Turning fitness into a new bridge for peace with the Palestinians

“Israelis and Palestinians, I don’t know why we are still fighting,” Rouvio told The Jerusalem Post.

August 8, 2019 08:58
4 minute read.
Turning fitness into a new bridge for peace with the Palestinians

RANI ROUVIO in action.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is one of the world’s greatest dreams. The decades-old conflict is endlessly debated everywhere, from international political forums to family dinner tables. And while there is much talk, there is an undeniable lack of action.

Rani Rouvio refuses to stand on the sidelines. The sports trainer and owner of EMS Club Fitness is turning exercise into a bridge for peace. The EMS in the name stands for “electrical muscle stimulation,” which uses electronic pulses to stimulate muscles and increase the effectiveness of exercise.

Rouvio, a self-proclaimed “sports freak since childhood,” has opened three Israeli-based gyms in the Palestinian territories within the past year. He has faith that his cutting-edge sports technology business will build an unlikely connection between Israelis and Palestinians.

“Israelis and Palestinians, I don’t know why we are still fighting,” Rouvio told The Jerusalem Post. “We can start to make a big change by doing business that can bring peace, which is actually what everybody wants. Nobody wants to fight, even them, even us. I think this can be the first step on how we can make a difference.”

Rouvio’s passion for peace was inspired by an insight he had atop one of the highest peaks in the West Bank while serving in the IDF reserves 15 years ago. “I was standing on Mount Gerizim. It was such a beautiful area. When I looked at the area, I couldn’t see the bad things surrounding it. Instead, I thought of the potential of the tourists, the economy and the possible business opportunities. There was so much potential. It was special to see.”

Seven years ago, while the sports training career was still developing in Israel, Rouvio began his EMS Club business. He has gradually built that into a fitness empire, opening more than 20 branches and counting. A little over half a year ago, an opportunity to tap into the potential he foresaw on Mount Gerizim finally presented itself when Palestinian businessman Fadi Qaabar contacted him.

“He saw my business success and knew he could do well,” Rouvio said, “When I met Fadi, I felt that he was really serious about creating business and making something else of that area [Palestinian territories]. When we met, I pitched him a business plan on how it could work based on my success in Israel.”

After meeting in Germany at a sports tech industry event, a new partnership was formed, and business took off from there. The pair opened their first joint-venture with a gym in Bethlehem this past winter. Following its success, Rouvio and Qaabar opened a branch in Ramallah four months ago, and most recently in Hebron just last month.

“It’s bumping. All of them are running very well, big success,” Rouvio explained. “To see the development, to see how the business has grown from zero and continues to grow is really exciting. I see a lot of potential to develop more and more in this type of business.”

ROUVIO ADMITS that the peace-driven project has had a few hiccups. “From the operations side, it was quite difficult to get to the West Bank for business,. since traveling inside the Palestinian Authority for Israelis is not allowed. I couldn’t be inside Area A, so I met everybody at checkpoints.

“It was quite scary. You want to hide because you can hear shooting,” he explained. “It’s not a good place to make conversations and business, but I said I would initially meet Fadi’s guys over there because he brought few trainers and wasn’t sure if they were exactly the type of trainers we needed.”

After a few meetings at checkpoints, Rouvio was able to arrange for Palestinian trainers to come to his office in Petah Tikva to learn about EMS technology. Rouvio taught Qaabar “everything he knows” so his business partner could train employees within the PA if they prefer not to travel to Petah Tikva.

Rouvio’s revolutionary business partnership with the Palestinians is accompanied by a revolutionary sports technology. Electrical muscle stimulation completely changes the exercise game, according to the fitness club owner.

EMS is not a substitute for exercise, and some over-the-top claims have been made for its benefits. Nonetheless, it has been shown to significantly enhance its outcomes. A February 2019 article in Scientific American concluded that electrical muscle stimulation combined with exercise can improve muscle tone, aid weight loss, reduce muscle pain and help in recovering from some types of injury.

Rouvio believes this type of innovation can give Palestinians and Israelis an activity they can finally agree upon. He suggested that while many Palestinians want to distance themselves from Israelis, they do not want to be left out of the hi-tech world in which Israel is so heavily invested.

“The Palestinians really want to see what we, the Israelis, are doing. Specifically, they want to be a part of the new technological world. They are thinking that if Israelis are doing EMS, it’s probably good. So they want to be a part of that, and I want to give them that opportunity.”

EMS Club Fitness is the first Israeli gym to ever expand branches into the West Bank. Rouvio would like to see other businesses follow in his footsteps. He urges companies of all kinds to help his efforts for peace by establishing businesses that can be shared and appreciated by both Palestinians and Israelis.

“If there will be many more businesses like mine, we can really start to make a big change. We can bring peace.”

Rouvio’s EMS gyms are among the first strings of silk tying Israelis and Palestinians together through business. Rouvio is hopeful that if more businesses follow suit, perhaps a web will be created between two cultures that have not been able to truly connect for a very long time.

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