- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Eight Palestinian children have danced their way to Washington. Nada Aboudiab, 11, is half asleep over her almost untouched pizza. Blame it on jet lag. Her schoolmates are still devouring theirs.

The tour of the Capitol they took Monday morning must have opened an appetite as wide as their eyes.

Their busy afternoon schedule included a walk on the Mall, pictures in front of the White House and a ride on the subway - all firsts for them. On Tuesday, they toured the White House in the morning and even got to meet President Obama’s dog, Bo - though not the president. In the afternoon, they rehearsed.

Aged from 9 to 11, the eight Palestinians - four boys, four girls - come from Rawdat El Zuhur school in East Jerusalem. Members of a folklore dance group, the children were invited by American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), a U.S. nonprofit organization that provides assistance to Palestinian communities and low-income families throughout the Middle East.

“Music and dance play an important role in our school,” said Selwa Zananiri, principal of the school, who accompanied the children to Washington. “When our school opened in 1952, one of the first things the founder, Elizabeth Nasir, brought in was a microphone. We still have it.”

When the dance group beat out 14 other Jerusalem schools and won an award in April for best performance, ANERA, which supports the co-educational secular school, invited the troop to perform for an annual gala dinner in Washington this Friday. So, for the first time, the children boarded a plane and came to the United States for one week. Getting from East Jerusalem to Washington took more than a day, including a four-hour security check at Ben Gurion International Airport on Sunday.

“I am very proud of them,” Ms. Zananiri said over a lunch break at Union Station. “This is the big present I had promised them should they win the competition.”

The children plan to sing “We Shall Overcome” during the gala.

On Tuesday morning, the children were treated to a special tour of the White House.

“We saw the president’s dog, Bo. I was a bit frightened when it came too close to me,” said Rand Waary, who wore patent-leather shoes for this special day.

The curly-haired girl said she was nervous about performing in Washington.

“I thought America was smaller, but it is actually nicer than I expected. I loved the White House … So many rooms!”

The children voted to decide which places to visit. Besides the Capitol and the White House, they chose the Air and Space Museum, followed by the Museum of Natural History. The National Zoo was a close third, and they plan to visit it on Thursday.

Rayaan Abasi, 11, said he is ready for his big day.

“I am waiting for Friday for my dream to come true,” he said, taking a last photograph of the White House.

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