Israelis aren’t allowed to travel to the West Bank, so they were curious about my visit. I was there at the invitation of the US Consulate who had organised the day’s conference for alumni of their many and clearly much appreciated development programs.
The truth is I had whistled through the diplomatic checkpoint (past tedious looking queues), stood blabbing for 6 hours – one keynote on Authoring the Future and two workshops on Leading Change – and whistled out again.
So my experience of Ramallah is really a series of snapshots:
– the sign reminding you to lay down your firearms as you enter the Red Crescent complex
– the mayor of Bethlehem quoting Robert Frost and exhorting young leaders to “take the road not travelled”; she’s a PhD in American Literature
– the UK-educated young woman from Gaza who could have taken a lucrative economics job anywhere in the world but chose to return home ‘because there’s something about home…’
– a bunch of US diplomats who clearly really love these people and this work
– the Palestinian 16 year-old who scored 98.1% (he was very specific about the .1) in his exams and is going to study medicine in the Czech Republic
– bowls and bowls of addictive hummus
– and about a million selfies
But I think what people really wanted to know was “what were they like?”. They – the people of Ramallah and Gaza whom I met. And from one, high speed, very privileged, non-exhaustive (if pretty exhausting) experience, I would say – they are like us. As the Consul himself said, “what unites is far greater than what divides us”. There is no ‘they’. There’s really only WE. And the sooner we can all freely visit each others’ homes to discover this, the better.
There’s more information about the US Consulate’s programs here. And if you want a great example of inspired-peace building, check out my friends at Seeds of Peace, a non-political organisation who’ve been developing a shared Israeli and Palestinians ‘we’ for 22 years.