Amid Turmoil Back Home, Two Palestinian Girls Are Stranded After Attending Oscars

Two Palestinian girls, one the star of an Oscar-nominated documentary, say they cannot return home from their trip to the Academy Awards because their refugee camp outside Bethlehem is under siege by the Israeli army.

Sanabel Al-Fararja, 15, and Kayan Al-Saify, 16, have been stranded in San Francisco for almost three weeks, staying with a family friend.

"My little sister is 2 years old. When I call home she says, 'Sanabel, there is shooting. I'm afraid. I want you,"' Al-Fararja said. "Even though I'm curious to see what it's like here and have some fun, it's very hard because I'm always thinking about home. My body is here, but my mind and my heart are in Palestine."

Al-Fararja was featured in the film Promises, a documentary that followed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the voices of seven children on either side. She said she was eager to make the trip because, if the film had won, she would have been able to take the podium and tell millions of viewers about the conflict.

The film was up for an award in the Documentary Feature category, but didn't win.

The friends were supposed to return home Sunday, but their parents told them it was too risky. The recent invasion by Israeli ground troops in Bethlehem, in response to repeated Palestinian suicide bombings, has blocked the roads to their camp.

In the meantime, the girls are staying with Jumana Muwafi, a computer engineer whose Palestinian parents live in Lebanon. She met the girls while volunteering one summer at a cultural center in their refugee camp.

Muwafi said despite their Western clothes and interests, the girls have little interest in shopping or exploring the city and instead are riveted to her computer, which brings them updates on the violence back home.

The two teen-agers also have used their extended visit in America to give interviews and visit Bay Area schools to share their Palestinian perspective.

"We are here to send a message. There will be no peace with Israeli occupation," Al-Fararja said. "We must work as one hand toward peace."