Almost 60 years ago, Tom Joubran immigrated to the United States from the town of Nazareth, once part of Palestine, and began a new life in the suburbs of Flint, Michigan. A Maronite Christian, he fled his home, the Flint Journal would later recount, after being kidnapped and held for several days by marauding Jews, who then traded him and 5 other Arabs for the freedom of 15 Jews.
“It was 1947,” Joubran recalled in a telephone interview last week from his home near Flint. “They just kidnapped me, and they put me underground and asked me questions about whether I was shooting, and I said, ‘No, I’m a peaceful man.’
“I worked for a Jewish guy, an Iraqi Jewish guy. He told them to stop it, don’t take me away, but at that time there was no Israel — it was under the British government — and they kidnapped me, and they kidnapped 6 of us, actually. The Palestinians kidnapped 15 Jews, and we were exchanged for them, then they let us go.
“I came to the United States in 1950. I had my name in the American embassy for 13 years to come to America,” Joubran said. “I kissed the ground in New York when I arrived.”
Joubran, now 84 years old, has led a prosperous, if controversial life. He has witnessed others in his family achieve success American style, often with his help. His nephew Tewfiq Gores, now known as Tom, is a billionaire who runs Platinum Equity, the partnership that has bought the San Diego Union-Tribune from the Copley Press, a San Diego institution for over 80 years.
The purchase has caused many to wonder what the new owners will do with the once-mighty, now down-at-the-heels newspaper, the nation’s 25th largest by circulation. Will Gores (pronounced GOR-is) invest the millions of dollars many observers believe are necessary to revive circulation and advertising revenue, currently in a seeming death spiral?
Or will he fire most of the U-T employees, load the company with debt, strip its substantial Mission Valley real estate assets, and eventually shut it down?
And if he keeps the U-T alive, will Gores change the paper’s mainstream Republican editorial slant regarding Middle East policy, as exemplified by an editorial the paper ran on December 30 of last year? Israeli air strikes against the Palestinians in Gaza represented “A justified attack,” the U-T opined. “It’s worth remembering, too, that Hamas, not Israel, broke a negotiated six-month cease-fire by lobbing rockets into Israeli towns in order to provoke retaliation, thereby helping its cause in the international arena and in Gaza.”
Though said by Forbes magazine to be one of the world’s richest people at number 334 on its March 2009 billionaires list, Gores, 44 years old and a resident of Beverly Hills, has maintained a low public profile as he accumulated his wealth. Little is known about his personal views and history.
In a March 19 story announcing its takeover by Platinum Equity, the Union-Tribune reported that Gores had “immigrated to America with his Greek family when he was 5 and eventually became a U.S. citizen.” But there is more to the story of Tom Gores and his large, extended family.
He was mentored through childhood, adolescence, and college by Tom Joubran, who became a grocer after arriving in this country and battled years of ethnic bias and criminal charges that he attributes to jealousy and discrimination because he came from the Middle East.
It was Joubran who sponsored the 1969 immigration of the Gores family, including his sister Marie, from Nazareth to Flint, where many members of the Joubran family live.
“I’m so glad I brought them in here,” Joubran said last week. “I provided them a house to live. They worked for me, and I paid them money.”
Tom Gores “was the carry-out boy in my grocery store and was in the produce department,” Joubran told the Flint Journal in 2007. “The apron he wore was bigger than him. He was very small for his age.… But look at him today. I’m so proud of him and all of his brothers and sisters. They were all dynamic kids. I knew they were going to be something from the day they came in.”
Dan Shriner, a former reporter for the Flint Journal, recalls that photos of the Gores brothers lined the walls of Joubran’s office, including one of Tom’s older brother Alec standing with Bill and Hillary Clinton. Joubran spoke with pride of how he had mentored the brothers in the promised land of America.
“I do know that he’s extremely proud of them,” says Shriner. “They’re in touch often. They really stay in touch. I don’t know about what, but they are in touch with great regularity.”
For some in the family who immigrated from Nazareth to America to begin a new life free of the ethnic and religious strife in perpetually war-torn Israel, memories of life under Israeli rule are hard to erase.
Tom Gores’s cousin, Hala Gores, came to the United States in the 1970s when she was ten years old. She later recounted that she had been stripped-searched before being allowed to leave Israel.
“[An Israeli official] took off my top. I helped to take off my pants and didn’t really say much of anything. And she had me turn around. She felt my legs; my behind. So there I was as a ten-year-old, in this little room, just about completely naked, and knew that I could not challenge what was happening and I just complied. It just feels, sitting here as an adult, that as a child I really shouldn’t have had to go through that.”
Now an attorney who lives and practices in Portland, Oregon, she is an outspoken advocate of the Palestinian cause. She belongs to the Portland-based Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights and is president of the Arab American Cultural Center of Oregon.
In January of this year, Hala Gores helped lead a demonstration in downtown Portland against Israel’s occupation of Gaza. “Our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Gaza are crying for the world to demand an end to the massacre and an end to Israel’s war crimes,” she said in a news release posted on the Palestinian Human Rights website prior to the event. “Our flags and our signs will send the message that all Palestinians are under attack; we are calling on Oregon’s Senators and Congressmen to demand an immediate end to the bloodshed.”