Abed has family in Gaza. In the past days, he was scared for them and angry with Israel. His social media feed and friend circles were full of vitriol and grieving for the dead. But three days ago, as bombs and rockets fell, he chose to leave Ramallah, cross a checkpoint, and take a four-hour bus to meet Israelis.
Shoshanah had been on alert in Tel Aviv, ready to run to a bomb shelter. She was nervous that this round of fighting would increase, possibly opening to a multi-front attack. But she chose to leave her home and friends — even though her right-wing family begged her not to — and take a four-hour bus to meet Palestinians.
Why would these two voluntarily choose to meet as rockets fell when most Israelis and Palestinians would never choose to meet each other EVER, even in more peaceful times?
Abed and Shoshanah arrived at a Tech2Peace seminar of 20 young Palestinian and Israeli innovators and immediately dove into dialogue. Abed was able to share his pain and frustration: time after time, defenseless and innocent Gazans die, trapped in an open-air prison with nowhere to hide. “Of course, they send rockets, they have no other option, no way out, if they don’t send rockets things will only get worse. And the innocent people that die don’t choose to live next to rocket launchers, they have no choice.”
Shoshanah, who served in an Israeli Air Force unit that plans bombing operations in Gaza, was also able to also share her existential fears and defend Israel. “We go through every effort to protect innocent lives. I have seen countless operations canceled because one innocent life might be lost. But civilians are used as human shields in Gaza. And we can’t just accept that Gaza will send hundreds of rockets, aimed randomly at innocent Israelis. We have to shoot back.”
The two didn’t agree, that’s not necessarily the goal. But they felt heard by each other and were able to constructively reflect their fear, frustration, and anger. They were reminded that there are people on both sides willing to deeply listen, respect each other, and work together towards change – despite their differences. For the first time, Abed was able to recognize that Israelis are scared and feel there is no other option when rockets are sent than to bomb Gaza. Same goes for Shoshanah, who for the first time recognized the Palestinians are scared and feel there is no other option than to send rockets.
With their emotions vented and recognized – Abed, Shoshanah, and the other participants were able to focus on the task at hand: innovating together toward a new reality in the region. The cohort continued working on joint startups, building their economic opportunities and creating business potential that shows new possibilities for cross-border cooperation.
This is one of many true stories of alumni of Tech2Peace (T2P), an organization bringing together young Palestinians and Israelis through high-tech and entrepreneurial training alongside conflict dialogue, supported by USAID (this author works for T2P).
T2P’s vision is that young Palestinians and Israelis connected to each other will leverage the tech industry’s disproportionate influence, to work towards positive cooperation and peace. If the CEO of Google in Israel loves peace, they can make huge changes in society – from hiring Palestinians, to opening offices in the West Bank, to lobbying the government for policy change – and vice versa.
In T2P, young Israelis and Palestinians also demonstrate through their mutual success and cross-border initiatives that cooperation is a possible and preferable alternative to violence. For example, Abdullah Quasem – a Palestinian West Banker – created a startup with Israeli co-founders that helps Palestinians work in tech – thus benefiting both sides and all the founders.
Despite their anger and fear, participants such as Abed and Shoshanah choose to meet because of their deep cross-border friendships, desire to improve their lives and societies, understanding of the other side, and commitment to T2P’s vision.
They know a new way forward is possible – they have seen it for themselves. But they need others to join them, so instead of shooting rockets at each other, we will work for common good.
(Applications are open for Tech2Peace 12-day summer seminars. If you or someone you know are interested in participating, please contact the author or go to www.tech2peace.com/apply.)
If you would like to get involved in another way (financial support, mentoring, partnerships, content, internships) – please contact the author.