Steven Aiello

Dr. Dalia Fadila: Building a Better World

I was traveling with a group of students in Sicily when I found out that Dr. Fadila had passed away. That night, when I was away from the students, I sat alone and cried. 

It’s been three months since the world lost Dr. Dalia Fadila, and it’s time for me to write something. We’re at war, and surrounded by destruction, and it’s a reminder of just how much humanity needs people like Dr. Fadila. 

I’ve dedicated a good deal of my time, energy and resources in the last decade to education and coexistence in Israel, and Dr. Fadila was my teacher. She was an inspiration. A human force of nature. Even leaving us so young, Dalia left an imprint that would have taken a team of people several lifetimes to accomplish. Describing her to someone who hadn’t met her yet was difficult, since she didn’t sound like one human being. She founded a network of private educational programs. And was dean of a college. And principal of a high school. And somehow did all three simultaneously for several years. She wasn’t a dreamer–she was an achiever.

Dalia was someone who could do anything. If it hadn’t been done before, it didn’t matter to her–she would find a way. A pioneer and educational entrepreneur. When she found the English language textbooks for Arabic speakers in Israel to be insufficient, she wrote her own books, promoting feminism, and empowering a generation of Arab girls. When she found something lacking, she just went out and did it. Who would have dreamed of an English language immersion kindergarten in an Arab town in Israel? Well Dalia did. But she didn’t just dream it, she did it. 

She was dedicated to education, to empowering students with skills to succeed, to achieving educational excellence in Arab communities in Israel. And to promoting coexistence and a cohesive social society. 

I recall the first time I came to QSchools HQ, in Tira. I had a half dozen meetings to prepare a group of students for a Model UN simulation in Petah Tiqva, with Jewish peers. It was the first time meeting Jewish students for many of them. The last meeting before the big day, many of the kids got nervous, and all of a sudden they all had excuses for why they couldn’t come to the conference. I tried in vain to convince them of the importance of this great opportunity. So did their regular instructor. Abed, Dalia’s husband, tried his hand. Only three students agreed to come, and two were Dalia’s children, Hameed and Yasmine. 

Finally Dalia showed up. I remember this vividly, from over 11 years ago. Dalia gave them a short speech on the importance of their participation. She told them that if they didn’t come they would be letting down their teachers, the schools, their town, even the Palestinian nation. A heavy responsibility for a group of 12-13 year olds. But when she had finished we asked again, and this time every hand was up–the whole group was coming. And they did–and had a great time! You could not say no to Dalia.

Since that first conference in 2012, I’ve organized and run dozens of Model UN conferences for thousands of students from over 100 towns and cities around Israel, and Model UN has grown tremendously. But it all started with Dalia believing in Model UN; believing in me; believing in her students–and instilling in them the courage to make that first trip from Tira to Petah Tiqva to debate and vote on Palestinian statehood with Jewish peers.

A few years later, we organized the first Jewish-Arab Model UN delegation abroad in Israeli history. The students had a chance to practice together, travel together, and compete with students in Romania. The delegation was challenging. But several students won awards, and it was another watershed moment–since then I’ve organized almost two dozen MUN delegations abroad.

Over the years, there’ve been many projects–I always knew that if I talked to Dalia the answer would never be “no”–it would always be “let’s do it”, and then we’d hammer out the details. And when Dalia called, I’d always answer, knowing that whatever she had planned, I wanted to be part of it. I can only imagine how many innovative projects she initiated; how many lives she impacted–how she transformed education and empowered educators and students.

Dalia balanced it all with poise–a feminist; an academic; a teacher; an administrator; a businesswoman. She was unabashedly Arab and Muslim, while building strong relationships with Jewish friends and communities all over the world, who donated English books for her students. She opened English programs in Amman and Ramallah, and in Arab towns throughout Israel, while the Jewish Agency turned to her to prepare young Israeli Jews for meeting Jewish American peers. She ran a successful private business and also worked with and within the public educational system in Israel. 

Dalia didn’t just talk the talk–she walked the walk. I was invited to celebrate Ramadan with her and her family in Tira. They came to celebrate Passover night with us. One Hanukkah we held a conference in the Arab town of Tamra and the closing ceremony began with Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze students lighting candles together. For several years I have had the honor to have QSchool students visit in my Sukkah in Tel Aviv, and I hope that we can keep the tradition going.

Hameed and Yasmeen, Dalia’s oldest two children, were my very first students, and they went on to teach and mentor many future QSchool students. A few years after we met Hameed came to NY, along with two Jewish peers and a fellow Arab classmate and we had a speaking tour of synagogues and mosques. My grandmother got to hear the group speaking in a panel at a mosque in Long Island, and I saw the pride in her eyes. When I look at Hameed, Yasmeen and Sadiq, each so intelligent and accomplished, I see the embodiment of the values of their parents.

There is an expression used in rabbinic Judaism “Anshe Ma’ase”–loosely translated as “Men of Deeds”. Dr. Dalia Fadila was such a person. She had a doctorate; she was an academic; she loved books. But she was a doer. The accolades she won paled in comparison to who she was. When she won the national award of distinction and I saw a photo of her with the President of Israel, I thought to myself “I wonder if he realizes that he’s the one being honored”. 

Dalia’s work was never finished–she was the type of person who could never retire, who would always have half a dozen projects to work on. It will take a team to try to step into her shoes. But her legacy–her legacy lives on in the thousands of students she has impacted, and everything they will go on to do, and in her amazing family and their achievements. And likewise, I know that all the students I have been able to impact, owe a great deal to Dalia’s inspiration. The world right now needs doers and builders–people dedicated to coexistence, to quality and values-based education, to building, not destroying. I can only hope that Dalia can inspire us to be half as industrious as she was.

About the Author
Steven Aiello is the Director of Debate for Peace (, and a board member of the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development NY. He has a BA in Economics, MA in Diplomacy and Conflict Studies, and MA in Islamic Studies. He teaches Model UN for schools throughout Israel. Among his other hats he serves as Regional Coordinator for Creating Friendships for Peace, and Dialogue Officer at Asfar. Steven has also served as Chief of the Middle East Desk Head for Wikistrat, interned for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the American Islamic Congress. His writing has been published in the NY Daily News, Jerusalem Post, Iran Human Rights Review; Berkley Center at Georgetown;, and the Center for Islamic Pluralism. He can be reached via email at
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