Sharaka means partnership in Arabic. It is also the name of an organization dedicated to turning “the vision of people-to-people peace into a reality.” Founded by young people from Gulf countries and from Israel, the organization had a delegation appear this past week in Atlanta. Their event, which I only learned about after it took place, was called The Abraham Accords: Towards a New Middle East Writing a Positive Story Together and was held at Congregation Or Hadash synagogue in Atlanta, co-sponsored by the Israeli Consulate in Atlanta, the Atlanta Rabbinicial Association, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and the Atlanta Israel Coalition.
It sounded interesting, and so I bit. And after watching their fascinating and eye-opening 90-minute panel discussion, I wanted to share. While I don’t know how many outside of the Jewish community watched it in person or online when it took place, I hope many do now. As I said, the panel was an interesting group of people and what their answers to the moderators questions gave me food for thought. And the more we learn, the more we know.
From left to right, we were introduced to Dan Feferman, an American-Israeli and Sharaka’s Communications and Global Affairs. Next was Dr. Najat Al Adeed, Saudi researcher, columnist and author. She concentrates on media studies and political communication with a focus on modernity. Then there was Omar Al Busaidy, originally from Dubai and currently in Tallahassee, is the author of Just Read It, a book geared towards young entrepreneurs. Fourth was Sunaliah Almheiri, Cultural and Social Manager, Sharaka UAE. An electrical engineer by trade, her interest in languages started her on a path that included creating the first Arabic-Hebrew platform in the Gulf and she will be the first student from the Emirates at an Israeli public university who will be studying in Hebrew. Lastly, Yahya Mahamid, an Israeli Muslim, public speaker and former soldier in the IDF, rounded out the group, sharing how his thinking has evolved over the years. Every person on the panel believes in Sharaka’s mission to bring people together.
The five answered questions about the kinds of person-to-person connections they see happening. As an apolitical organization, they realize that they can set an example for the region when they show the human side of interactions between peoples.
I kept waiting for them to speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and while Palestinians were mentioned when it was relevant, they were not the topic. I thought about it at first as an elephant in the room, and then I realized, that I was allowing the conflict to skew how I should look at this organization. What they shared about education and women in the UAE and Saudi Arabia and learning about Jewish culture, I realized that we cannot discount the significance of the impact of the Abrahamic Accords. It is not only about economic opportunity but about creating a new landscape in the Middle East.
When people meet people who are different than themselves, change takes place. And it is important to see that importance of that change.
This is not to say that anyone should put aside the need to address the conflict. (In fact, as I’ve written before, I think both the signatories to the Accords and the Palestinians need to sit down and figure out what they can do together to help Palestinians and Israelis return to the negotiating table.)
It is to say that we all have room inside of us to learn more about those we do not know. And that is what everyone in this Sharaka delegation was saying. Embrace opportunities to learn about each other. Possibilities multiply when dialogue can take place.
I look forward to seeing how Sharaka will scale up its activities over time. Please find time to watch the panel.