“Philosophers have only analyzed the world. The point is to change it.”
THE USUAL IMPACT OF SUMMER PROGRAMS
Most international programs that bring talented young people to Washington DC for a summer hope to inspire them, to change them, and to give them the experience of a lifetime. Graduates will look back on their time fondly, cherish the friends they made, and be encouraged to make a difference in the world. That seems enough to prove a program worthy of support, even if there is little by way of direct impact that can be measured after the program ends.
THE SPECIAL URGENCY OF NSL
When you are trying to serve young people from a live conflict zone, when you graduate students only to send them back to face bombs and rockets, sirens and curfews, you would be forgiven for asking-what is the point of bringing them to Washington? Why show them how they can work together here, when, on their return, things only get worse. What they experience at home seems to contradict the very essence of what NSL has tried to teach them over a summer.
CHANGE ON THE GROUND
The usual answer is that change takes time. One day, these graduates will return the investment and emerge as part of the new generation of leaders. But somehow that no longer seems enough. In 2013 we decided that we have to adopt the same sense of urgency that we hear from our students. Change cannot wait for later. It has to happen now. If NSL is to have any justification for existing, it has to contribute to the momentum for change on the ground. No more of what Martin Luther King Jnr. called “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” That is how we came up with the idea for the PFC or the Project for Change.
WHAT IT MEANS-ACTION CHANGES THE STORY
When you grow up in a conflict zone and are forced to serve as part of the occupying force, or endure helplessly as the occupied, you never get a chance to feel your own agency, a sense that what I do or say can make any difference. You are taught to do your duty, “yours not to reason why, yours but to do and die. ” If one comes from a dominant story that values and rewards compliance to the roles that tradition has laid down, it is difficult to develop any sense of being a character in your own story, with a choice and a chance to make a difference. The PFC wants to change all of that.
To apply for NSL, you have to adopt a different story from the get go. You are challenged to explore and discover your inner and outer worlds. First, what in your your outer world touches you with its needs and heartbreaks, its injustices and deficiencies. What opportunities are being wasted? Second, what resonates in your inner world? How is your passion and energy aroused? What makes you so angry and upset that you want to change it, heal it, make it better, make it fairer, make it more effective. Or what opportunities draw you to be an entrepreneur that will make a difference.
NSL treats young people as agents of change by definition. It refuses to be recruited into the traditional victim story that conflict zones spread like a plague, where stories are told to move people to tears rather than move people to act. We have learned that action, “praxis” is what creates a new story. As Robert Kennedy said in Capetown in 1966, once someone acts out of principle, stops complaining about what is wrong and acts to make something right, that sends out tiny ripples of hope. If they join other actors for change, that ripple becomes an inevitable wave of change. The world has to react, has to shift to accommodate those daring choices. You can talk up “change” forever and put the world to sleep. Once you act, the world has to wake up.
NSL is telegraphing the message that if you are lucky enough to be selected on this program, it is not about what NSL can do for you. It is about how you can best use the program to equip you to help others. This is after all, a very American story, with the echoes of a famous 1961 inaugural address entitled “Ask Not” deliberately evoked.
LET ME TELL YOU THE REAL STORY
There is always another layer of story behind every story. Our Project for Change idea also began in a Tel Aviv Cafe in April 2012 talking with Lior Frank and Ariel Flint about their idea of starting a school for negotiation training for aspiring university students. Lior was interested in NSL but said he couldn’t afford a summer away. His idea intrigued us because any young person from the Middle East with an idea to start something deserves a hearing. Thankfully Lior changed his mind. He applied and was selected for NSL. We made sure he had what he needed to give his idea the best chance. With a talented Palestinian host brother, Walid, a host family fully enrolled in the idea, and an NSL Board ready to adopt the program as part of the NSL mission, the idea began to take form. In 2013, we saw what in reality was NSL’s first Project for Change move from an idea into a thriving and brilliant program for 30 middle eastern university students., in partnership with Harvard and their Negotiation Project. At the end of summer, Lior and his team were in Belfast learning about Northern Ireland’s historic quest for peace.
If Lior with the help of Walid and the whole NSL team could germinate the idea in 2012 and deliver so spectacularly on it in 2013, then we know that the PFC idea is something that can work. It already has. NSL is making a difference on the ground in the region with this and other PFCs. In the years ahead, NSL aims to become the incubator for other innovative start-ups led by our alums who got their first big break when they came on NSL, just as Lior and Walid did.
The team of 2013 came up with these amazing projects.
Aseel Said wants to set up a soccer tournament for young Israeli and Palestinian women, aged 18-25. She seeks international mentors who can work with participants to teach solid fundamentals of soccer and teamwork skills. In the long term, her goal is to establish an NGO that will further soccer for youth in Palestine. By combining the goals of improved physical health, cross-cultural co-operation, and building self-reliance in young women, Aseel’s project for change has the potential to enhance ties between young women in both communities.
Basil Khoury has the idea of creating a journalism academy to teach the specialized technical skills required for a modern media, such as photography, writing, and how to run a news blog. This is part of a broader attempt to create a more ethical practice of journalism in Israel and Palestine and how the conflict is covered overall. By promoting ethical and responsible journalism, as well as teaching marketable job skills, Basil’s project has great potential to ensure more balanced and informative new coverage of the area.
Coral Kasirer is interested in increasing the objectivity in textbooks on both the Israeli and Palestinian side. A recent study showed that both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks have a heavily imbalanced view of the ongoing conflict, which in turn perpetuates the conflict by building on a mutually exclusive narrative that promotes the interests of one side and demonizes the other. These inequalities must be addressed if progress is to made towards tearing down the walls of stereotypes and dual narratives that divide Israelis and Palestinians. Coral’s intends to establish a committee to develop a uniform non-partisan curriculum.
Gal Raij is working on an online, interactive map of personal narratives related to conflict zones around the world. The project is intended to be integrated with popular social media applications such as Facebook, and will ideally serve as a forum for discussion of conflicts across the globe. A project with a worldwide scope, Gal’s project is intended to use the enormous power of the internet as a medium for change on a vast scale, not limited to Israel and Palestine. In this tech-savvy age, this unique project has great potential to create change on the local and global level.
Maisam Abumorr is working a translation project, the purpose of which is to aid in understanding and dialogue between the emerging Palestinian women leaders and the rest of the world. It will focus on feminist writers unknown to the rest of the world and for the first time bring their writings to English and Hebrew speaking audiences. She will also aim to bring some feminist writers in the English language to an Arabic audience to increase cultural understanding. This will be the first time these writers will be heard in a new language – a new audience.
Nader Joyousi, a trained boxer as well as a practicing lawyer, seeks to create an after-school boxing program for youth at Palestinian schools and create the first professional boxing gym in Palestine. Given that many Palestinian schools have cut back on their physical education programs, there is a clear niche to be filled through after-school activity programs such as this. Nader is already in contact with two schools in Palestine, as well as the Palestinian Olympic Committee. He is also looking to recruit and train boxing instructors. Given the lack of physical education in Palestine, this project fits a clear and extant need.
Natan Odenheimer seeks to create a smartphone application that will allow average Israelis and Palestinians to communicate with one another on a personal basis, without having to meet face to face. One of the greatest problems facing Israelis and Palestinians is their inability to have everyday social interactions that could decrease fear and build a sense that perhaps Israelis and Palestinians are not so different after all. Based upon popular dating applications and the Israel Loves Iran/Iran Loves Israel concept, this exciting program has great potential.
Shorouk Badir plans to partner with the Good Shepherd’s Swedish School in Bethlehem to provide improved technology to the classroom such as laptop computers and a wireless network, which students and teachers can use to improve the quality of education. By raising the standard at even one school, it is possible to significantly impact the lives of hundreds of students. Shorouk hopes that the Good Shepherd’s school can serve as a rallying point for the community, providing services that will be to the benefit of all. This will form part of a larger after school program for schools in the Bethlehem region.
Yarden Karni has an exciting program of social entrepreneurship that will provide training for Palestinians living in East Jerusalem to start sustainable businesses that would provide them with income and jobs. Using the “Lean Canvas” model, Yarden hopes to run a program that will produce two initiatives from a four-month program, each of which has the potential to become a long-term, sustainable small business. Yarden’s project has the potential to create positive economic and social benefit to some of the most underprivileged populations in the Middle East: the urban poor of East Jerusalem.
Naor Bitton has an idea for a series of artistic and cultural exhibitions, hosted in cities including Washington DC, New York, and London. He aims to bring a record of the leading artistic, cultural, and scientific minds and achievements of both Israel and Palestine together as a celebration of the vibrant culture and powerful contributions both groups have made to the world. He hopes that doing so will celebrate the accomplishments of Israelis and Palestinians, and serve as a bridge for understanding between the groups.