Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Day I Met Nour Elashi

Some people are born to be leaders. There's something about them, whether its the incredible air of confidence that oozes as they speak, the strong silent power in which they hold themselves and the determination that is as vivid as the sun in their eyes.

This week I met one of those people and I believe that in one's life time it happens rarely that you will be sitting with someone and know that one day this person will become so influential they'll be larger than life. Yet I was lucky enough to track one down even though it was sheer luck. 

On a dark rainy cold day in the streets of Amsterdam ave in New York City I met Nour Elashi. Even before we sat down and gotten to know each other more she struck me with her radiant Middle Eastern beauty. What does she look like? A green eyed puffy lipped Arab version of Angelina Jolie, even better looking!

She came down her building where she greeted us with a warm smile that was much needed as I was soaking wet, freezing and nervous. I immediately felt better, I felt comfortable and I was no longer worried.

As we began shooting the interview for my final project I found out there was a heartbreaking story behind the girl who started Project Palestine, a cultural awareness group that aims to introduce the world to what a Palestinian is all about in terms of arts, music, literature, culture and even food. Looking into her eyes you can see it, hiding behind the tough facade is a lot of sadness.

She told me the story of her father, Mr. Ghassan Elashi who was founder of The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development and member of the board of directors of the Texas branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). In 2008 Mr. Elashi was sentenced to 65 years of prison as he was charged of funneling money to Hamas!

Nour told us how the trial was unfair, fabricated and that the charges were not true, as what her father's organization was doing was giving out "Zakat" (Muslim Charity) to the needy in different parts of the world and as it happens Palestinians are not the most fortunate of people so of course he used to help out the less fortunate of his own native land!

Somehow this was all taken against him and during the Bush administration we all know how things worked. Bush wanted Americans to feel like he's doing something to catch "the bad guys" which is a load of bull shit! In the process of him wanting the world to believe he's not an impotent ignorant ass he ruined the lives of many whether its the war torn Iraqis, the struggling Afghans or the families like that of Mr. Ghassan Elashi.

And now her father is being "punished" because his around a year ago, in one of the visits, one of his sons who is diagnosed with Down syndrome dared to "hug" him when he wasn't suppose to have any physical contact with a detainee. The punishment is that he hasn't been allowed visitors for 6 months due to the corruption and power abuse of the prison wards. His family hasn't been able to see him for a year, Nour hasn't seen her father in a year.

As she spoke of her father and I saw that gleam of sadness in her eyes I wondered how can she be so strong, how can she sit down and give me this interview so put together? How did she tell the story in such an engaging fashion that even though I sympathized with her, I didn't feel "sorry" for her? 

Its her strong confidence in the innocence of her father, her great dedication when speaking out for him and her ability to show how much goodness he intended and how it was used against him. She showed me how much it seems that she has the whole situation under control and does not need anything from anyone. She is capable, strong and determined and no one can take that away from her.

So at the age of 24 she has her own organization that she intended not to be political and its gaining fame and is expanding. Her father couldn't be more proud of her and she is currently in the process of writing her own book about their entire experience.

How could I not be overwhelmed by the presence of Nour Elashi? How can I not be fascinated by someone who's been through so much pain yet has made a life out of a intolerable experience? How can I not be excited about the idea of one day telling my kids, you know that world famous writer Nour Elashi... I had lunch with her :)

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