and in school in Jerusalem, couldn\'t go back and join her family. Can you imagine that feeling?\" asked Dabeet. Dabeet became a leader in high school when he helped establish a Palestinian student movement. \"We felt like, \'We have to organize and we have to do something so we can get back our lives...We have to achieve justice and peace,\'\" explained Dabeet, who continued his education at Bethlehem University, where he was active in student political organizations. \"Parents want their kids to grow up in a peaceful environment,\" he pointed out, dismissing as \"unbelievable\" Israeli propaganda about Palestinians who supposedly send their children out to fight the Israeli military. Dabeet described his and other Palestinians\' elation when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat shook hands on the lawn of the White House during the Clinton administration, only to have their hopes for peace dashed when Rabin was assassinated by a far-right Jewish Israeli extremist. In 1989, Dabeet came to the U.S. to study for his master\'s degree in economics at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. From 1991 to 1995, he taught at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, PA, where he became involved with human rights organizations. Today, Dabeet is chair of Iowa\'s Muscatine Community College Department of Business and professor of economics. In 1993 the Israeli government revoked his identification documents in an attempt to prevent his return to Palestine. Five years later, as a U.S. citizen, he visited Palestine for the purpose of starting a student exchange program with Palestinian colleges and universities and requesting that the City of Ramallah become a sister city with Muscatine. During his visit Israeli security forces detained him for more than two weeks. He was released and able to return to the United States only after efforts by the U.S. State Department, members of the House and Senate. Not someone who is easily deterred, Dabeet founded AMPAL in 2000 because of his belief in the ultimate creation of an independent Palestinian state. \"I support all peaceful efforts to achieve that goal,\" he stated. While a major focus of AMPAL\'s work is programming for children, especially children in need, Dabeet also communicates with Palestinian National Council members. He was asked to function as a U.S. coordinator for U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state last year, traveled to New York, and was present when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the U.N. General Assembly and presented an application for U.N. membership for a Palestine state. Active in the Muscatine Sister Cities Association for many years, Dabeet was finally successful in facilitating the establishment of the sister city relationship with Ramallah. Muscatine has sister city relationships with cities in Argentina, Germany, Japan, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Uruguay as well as Palestine. In February, Dabeet announced his candidacy as a Democrat running for the new Iowa State House District 91 seat. Asked what Iowans can do to support peace in the Holy Land and help bring a just end to Israel\'s illegal occupation of Palestine, Dabeet declared, \"Don\'t become discouraged!\" The event was the final of four hosted by the American Friends Service Committee\'s Middle East Peace Education Project in Des Moines as part of the group\'s Spring 2012 \"Palestine Is Still the Issue\" series featuring food, film, and discussion. —Michael Gillespie
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