WASHINGTON – Nearly 200 people packed the Palestine Center here Feb. 19 for an evening of Arab music and dance and to view the paintings of the gifted Palestinian artist, Zahi Khamis, on the theme “Of Exile and Return.”

The event was jointly sponsored by the Cultural Committee of the Jerusalem Fund and Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.

Zeina Azzam Seikaly, outreach coordinator for the Georgetown Center, told the World, “It’s important to appreciate the culture of the Middle East and not always show it as a region of conflict. We are here to celebrate the richness of Arab culture.”

Khamis’ art is a passionate appeal for justice and peace in that war-torn region. One of his most powerful images in the exhibit is “Deir Yassin.” Two figures stare out with huge, sorrowful eyes. Flames lick up between them and blue arches circle their heads like halos.

Deir Yassin was a Palestinian village attacked by Irgun terrorists under the command of Menachem Begin on April 9, 1948. At least 254 people – including children – were slain. The houses were razed and the village removed from maps. It has been a symbol ever since of Palestinian exile.

Khamis was born near Nazareth in 1959. His art is certainly inspired by his own exile. He emigrated to Europe and then to the U.S. in his early 20s. He earned a degree in mathematics at San Diego State University. He discovered his artistic gift during a visit home to Nazareth a few years ago.

“I found myself drawn to Picasso not only because of his technique but also because of his strong political beliefs, by the fact that he was a lifelong Communist,” Khamis said. He was especially inspired by “Guernica,” Picasso’s mural depicting the German fascist bombing of a Basque village during the Spanish Civil war.

“My art is about all people who are neglected, of people who are in struggle,” he says. “I think of it as a way of defining myself as a Palestinian.”

The exhibition continues through March 30 at the Palestine Center, 2425 Virginia Ave. NW, Washington D.C. Telephone (202) 338-1958;

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