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Anaheim Man Is Driven to Promote Peace by Family's Sufferings in Middle East War

Awards: Ra'id Faraj is among 20 who will be honored by the Orange County Human Relations Commission for helping bridge gaps.


The irony is not lost on Ra'id Faraj.

Half a world away, in his native town of Bethlehem, his family is cowering under the advance of Israeli tanks in a perennial conflict that has escalated recently in a vicious cycle of suicide bombings and retaliations.

Here in Orange County, Faraj, a spokesman for the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, will be honored Sunday for seeking peace.

"This is the very thing I hope we will never see in America," the 33-year-old Anaheim resident said of the tensions roiling his native land. "I suffered so much from it. My family continues to suffer. That is why I work so hard here."

Faraj is among 20 people being recognized by the Orange County Human Relations Commission for their work in bridging gaps among diverse communities.

The annual awards banquet will be at Garden Grove's Community Meeting Center.

For Faraj, Sunday will mark the highlight of a still-budding career in community relations. He was hired by the Council on American-Islamic Relations as its public relations director two years ago, fresh out of Chapman University with degrees in peace studies and organizational leadership.

"I had hoped to go back" to the Middle East, Faraj said, "and help make things work there. But I'm glad to be here and doing the work I am doing."

That work has become even more pertinent since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the ensuing backlash against Arab and Muslim Americans, Faraj said.

"We must avoid the propagation of myths and talk to one another," Faraj said. "That doesn't benefit just our group but society as a whole."

Faraj, the oldest of seven children, moved to Orange County in 1994 to pursue an education that was denied under the constant unrest in the region, he said.

Growing up in the occupied territories, he could go to class only intermittently, when not prevented by roadblocks and school closures.

Faraj's parents and four siblings live in Bethlehem.

"They are scared," said Faraj, who keeps in touch with his family by telephone. "They haven't left the house in a number of days."

Faraj is critical of the Israeli government and its policy in the occupied territories, but he intends to focus on unity, not divisions, he said.

"Growing up, I knew nothing about Israeli society. I only saw the soldiers and their M-16s.... There are more similarities among people than differences."

Among others being recognized are Allen Baldwin, executive director of the Orange County Community Housing Corp., for working to increase low-income housing in the county; Terry Anne Barman, a Laguna Beach teacher and founder of a preschool program for the poor; and Sid Gardner, an advocate of diversity and children's issues.

Waleska Hernandez of Anaheim is being honored for organizing children and their parents in her daughter's elementary school. Phoebe Kassenoff and Fred Provencher will receive awards for their volunteer work with the Huntington Beach Human Relations Task Force.

Nahla Kayali, founder of Care "R" Us, will be recognized for her work helping poor minority families find medical care.

Frank P. Lobo, a member of the Acjachemem tribe of Orange County, teaches young members of his tribe and others about Native American culture and history.

Roslyn Manley, a transgender woman, founded the Orange County Transgender Taskforce last year, the first of its kind in the county.

The commission will also recognize Ron Minekime, a member of its Community Partners Advisory Board; Rick Mojarro, principal of Santa Ana's Kennedy Elementary School; Joseph Pak, a Korean American community leader; and Gwyn P. Parry, a doctor who founded a community outreach program at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach.

Rosalia Pinon of Costa Mesa volunteers at several organizations and most recently helped save the city's day laborer job center.

Elvia Ruiz survived an abusive relationship and is now director of the Latina program at Interval House, a battered women's home in Seal Beach.

Lisa Thies of Fullerton is an advocate for people with disabilities, and Guadalupe Tinajero is a Santa Ana community leader.

Also being honored are Ruth and Theodore Shapin of Orange, who volunteer their time with several nonprofits, including Cousins Club of Orange County, which promotes dialogue between Palestinians and Jews.

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