Michael Schwamm, Outward Bound Center for Peacebuilding advisor, published a piece about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We’re sharing his story below. To see the article originally published on Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel’s website, click here.
As a long-standing member of the TSTI community, I have listened to and participated in many discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I believe, however, that I am the first to bring a Palestinian to a TSTI Shabbat service.
The Palestinian was a young man named Alaa Handam, who lives in Acco – a beautiful walled city on the sea near Haifa. Alaa is an alum of the Israeli – Palestinian Emerging Leaders Program, an initiative sponsored by an organization called Outward Bound Peacebuilding that I have been involved with and supported since 2007. He came to TSTI in May of 2013, along with one of the Israeli Jewish participants, Liat Hadad,and together they shared their story of their experience with the Outward Bound Peacebuilding program.
In his own words Alaa stated, “In the Emerging Leaders Program, Israelis and Palestinians meet for the first time in the wilderness, in the middle of nowhere, for 10-day hiking expedition that takes us away from cities and with no access to digital communication or the outside world… This was a real “Survivor” but with all winners and not just one. It was a powerful and uneasy experience where the interest and survival of the group became the main priority and you build trust with others regardless of their background. This situation allowed us to disconnect from our national/ ethnic identities and, then, reconnect with the new identity of our new, joint community.While we often struggle together – especially in moments when the conflict around us spirals into violence, we continue to invest in and support this shared network. There are many programs out there, but this is by far the best. It makes a difference because of the long-term commitment of the organizations and donors who sustain this work.”
I am sure many of you are familiar with Outward Bound and its use of outdoor experiential learning to educate young people or perhaps have been on one of its team building programs for professionals. Outward Bound Peacebuilding uses this same approach of experiential learning in the outdoors to support and inspire young leaders in divided communities to build peace together. As a corporate attorney, my initial engagement with the Outward Bound Peacebuilding was as their pro bono legal counsel. The work they do is so inspiring, however, that I have remained their legal counsel and advisor, and my wife, Janet, has also taken up the mantel, attending numerous fund-raising and get acquainted events and meeting many of the participants in the programs.
Alaa and Liat are part of a growing network of over 70 young professionals that have participated in Outward Bound Peacebuilding’s Israeli – Palestinian Emerging Leaders Program. The program begins with a ten-day overseas wilderness catalyst expedition and continues throughout the year with workshops and retreats. Initiated in 2009, Outward Bound Peacebuilding has supported five groups of Israeli and Palestinian Leaders including Social Entrepreneurs, Political Leaders, Business Leaders, Religious Leaders and Women Leaders. In a survey conducted earlier this year, over 95% of alumni from all five years of the program stated they are still in touch with people in their group, including those from the other side.
The gracious, informed and generous welcome that TSTI extended to Alaa and Liat in 2013 gave me another reason to be proud to be a part of this community. Alaa later said that the experience was incredibly empowering – giving him the confidence to continue his work in Haifa with the knowledge that there are many who support and actively work towards peaceful efforts to end the violent conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Outward Bound Peacebuilding is currently raising money to support a new group in 2015 – Israeli and Palestinian Educators. It is clear that there is a dire need for young leaders committed to nonviolence on all sides of this conflict. My hope is that TSTI will come together to support this effort in 2015 by investing in Outward Bound Peacebuilding’s goal to develop a 150+ member strong network of next generation Israeli and Palestinian leaders who increase their societies capacity to manage conflict without violence.