Northwest Center for Holocaust, Genocide and Ethnocide Education
Al Jundi, S., Marlowe, J. (2011). The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacekeeper. New York, NY: Nation Books. Review by Tabitha Hall.
At age 18, Sami Al Jundi’s life was forever altered when the bomb he and his childhood friends were building in his bedroom exploded prematurely. Injured from the blast, he and one of his friends – the third was killed by the blast – were arrested by Israeli police and sentenced to ten years in prison. There, he began what fellow Palestinians referred to as "University": an intentionally crafted series of classes that each prisoner took upon arriving at the prison. The courses encouraged Al Jundi to read the works of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and begin exploring the philosophies of violence and peaceful non-violent approaches to civil disobedience.
The Hour of Sunlight is the story of Sami Al Jundi’s life in Jerusalem and his struggle as he watches conflict escalate within his community. Through his words, the reader learns about the Jewish occupation of his parents’ villages, the tensions that arose with the first Intifada, and the stories that the Palestinian children believed. (For example, that the Jewish police had tails. Al Jundi later learned an Israeli friend grew up hearing the exact same story about Palestinian police’s tails.) Hearing that friends of his had been shot, and bearing witness to the rising tensions between the Palestinians and Israelis, Al Jundi struggled to find a way to honor his roots and help bring change. When Al Jundi and his childhood friends joined the Fatah, they looked to acts of violent uprising as their key tool for making their struggle heard and seen. He was aware of the conflict between his strength as a student and his own need to join a political group. He said, "I hated to dash their high hopes for my future. . . . My future would most likely find me in prison, wounded, or killed" (p. 75).
When the bomb exploded in Sami’s home, the path of his future altered drastically. While he did, as he had previously predicted, spend time in prison, his term reformed his beliefs. He became a leader within the prison, at one point being asked to teach the new prisoners’ course about the philosophies of Fatah, the history of the conflicts, and varying approaches to resolution. He read hundreds of books, and when he was released in 1990, he returned home with the same old passion but with a new approach. He became passionate about trying to build connections between Palestinians and Israelis, and began attending a small discussion group with Israeli and Palestinian peers. In the following years, he began working with an organization called Seeds of Peace, whose work was dedicated to bringing together Israeli and Palestinian youth. They worked to get these students engaged in dialogue: they met one another’s families, learned about each other’s cultures and opinions and fears and hopes. They spent holidays together, and those who ran the program learned just as much as the youth who were members. Each summer, Seeds of Peace sent students to a camp in Maine, where they could further connect with students around the world to share their stories and begin exploring more peaceful forms of resolution. Dedicated to Seeds of Peace, Al Jundi spent years working with the students, or "Seeds", the organization, and his connections within the community to help the Seeds find ways of bridging an otherwise violent gap.
The Hour of Sunlight is a valuable text that shares Palestinian history and culture. Al Jundi’s beliefs span from that of a militant Fatah member to a diligent peacekeeper. He brings in the history of his family and his culture: his readers experience what it was like to be raised by two blind parents; his first experience at a Passover meal; the tension he felt when driving through Israeli checkpoints; the passion he and his friends felt toward uniting Palestinians and Israelis; and the pain he felt when Seeds of Peace ultimately let him go.
For the Educator:
Based on Fry’s Readability graph, The Hour of Sunlight is at a reading level appropriate for higher grades: its range is from 12th to 14th grades. Many students may struggle to read it independently because of the complexity of content and vocabulary. For example, authors Al Jundi and Marlowe integrate authentic Arabic words into the text, requiring the reader to understand the context in order to identify the meaning of the words used. Having students read from this book will most likely require scaffolding for students, which includes an understanding of the conflicts that are taking place in the Middle East. Sami Al Jundi does offer many explanations in his writing, so his stories are still accessible to a reader who does not begin it with a lot of prior understanding.
The Hour of Sunlight can be used in a variety of ways. The writing makes it possible to simply use excerpts, or parts of the book can be taught. Chapters one through four tell about Sami’s childhood, his growing awareness of the cultural tensions that exist, and his decision to join his friends in fighting. Chapter five begins with the explosion, and for the next two chapters he discusses his time in prison and the relationships he builds there. Beginning in chapter eight, readers see how he has changed from his time in prison, and begins connecting with community members and engaging in peaceful dialogue. Therefore chapters from the book can be used to discuss war, political prisoners, and conflict resolution. It may also be valuable in introducing its readers to the distinct cultural perspective that it offers coming from a Palestinian voice.
This book, paired with supplemental texts such as newspaper articles or other forms of journalism and documentary, will work well in units that focus on audience and perspective, war, propaganda, conflict resolution, and international relations. Depending on the texts that are used alongside it, students can critique governmental decisions and actions that are described in the text, and activities could include debates, group discussions, article reviews, mock news broadcasts, and analytical essays. Though the book is written for an audience at higher reading levels, portions of it may still be used to discuss important themes in current events and to seek student opinions.