Avi Meyerstein
Founder of ALLMEP

How my Israeli and Palestinian friends want you to talk about them at work

Israeli and Palestinian ALLMEP staff and volunteers preparing for June 2023 peacebuilding conference. (courtesy)
Israeli and Palestinian ALLMEP staff and volunteers preparing for June 2023 peacebuilding conference. (courtesy)

Should we talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at work? Put out a corporate statement? Bring in a speaker? Are you crazy?

Once laughable, these questions have been very real in recent weeks. Angry and traumatized people are bringing a war to work. Those most directly impacted feel victimized, threatened, and scared like never before. They complain that their pain is unseen, that no one is supporting them. 

Does your company have any business wading into this mess? There is much to consider and a lot at stake. No one wants teams to break down or employees to feel alienated. And more positively, when we see pain in our workplace family, we want to support each other. 

Public statements present a complex decision. Even the most careful messaging can fall flat with such a broken public conversation. Many companies are remaining silent unless their workforces, operations, or businesses are so closely tied to this issue that they have no choice. 

But, internal communications are a different matter. People are really struggling, both as individuals and in relating to each other. Providing them with thoughtful tools for learning, looking out for each other, having successful conversations, and taking joint action to help those in need can help everyone cope during a stressful and horrific time. 

At ALLMEP, we do this every day. We have to. Our team, and hundreds of colleagues in our network, includes both Palestinians and Israelis. We can’t avoid the conflict; our job is to tackle it head on. Despite immense challenges, we work to help Israelis and Palestinians engage with each other, carefully build relationships and trust, and take the most difficult steps toward peace. 

So, how can you navigate this mess? 

First, you can set an internal framework and tone. Emphasize how much everyone is affected by this crisis on a human level and how much you care about each other. Recognize that many may be in pain, whether from personal connections or from seeing so much violence in such a special part of the world. 

Encourage managers and peers to check in on people personally. Reassure everyone that they’re not alone, that many of us are struggling with this. Remind everyone of your shared mission, concern, values, and responsibility for one another. This is not a zero-sum, win-lose situation, certainly not inside your company. You’re all on the same team. 

Remind people about resources available to support them, too. This may include new or existing policies that ensure respectful conduct, honor diverse opinions, or protect against harassment. It might also involve flex-time or PTO for addressing personal issues, an employee assistance program, mental health benefits, or even grief counseling.

Second, you can bring in voices that model constructive approaches. This can be as simple as sharing a thoughtful article or video where level-headed Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders talk about their pain, experiences, and joint efforts to respond to this crisis. For large audiences, you may even be able to bring in a peacebuilder for a live conversation. 

The peacebuilders’ main job right now is to hold up their communities. They’re doing everything possible to help people and to save lives, from providing food, medicine, and shelter to delivering childcare and trauma care. They’re working together, often after losing family and friends, to prevent even more violence.

For the rest of us, part of our jobs is to tell their stories. Spread the good word. The more people who know about their work, the more impact they have on the public conversation. It shows people an alternative to violence and even a pathway for eventual peace. It also helps to lower the temperature and prevent spillover conflict in our own communities and workplaces.

Third, consider promoting joint action. When talking is too hard, sometimes you can simply do some good together. Beyond amplifying constructive voices, you can make a real difference financially. Help direct donations to respected relief and peacebuilding efforts through corporate gifts, circulating lists of charities for individual giving, and/or offering a company match. 

Maybe donating your products or services in-kind/pro bono can even help NGOs on the front lines of relief and peace. Want to really make a lasting difference? Consider making a multi-year, company-wide pledge to meet the needs that are, and will be, so immense in the years ahead.

Fourth, you can provide your stakeholders with some basic tools for having more successful conversations themselves. If they choose to talk, give them the best shot of walking away feeling heard, empowered, respected, and even more united. This is not easy or foolproof, and it’s not for everyone. How it goes depends on the individuals involved, the culture and support around them, and the tools they’ve been given. Sharing this cheat sheet might help.

None of this is easy. But by supporting each other and voices for peace in our communities and our workplaces, we can get through it together. And we can even help Israelis and Palestinians working together on the ground to make sure we never find ourselves in such a horrific moment again. 

About the Author
Avi Meyerstein is the founder and president of the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), the coalition of 170 NGOs building people-to-people cooperation and partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. The views expressed are his own.
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