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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Palestinians in Hawai'i find sympathy

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Religion & Ethics Writer

 •  Friends of Sabeel in Hawaii

Meets 7 p.m. Tuesday

First Christian Church, 1516 Kewalo St., Makiki

521-3500, the Rev. Vaughn Beckman, chairman


There are not that many Palestinians in Hawai'i, but those here say their neighbors are more interested in learning about the conflict in the Middle East, even being supportive, than in suspicion or confrontation.

That doesn't surprise Nizar Hasan, a 72-year-old retired electronics engineer who fled his native Palestine for Jordan in 1948 at age 18, and eventually became a resident of the United States. Hasan, a Muslim and U.S. Army veteran who lives in Makakilo and counts many Native Hawaiians among his neighbors, said Hawai'i's people are familiar with the issue of losing one's homeland.

"In Hawai'i, it is wonderful," he said. "They are wonderful, very generous. When we talk about the situation, they say, 'It sounds familiar to us.' "

But support is coming from more than Hasan's friends in the Hawaiian community. He and other Palestinian Americans say they also see sympathy growing for the plight of Palestinians across the United States. They point, for example, to last weekend's rally in downtown Washington, D.C., which brought together tens of thousands of marchers.

A related rally last weekend organized by the Cease & Desist organization here drew 125 people to Magic Island; a pro-Palestinian rally the weekend before that attracted 150 to the state Capitol.

In a related Hawai'i development, a local chapter of the Friends of Sabeel, a national network supporting peace in the Middle East that was created by Palestinian Christians, has gained nearly 60 members, according to its chairman, the Rev. Vaughn Beckman of the First Christian Church.

"It just seems like people are beginning to put things together," said Cynthia Monsour, a Palestinian American language teacher who was born in the United States.

Last week, Monsour attended a meeting of the Friends of Sabeel.

"It was good to see such a mix of people," she said.

Two or three in the crowd were Palestinians, but others were part of Honolulu's diverse cultural mix, she said, "just concerned people. Not concerned for one side or another, just concerned about the fighting."

And Hasan appreciates the support from groups such as the Friends of Sabeel.

"I'm not surprised Christian Palestinians are supporting the effort," he said. "They were also thrown out of their homes, their churches."

The stickier issue of terrorism has both Monsour and Hasan frustrated. While both roundly criticized the World Trade Center bombings, which goes against Islamic law, Hasan said, they understand the desperation of a people who are disenfranchised.

"Cafe bombings, suicide bombings — it's equally sad that it's the common person caught up in this, and not by choice," Monsour said.

Hakim Ouansafi, the head of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, estimates that about 42 Palestinian families live in the Islands.

Correction: The Ramallah home of the family of Cynthia Monsour has not been damaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A previous version of this story was incorrect.