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Clarkston traveler seeks peace in war zone



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Annette Thomas and another Peace Team member protest in Bil’in. (click for larger version)
January 30, 2013 - Annette Thomas of Clarkston was thrilled when the film Five Broken Cameras was nominated for Best Documentary Feature in the 2013 Academy Awards.

"It shows our friends, the people we stayed with, the village we stayed in," said Thomas. "I'm excited for them."

The film documents Palestinian resistance to Israeli settlements in Bil'in, a village in the contested West Bank. Thomas and other members of Michigan Peace Team were there. They travelled to the West Bank in 2005 to serve as volunteer peacekeepers and observers on behalf of the villagers.

"We were human shields, standing between teenagers and the soldiers," she said. "It was incredible. I've never seen anything like this in my life. Their homes were being demolished, their land confiscated, family members killed. At what point do we say enough is enough – I believe everybody is entitled to peace with justice."

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The documentary is co-directed by Emad Burnat, a Palestinian, and Guy Davidi, an Israeli. Its name comes from the cameras destroyed while the filmmakers recorded confrontations between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers.

Thomas got involved in the conflict around 2002. She was visiting friends in Jordan when she read local newspaper accounts of Palestinian children killed in Gaza.

"I was devastated – they said it happens all the time," Thomas said.

A frequent world traveler, she made her next trip to the Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank, a life-changing moment for her, she said.

In the following years, she has written dozens of letters to editor and articles for magazines and newspapers, and speaks out at universities and rallies about what she has seen and learned about the conflict. One thing she's learned – Palestinians have been unfairly stereotyped as masked terrorists

"Our media is biased," she said. "I've never seen violence by Palestinians. What I've consistently heard from them is they want to live side by side in peace with their Jewish neighbors."

Many Israelis tell her the same thing, she said.

"So many stand alongside Palestinians and say this isn't right," she said. "Jewish people of conscience are extremely supportive of the Palestinian cause and work side by side with the people there to try to bring about a just peace."

American government involvement in the area doesn't help, she said.

"If the government wouldn't intervene and the United State would butt out, these people would be able to live side by side in peace," she said.

Her travels aren't over. She wants to return to Gaza and the West Bank, as well as go to troubled areas in Africa and South America.

"I'll never retire. I'll do this until I die," she said.

The Academy Awards airs on Feb. 24.

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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