Michal Shir’s Speech from the April 17th Benefit Cocktail Party

Alums Michal and Faris at the Cocktail Benefit Party

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is both an honor and a privilege to be able to stand here in front of you and to share with you one of my most profound experiences both in my privet and political life. My name is Michal Shir, I’m thirty two years old and have being working in the Israeli political system for over a decade being a spokesperson and a political advisor for several of the leading figures in the Israeli political System such as PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Education, Mr. Gideon Saar.

Today I’m the founder and CEO of theIsraeliCenterfor Political training which is the first Center inIsraelwho trains future leaders to work inside the political system such as Parliamentary assistants, spokespersons, Campaign managers and lobbyists. Recently we have started teaching Democracy and responsible citizenship in high schools throughoutIsrael.

I’m proud to say that we have more than 60% of our graduate working inside the governmental offices and the Knesset – the Israeli Parliament. Being part of the Israeli political system for so long, I have been participated many times in peace delegations with Palestinians. I have been traveling around the world getting to know “the other side.” I can assure you that meeting the “other side” inJapan,Turkeyand many more wonderful countries made peace really a fun thing to do! That is why when I was called for an interview for the Emerging political program by Mr. Fadi Rabiah, who was to become one of the most influential characters in my life, I immediately said, “Yes.”

Little did I know back then the great impact this program will have on me. On the first day of our expedition we set together both sides, Israelis on one side – Palestinians on the other – god forbid we should not be close to one another.

We were asked to draw a timeline of our life. All of the Israelis left and right wing wrote the same: we were born inIsrael, grandchildren of the holocaust generation, served and proud to be part of the Israeli defense force and in short – “This is our country! Get out!” No surprise was that the “other side” wrote the same principals only in their point of view. That night we stayed each side to its own, hardly speaking one group to another. After two days climbing mountains with 30 kilos on our back we started to crack- yes ladies and gentleman put Middle Easterners in the wild and take away their hummus and you will get communication.

I’m not so proud to say this, but I was the first one to crack. On the third day I couldn’t carry my back pack any longer – my back was painful, my feet were killing me and, like on purpose, it started raining!  In seconds, two members of the group, Ali and Rami took my really heavy backpack and carried it without anyone telling them to do so.

 I was so amazed, grateful and confused. Well I was confused twice: once because I hate getting or asking for help. And twice, because they were from the “other side.” How am I as an Israeli , Likud party member suppose to react to that? I mean, it’s not like I’m supposed to give them Jerusalem now right?

On this night we all set in the circle and started talking to each other even though it was mostly about politics. However, when we got up the next morning something was different, we talked to one another and started to get to know each other on a personal level. Seven days, three more mountain tops and one river later we became a family. No more other side, we learned to listen to each other to touch the everyday battles and struggles that we have in our personal, privet level. We learned to care.

If you ask me now who in the group is from the left wing, right wing, Israeli or Palestinian I will actually need a minute to remember. When we came back home we stayed in touch, we met on several occasions, went out together and kept that special something that was created during the expedition. However, the reality in our region didn’t change, and very fast it burst our idealistic bubble.  We just came back from our retreat inTurkey. We were so happy to see each other again! We were thirsty to learn new things from the Outward Bound team and from Search for Common Ground.

And then the peace flotilla came to theGazashore. The flotilla had so-called peace representatives wanting to breach Israeli borders without legal permission. I was thinking to myself that all of the work and effort that we had made in the leaders program was destroyed. I felt desperate about the situation, but had little time to think because a Web war started, especially on Facebook. Everyone took part!

 Personally I took a day off and started working on proving that the Israeli side was right and to announce to the world that the flotilla was a provocation that meant a lot of things BUT peace. While I was working I received a phone call from Fadi Rabieh ,the manager for the leaders program.

 First, I looked at the phone, I didn’t know what to do. . .I mean, why is he calling me? Putting me in this impossible situation, what could I possibly say to him? And then I answered, forcing myself to speak. “Hello. . . ” I said in an unsure voice.

“Hi Sweety!” I heard Fadi’s reassuring, trustful voice. “I just wanted to say. . . that I hate that it happened.” Wow! I could breathe again. Those few words taught me what was leadership and a leader responsibility is all about. In these words he didn’t say that he was for or against the flotilla. He was reflecting my feeling and thoughts. I hate that it happened!

I was so relived after that and knew on that moment that our family is OK; nothing can break us. From that day forward we continue to talk even on hard days when there are casualties on both sides –  not saying if we are for or against it – just hating the situation and swearing to take part and change it! I learned during these two years that as a leader I can’t just throw empty words to the air- I have to take full responsibility and find a solution.

I have great faith in my generation and in the wonderful leaders that are part of our Emerging Leaders family- the political group, the civil society group and the business group. On our last retreat in the CzechRepublic, we met the business group, the new members of our family. One of the members, Sam, an international business man asked me, “What are we doing here? We get along just great, but there is a world out there and the reality is not changing.”

I asked him for two things: First, imagine what would have happen if Netanyahu and Abu Mazen would have participated in such a program in their 30? How would the negotiation process gone differently? Second, I asked all of the members of the group to write down the names of all the powerful people that they know on a personal basis.  I can tell you that the names that were written are the people who call the shots in our part of the world.

 We can change the world now and in the future. In our group we have future members of parliament on both sides that are running for the nearest and future elections. We have people responsible on the media and public opinions on both sides. We have people in our group that are part of the decision making process in all kind of levels.  We are changing the reality.

What Outward Bound Peacebuilding and Search for Common Ground have given us is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of not only a great and powerful network but also to be part of a great empowering and supporting family.On a personal level I have to say that this program helped me build and shape the Israeli Center for political training.  I am teachingIsrael’s future leaders the values that I have being taught by this program.

I learned to trust. Trust myself and my personal abilities, trust others to help me and trust this wonderful process.

While I was sitting in my Solo at the expedition in Spain, on the river bank, I was watching a rock standing in middle of the river. At first I thought to myself, I’m like this rock- strong and stable – but after a few moments I thought, “I don’t want to be the rock! It’s going nowhere! I want to be like the river, to be able to overcome the obstacles in my life, to keep flowing while tossing aside what it not serving me and to keep the wonderful opportunities that come in my way.”

I will be forever grateful to Outward Bound Peacebuilding, Search for Common Ground, their facilitators Nettie Pardue, Shawn Dunning and especially Fadi Rabiah for believing in me and for teaching me how to believe. Thank you.