on November 27, 2012
This is a book about the struggles of a people. Thousands of Arabs fled from Palestine during the Israeli-Arab wars of 1948 and 1967. They had hoped to find new temporary homes in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and other Arab nations but their fellow Muslims refused to let them integrate into their populations and the people were herded into horrid refugee camps and left there. Left there seemingly forever, forgotten, out of sight, out of mind.A displaced person in a refugee camp seems to belong nowhere, having no country but living in limbo in a brutal existence, crowded into abysmal huts or tents with accumulated garbage two stories high. It is really as though these people had been thrown away, discarded as garbage themselves.
There is a Greek word "Diaspora" which means a displaced people, segregated from the country of their birth. It means a scattering, a migration, with people settled far from their homelands and spread around hither and yon like leaves in the wind, like chaff.
Imagine a ghetto choking with squalid cement houses. There are no gardens, no trees, flowers or plazas or stores, or pavement, there are rats, though-thousands of them, and the children play amid the rats and the garbage, if they can play. Some are so weak and malnourished they will soon disappear, plowed under by a society that just doesn't care.
There is a knight on a white horse coming to the rescue only he's a she and her horse is a run-down blue jalopy. "Committee of One" is the true story of an incredible woman, Leila Wahbeh, who although with a family herself and who suffered deprivations and hardships in the past, gathered her strengths of courage and determination and pure charisma to help her fellow Palestinians help themselves.
Author Pat Holt had first met Leila when Pat, who with her husband, was living in Amman, the capitol of Jordan. Pat was searching for examples of the beautiful needlework on canvas and cross-stitched onto full length gowns, the patterns and colors reflecting the tradition and heritage of each family, that the women in the refugee camps produced with love. Mrs. Holt's introduction to Leila changed her life, as Leila driving like a maniac with horn blaring, brakes screeching (her driving was an extension of her enthusiastic personality) bombed into the nearest camp to visit some of the huts where the women, often sitting on the floor, in windowless shacks, always surrounded by hoards of malnourished children, eked out a pathetic existence by their beautiful stitchery.
Holt writes well and you learn of her immersion, at the side of Leila, into the lives of the camp refugees, who although in desperate circumstances kept their dignity intact. Women were located who did the embroidery so that Pat could see the designs and Leila could arrange to have thread and canvases sent to the craftswomen who could weave beauty out of the browns and grays of their desert.
But Pat unknowingly had taken an irrevocable step far beyond the embroidery. As Leila took her time and time again into the refugee camps, where she could see Leila in action and the results of those actions, Pat was hooked. She couldn't stay away. There is a United Nations charity that endeavors to help the displaced Palestinians, but like all charities, red tape is inevitable. But Leila in action meant avoiding red tape and even avoiding money. What the people needed she got. A garbage truck, containers for the garbage and even sanitation centers built to replace refuse dumps. Asphalt, cement, trees and flowers, medicines, a wheelchair, a roof, rice and olives, all the goods and labor donated free because Leila asked the providers.
Leila was greeted with joy whenever she drove into camp. One group of ladies presented her with a beautiful hanging, part of which said "we would give you are blood." She herself described her own motto: "you must never say 'impossible'". The reader will meet many of the camp residents and you will hear their stories which will touch your heart. Leila in "building bridges of happiness" helped them far more than money donations would have helped. She restored the dignity and pride of many of those heavily burdened.
Pat and her husband returned to the States in 1985. Twenty five years later Pat (her husband had died) returned to Amman and found Leila again and they hugged as though they had never been apart. Much had changed in the landscape around Amman, but the camps were still there and a lot had not changed. Yet there was a new horizon -the new horizon was hope. Families without education, the parents illiterate, started sending their children to college on scholarships. And they recognize, these people in the refugee camps, that education is their ticket out of the slums.
Leila's buddy, author Pat Holt, did her share of helping the displaced Palestinians by lecturing to various groups and finding buyers for the hand-worked embroidery which tells so eloquently the story of a forgotten nation. I think it could be said that in her efforts to inform people in America of a civilization lost- and in writing this book -there is a Committee of Two.