Skip to content

Planting the Seeds – The Palestinian-Israeli Emerging Leaders Program

June 30, 2011

“We’re planting the seeds, Fadi Rabieh says. “It can take a second to cut a tree, but sometimes a lifetime to grow it.”

Fadi is the Project Manager for Search for Common Ground’s Palestinian-Israeli Emerging Leaders Program, a project that brings together Palestinians and Israeli’s from different sectors on expeditions of experiential peacebuilding. The Emerging Leaders program is a partnership between SFCG Jerusalem, our Leadership Wisdom Initiative (LWI) and the Outward Bound Center for Peacebuilding.

Each cohort has 12 members, and as the program grows they provide opportunities to “connect to the hub,” as Fadi says, where each cohort gets the chance to meet each other. The program has thus far included 36 individuals, with previous groups of emerging political and civil society leaders.

A few months ago the first two cohorts (politicians and social entrepreneurs) were brought together for a retreat. There the ‘us vs. them’ mentality emerged, but the divide was not along ethnicity (Israeli/Palestinian) but rather by sector.  “We cannot work with these people!” the civil society leaders said and vice versa. Each found their world views more in line with others of their background rather than their communities. And that is the beginning of another journey, as political and civil society leaders are stronger when supported by each other.

The bonds formed on these trips have proven strong, Fadi says. In July, alumni from the civil society and political groups will be going on another expedition which they have planned and designed themselves, even paying out of pocket to participate.

Fadi resting during a hike in the Croatian mountains.

Fadi recently returned from the project’s latest expedition, which brought together 12 Israeli and Palestinian business leaders for a trek through the mountains of Croatia. While Outward bound provides the equipment and some technical support, participants are responsible for cooking, navigating and deciding the pace of their trek, themselves. Compared to past groups, Fadi found the business leaders to be very creative in their solutions to challenges. Having helped to plan three trips now, Fadi has come to note differences.

“The social entrepreneurs are all about hugging,” he jokes. As people who’ve devoted much of their time and energy toward social change, the process towards peace is part of their daily lives.  For the politicians, it’s more about having one’s own point heard. But both of these groups are ideological by nature.  For the business leaders the bottom line is a driving motivator and while their lives are, of course, affected by the conflict, they are not actively involved in its resolution. On this trip there were actually people who had never spoken to, let alone met, someone from the other side.  For one such Israeli woman, the expedition was the first time she’d had the opportunity to sit down and hear about the conflict from Palestinians. “If I were Palestinian, I would not have come here,” she said, upon learning more about the daily challenges they face.

Just knowing that there are good people on the other side is new and enlightening for many who participate. So many people come from a perspective of black and white and surety in their beliefs. What the project aims to do is to shake those preconceptions. “Seeing you might be wrong, or that things are more grey is the beginning of dialogue,” says Fadi. “And it is a lifelong process.”

Fadi recently returned from his own journey. He was in the states as a participant in inaugural cohort of the new Dali Lama Fellows program. The fellows are applicants from partner universities or nominees from partnering civil sector organizations. Search is one of the partnering organizations and Fadi was our nominee. The goal of the fellowship is to build a global network of Dali Lama fellows who can advance the ‘well-being of the human community’ through the teachings and values of the 14th Dali Lama. The main challenges that the program seeks to address are:

  • Cross-cultural and inter-religious understanding and cooperation
  • Mitigating wealth and income disparities
  • Diminishing violence and
  • Promoting environmental sustainability

Following their retreat in San Francisco, during which they focused on skill building, leadership development and immersing themselves in the Dali Lama’s practice of compassion, the fellows are expected to undertake supported projects that fall under the four challenges.

The group of fellows was a diverse one, with emphasis on including voices from Africa and the Middle East, and Fadi was inspired by the community. “I was reminded of the intentions and capabilities of humanity…and in this diverse group, different colors, different beliefs, I saw what connects us.”

This is where he hopes to take the Emerging Leaders Participants, to a place of common ground. But even recruiting people to take part can prove difficult, beyond constraints of time and the daunting physical challenges, there are reputations to consider: What will my community think if I’m participating in a trip with those diametrically opposed to me? There are personal compunctions:  I’ll go, said one Palestinian participant, but I don’t want to share a tent with any Israelis! (He changed his mind and became friends with several Israelis on the trip.)

When people do participate, their reasons are varied, and the first step in the process is often building trust with Fadi, who is himself, Palestinian and often viewed with suspicion from both sides. Although he has worked towards building understanding between Israelis and Palestinians for over ten years, he still gets criticism from members of his own community for his involvement in joint projects. And while he clearly does not share the belief that dialogue is fruitless and peace unattainable, he does understand it; “the voice of violence is too loud for people,” he says.

Will programs like the Emerging Leaders bring about peace? No, not alone, Fadi says, but we are preparing the conditions for a peace agreement and showing people each others’ humanity little by little: “There are no shortcuts to any places worth going.”

Learn more about the work of our Leadership Wisdom Initiative and connect with SFCG online!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 53 other followers