Raise Your Hand Spotlight: Alaa’ Hamdan / Sikkuy

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Thank you to Alaa’ Hamdan for joining our annual Raise Your Hand campaign! Show your own support and help us meet our goal (matched for a total of $40k) at bit.ly/obcp_donation.

Alaa’ Hamdan, a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, is an alumnus from the 2009 Young Social Entrepreneur Cadre of our Palestinian and Israeli Emerging Leaders Program. Alaa’ earned his BA in Psychology, Sociology, and Anthropology from Haifa University and his MA in Conflict Transformation from Eastern Mennonite University.  He is now Co-Director of the Shared Tourism Project at Sikkuy, an Arab-Jewish shared organization that works to promote full equality between Jewish and Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel.

 

Why did you decide to work with Sikkuy? What do you enjoy most about your work?

Sikkuy, as a shared Arab-Jewish organization, gives me the opportunity to advocate for equality between Arabs and Jews in Israel. This shared work coming from the two peoples is by itself an important element in order to develop better relations between the two sides.

I started my work in 2009 on issuing the Equality Index report where we mapped the in-equality between Arabs and Jews in Israel on several areas such as in education, health, employment and welfare. On all those areas Arab citizens are discriminated and rank low on every dimension. The work included research and advocacy visa vie the government which is a great challenge, especially with the growth of the right wing in Israeli government. Although this work is very important, it did not allow me to work with people directly and use the many skills I have acquired and learned on my conflict transformation program.

In the last year, I’m co-directing the shared tourism project which allows me to work with people on a grassroots level and visa vie localities and government and this is what I enjoy most. In order to make a change, we need to work from bottom up and from top down, and now it’s crucial to develop the capacity within the grassroots level regardless of who rules in the government. While we wait for visionary leaders to emerge on the highest political level, we have to continue working on the ground and develop better relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel, develop cooperation and joint projects and shared tourism allows that.

Can you tell us about the Shared Tourism Project? What is your role in this new project with Sikkuy?

The SRT (Shared regional tourism) is part of CMM program which uses tourism as a tool for social and economic change. Through tourism, we bring Arabs and Jews in Israel together so people can develop joint work, meet more, and get more acquainted.

I work as the co-director (with another Jewish colleague) on different levels. We work visa vie the government ministries and authorities on order to allocate more budget allocations for tourism to Arab localities which do not receive budgets as their Jewish counter part localities.

In addition, we work to bring Arab and Jewish neighboring localities together and we work with tourism and business entrepuners on each locality participating in the project. In the meanwhile we are running tours to Arab localities and we will be delivering a training course for tourism entrepreneurs where the participants learn on marketing, pricing and many other knowledge which can boost their business. Besides, we are working on developing bi-lingual map for the Galilee and tourism website for the Arab and Jewish businesses in the Galilee.

As a featured speaker at our 2013 Benefit Cocktail Party, you described your Outward Bound Peacebuilding expedition as a “powerful and uneasy experience where the interest and survival of the group becomes main priority and you build trust with others regardless of their background”. How has this experience continued to influence your life after the program?

As described above, we are facing hard times where the Israeli- Palestinian conflict escalates day by day and the Arab-Jewish relations inside Israel accompany this escalations and are part of it. Through working on tourism, we try to focus on the shared interest of the sides. The interests are not just proper business interests or a consumer tourism. They are based on acknowledgment and hearing the others stories and history.

How else has Outward Bound Peacebuilding influenced your life and work?

The OB experience provided me a unique opportunity to connect with nature and this is by itself is a blessing. Working with conflict while being in the open can induce more harmonically interactions between rivals and bring people together especially when they are in uncertain situation and on survival mode. It can also bring for cooperation and opens the door for more listening and acknowledgment. I try to be more in nature because it’s also part of my resilience and reflections on my daily life and work.

In an op-ed for Haaretz in July, you called for increased reconciliation between Israel’s Jewish and Arab-Palestinian citizens. What, if any, signs of this reconciliation have you seen?

As I mentioned above we are facing hard times and escalation of the relations so our work is crucially needed.  I use the metaphor of building a house how long it takes to build and how much efforts, energy and money are used to build it. Destroying it needs way less energy to do. And relations between peoples are like that. We need a lot of efforts and energy to build the trust and foundations of relations between us while to destroy relations you need few dividers and huge amount of good but passive majority.

In the media we are bombarded with news about the conflict and escalation but sadly, we don’t hear about the many efforts of Arabs and Jews who meet, who don’t want to be trapped in this conflict and who seek reconciliation.

What does peace mean to you?

Peace is a continuous effort to meet our unique and shared needs and to bring harmony and balance between all those needs. It can be through learning how to solve our differences in a better way (non-violent) which acknowledges each other and it can be through active efforts to bring for social justice and equality for all.