Palestinians, Israelis work together for a better tomorrow in West Bank

It is essential to educate US lawmakers about the ever-growing business model of joint entrepreneurship between Israeli and Palestinian business leaders in the West Bank.

By HEATHER JOHNSTON
May 26, 2019 13:09
2 minute read.
Palestinians, Israelis work together for a better tomorrow in West Bank

A Muslim family hosts Jewish Israelis at the traditional Iftar evening meal during Ramadan.. (photo credit: OPEN HOLIDAYS)

 
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A unique and incredibly uplifting Iftar meal (the feast that breaks the daily Islamic fast during the month of Ramadan) took place on Monday evening in the ancient biblical city of Hebron. Attending the feast were not only practicing Muslims but Jewish Israelis as well who live in the surrounding environs in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Even more noteworthy of mention is that the catered food was not just “halal,” permitted for consumption in accordance with Islamic law, but was strictly kosher coming from a restaurant in the neighboring Jewish town of Kiryat Arba.

Monday evening’s Iftar ceremony that I attended is just one among many examples I have encountered of coexistence and friendship between Israelis and Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. My organization, the US Israel Education Association (USIEA), for which I serve as its executive director, works to familiarize lawmakers in the United States with realities on the ground in Israel. More recently, we have focused on introducing members of Congress and officials in the White House to such examples of mutual cooperation throughout the West Bank. Unfortunately, these incidents are generally clouded over in the media with stories that hone in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is essential to educate US lawmakers about the ever-growing business model of joint entrepreneurship between Israeli and Palestinian business leaders in the West Bank. The paradigmatic demonstration of this phenomenon is in the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which was founded by two entrepreneurs – one Israeli, Avi Zimmerman, and one Palestinian, Ashraf Jabari. When I mentioned such an arrangement to American legislators in which Israeli and Palestinian business leaders, all of whom live in the West Bank, cooperate with each other on equal terms, the vast majority responded with glee but astonishment as well.

The surprise of many on Capitol Hill was in no way disappointing to me. I did not expect them to know of such cooperative initiatives taking place in the West Bank. Nevertheless, their reactions indicate the imperative to provide lawmakers, who have the potential to impact realities on the ground in Israel, with a more objective and inclusive perspective regarding the status of relations between Israelis and Palestinians. More importantly, a better understanding that also includes an awareness of the existing positive interactions between members of both populations can help in any attempt to bring about more progress between Israelis and Palestinians.


Perhaps what may be most important to glean from such encounters is that all too often it is mistakenly assumed that progress can only come from top-down approaches. However, the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce as well as the Iftar meal I attended on Monday evening demonstrate that a good many Israeli and Palestinian leaders in civil society are not waiting for politicians to bring them a better reality on the ground. They are planting the seeds and reaping the fruits themselves.

My organization is working both to highlight this growing cooperative reality on the ground as well as to offer Israelis and Palestinians support in this endeavor. I not only welcome but highly encourage others to give individual Israelis and Palestinians like Avi Zimmerman and Ashraf Jabari a chance to build, from the grassroots, a better tomorrow for both populations in the West Bank. 
The writer is executive director of the US Israel Education Association.

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