Rula Salameh: Empowering Palestinian Philanthropy
-Profile by Patricia Smith Melton, Peace X Peace Founder
Palestinian radio personality and documentary producer Rula Salameh is our 2012 Patricia Smith Melton Award honoree. Ms. Salameh’s weekly television program highlights Palestinians of special needs, patients who need support for immediate treatment, and needy families.
It is my honor to award Rula Salameh the 2012 Patricia Smith Melton Award. Among her talents is executing a world-class three-point turn in the middle of narrow roads when there’s trouble ahead. Specifically, when old car tires are stacked and burning and solders’ guns firing, albeit into the air. Rula makes this maneuver without breaking a sweat. As a resident of East Jerusalem and day-in, day-out advocate for connection and co-existence, she is a veteran of the checkpoints and roads between the West Bank and Israel.
Because Rula and I worked together on several projects in the West Bank and Israel, including the book Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women, produced by Peace X Peace, I hesitated to present her with this personal award earlier. However, this year I have the privilege to recognize her as the creator, producer, and presenter of the television program Filisteen al-Kheir (Philanthropy in Palestine) on the Mix-Ma’an satellite channel. This inspiring and energizing program just finished its first year.
On Filisteen al-Kheir Rula interviews and highlights individuals and families on the margins of Palestinian society, the most needy who suffer most from oppression, injustice, and serious illnesses—those, Rula says, who live in impossible situations. Her program is a bridge between these people and the Palestinian Diaspora across the West Bank, Gaza, Israel, and the entire Middle East. It unites Palestinians in common cause so those with resources can help those in crisis to find solutions. The response has been overwhelming.
Filisteen al-Kheir is broadcast for one hour every Friday and repeated during the week. Among its vast and avid audience are the President and Cabinet Ministers of Palestine. They know Rula’s program is tapped into the heartbeat of the nation. They also know that she may call government officials live during the program and demand someone to come now to help.
Palestinians across the Diaspora call, text, or email within minutes of the beginning of a program to offer support. “I tell them they haven’t watched the full episode yet,” Rula says,” but they respond ‘I want to be the first to help’.”
Rula also co-produced the newly-released documentary My Neighbourhood, focusing on the eviction of Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem. Israeli authorities forcibly evict families and then extremist Israeli settlers move in. This practice recently spread beyond Sheikh Jarrah to several other Palestinian sectors of East Jerusalem despite the weekly nonviolent protests of Palestinians and leftist Israelis. It is a source of deep concern for Rula and everyone who is watching this progression.
Earlier, Rula was the Palestinian producer of the award-winning documentary BUDRUS, showing the nonviolent resistance of the citizens of the village of Budrus in the West Bank against the concrete 9-meter separation wall being built through their town. Over the course of more than a year of protests, the Israeli courts ruled that the wall should be built along the boundaries of the 1967 Green Line, sparing the homes and olive trees of Budrus.
Both videos are productions of Just Vision, where Rula is outreach liaison for Palestine. Ronit Avni is founder and executive director of Just Vision. The director and producer for both films was Julia Bacha.
I first met Rula 10 years ago in Ramallah, where she was training young women and men in video techniques and the power of media to tell their stories. She brought together a roomful of young women to join the Global Network, the social network Peace X Peace started a decade ago. Our friendship grew from there.
Rula was the Palestinian liaison for the book Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women, for which I was the editor, primary interviewer, and photographer. She provided my friend Ruth Gardner and me introductions to women across the breadth of the West Bank—business women, teachers, doctors, heads of women’s centers, elected Hamas and Fatah representatives, former political prisoners, Christians and Muslims, old and young. Her heart, intelligence, professional skill, hard work, and depth of friendship are recognized by everyone. Her commitment to Palestinians, especially women, is above question in a region where people have reason to be cautious.
Rula has worked with the local press agency, Ma’an News Network in Bethlehem, as a senior producer and projects coordinator since 2009, and since August 2011 as a TV presenter for the Mix-Ma’an Satellite Channel. Since 2007 she has headed the board of the Jerusalem Center for Women in East Jerusalem.
I would say, and it would be true, that Rula is a gentle woman, a graceful woman, but I do not want to convey there is anything weak about her. She is courageous, unrelenting, and 100% nonviolent. Rula left a comfortable life in the United Arab Emirates to return to her parents’ home in East Jerusalem with her young son and to work for her people, the Palestinians. I have watched her mature, her son reach his teens, and her influence grow.
Rula has a mission to improve the lives and opportunities of Palestinians. You don’t accomplish that by complaining about what is. Rula accomplishes it by doing the work day after day of showing the world what is being done to Palestinians and by giving Palestinians a way through exposure and media to help each other. With Filisteen al- Kheir she is rightly being called the “Oprah of the West Bank.” She empowers the natural compassion of her people to improve the lives of them all.
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