HOPEFULLY THESE are the kinds of weapons people will use in the future. The author says it is incumbent upon this generation to fight for a future for Israeli and Palestinian children..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Failures of leadership can be caused by failures of imagination. Consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We cannot picture what peace looks like, what the path to peace would really require of us and what we would truly gain. As a result, more and more people are giving up on the idea altogether. Instead, if we do not want to make endless conflict our destiny, we must commit ourselves to imagining and implementing viable alternatives. Wholeheartedly. Relentlessly. Until they work.
Forging alternatives to endless conflict requires leadership at all levels – from Israelis and Palestinians, the political arena, civil society, the Diaspora, international leaders and from each of us who refuses to resign ourselves to endless conflict. It is not enough to care, argue, defend, criticize, read the paper and bemoan the tragedy of the situation. Jewish survival has always relied on both personal and collective responsibility to pass our cherished heritage on to future generations. What answer do we want to give our children when they turn to us and ask, “What did you do to change this?”
The question of what we, both in Israel and in the Diaspora, are doing to solve the ongoing Israeli- Palestinian conflict is our most pressing leadership challenge. It is the question that I feel compelled to address, and that I bring with me as I start a new leadership journey as a Schusterman Fellow.
The Schusterman Fellowship is a global executive leadership development program for individuals who seek to create transformational change in the Jewish community, Israel and the world through Jewish organizational leadership. The 29 Fellows in my cohort are assuming personal responsibility on a wide range of missions in the Jewish, Israeli and secular sectors, from inspiring Jews to serve those in need, to engaging more people in giving philanthropically, to bringing about educational equity for all children.
My leadership journey started 20 years ago when I made the decision to move to Israel. The Jewish people had risen from the most catastrophic of experiences to establish an autonomous state that guarantees shelter and a home for all Jews.
I wanted to be part of it and to give what I could to building this state. I was also acutely aware of the necessity of resolving the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Since prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, I have watched in horror as we descend into continued fighting and attacks, and face growing tensions within Israel between Jewish and Arab citizens, including growing extremism within Jewish sectors. And I, like most others, have felt helpless to change it.
A few years ago, I took a personal step to realize my aspirations for Israel. I began to send my children to the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem, where Jews and Arabs study together in a framework that is bilingual and multicultural. I then joined the Hand in Hand organization as it began to scale up its small network of schools across the country, and thus forge the practices, norms and institutions of shared society for Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel.
By being part of an educational, communal and professional framework that is creating an alternative to the status quo, I have come to understand far more about the lives and experiences of my fellow Arab citizens. Like many Jews, I grew up with a fairly one-dimensional perspective of Arabs. Now I find that these black and white images have transformed into vivid color, revealing Jews and Arabs who work together; celebrate each other’s holidays and birthdays; wrestle with problems small and large; and empathize with each other in hard times, whether personal or political. We also discuss, and debate, the issues of the conflict openly, learning from each other’s perspectives and personal experiences.
These multi-dimensional relations move us from a zero-sum approach whereby legitimizing the other negates ourselves, and reinforce mutual acceptance and a shared commitment to living together peacefully.
When I tell others about the insights and stories from this daily experience of Jewish-Arab cooperation, I see how it profoundly affects them. I see how it catalyzes their imagination and sparks confidence that an end to the broader Israeli- Palestinian conflict may indeed be possible. Envisioning peace is a critical step towards being able to achieve it. This realization now confronts me as a personal leadership challenge.
I realize I have a responsibility to help people see that mutual respect and cooperation is possible. This is not easy. But each of us must take personal responsibility to secure our collective wellbeing.
Leadership begins with not waiting for others to do what must be done, but, rather, assuming personal responsibility to help make it happen. I plan to start my next chapter with what is within my grasp. It is within my power to help create a society wherein both Jews and Arabs feel accepted and respected, included and inclusive, and that reflects the same persistence, values and vision that we have always called our own.
The leadership investment of the Schusterman Fellowship serves as a challenge to help me reach higher, think more deeply, bring more people together and help us go farther on this path of building shared society in Israel.
Because years later when our children – Jewish and Arab, Israeli and Palestinian – turn to us and ask, “What did you do to try to change this?” we must have something better to offer than all the reasons and excuses as to why our efforts did not work. We must be able to say, “This is the pathway we built, together.”The author is director of strategy and resource development at the Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel and is a Schusterman Fellow.