It’s hard to believe that this is the last day of this experience. It’s been a very challenging and rewarding one that will take much unpacking and processing.
Today’s first presenter was Sam Bahour. Born in Youngstown, Ohio to a Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother, Sam grew up with a close connection to his father’s Palestinian neighborhood and felt a stronger connection there than in Youngstown. In 1995 we emigrated to the Palestinian Territories and received a tourist visa, meaning every 3 months he had to leave and return. This continued for 15 years until he was given residency.
The Oslo agreement as a keynote moment for him. After reading it multiple times, he thought it was a disaster. The agreement had two parts. The first was about values and was pretty standard. The second was 4 dozen or so annexes. The reason the annexes were needed was that in the agreement, it addressed many sectors but not one of them was fully transferred to the Palestinian Authority. All were partial transfers. Since his wife wanted to move to Palestine, she urged him to re-read the agreement to make sure. He did and found a line in Annex 36 that resonated. It stated that there would be “separate and independent telecommunication networks.” This gave Sam what he needed to feel comfortable moving to Palestine. He got involved with the creation of the largest telecom company in the region which currently is worth over 1 billion dollars. In his word, they are still not separate and independent however.
Sam got an MBA at Tel Aviv University which meant that he got to meet Israeli’s who were not active soldiers and in uniform. He told us this gave him a unique Palestinian view of Israelis as to most of them, Israeli means Soldier.
Sam has found and still believes that business transcends the conflict. During the first intifada he was working on a big mall project. They needed to get a Point of Sale (POS) system so he did his research. The best system was made by a company in Herzaliya. He had to go to his Arab partners and tell them they could send him to America where he would spend more money for a lesser system or they could send him 45 minutes away to Herzaliya to get the best system at a lower price. After much discussion, the board decided to get the Israeli system.
Sam talked about his concerns. First, he sees a loss of hope. Now a consultant, he sees companies he works with looking to move outside of the West Bank because of what’s going on. He said business moved out of Gaza years ago because there is no hope and he sees that process starting in the West Bank.
He also said that he believes the current Israeli plan is the push the educated out. He used his own daughters as examples. One is an MIT graduate who got some experience and is heading back for her MBA. The other is currently enrolled at Harvard and looking to follow her sister’s plan. With this type of education, there will be no jobs for them in the West Bank, which will only leave the uneducated with no hope there. This wasn’t the first time I heard about this conspiracy theory and while it makes sense for their narrative, I question it. Something doesn’t sound right and it sounds like with economic progress, this is a new phenomenon for a larger number of families.
Based on what he said so far, Sam highlighted three trends he saw.
1. They turn violent. He believes that this is what the Netanyahu government wants because it’s what they mastered.
2. Leave. He expects that somebody in Tel Aviv is looking at his file and asking “Why is he still here? What do we have to do to get him to leave?” He said that the strangulation of the economy accomplishes this.
3. Take your ID and get a permit to go through the checkpoint. Leave your hope at 3:30 am to get to work at 8 am. Work 10 hours and head home. Kiss your sleeping children and repeat the next day. Work as a day laborer.
He wants to create a 4th option by building a vibrant economy in Palestine. It is his believe that this is essential for the Palestinian people and the future in the region and Israel is not allowing it.
He was asked what the ‘end of the occupation’ means to him. He said the following:
1. Israel needs to acknowledge there is an occupation. it’s not ‘occupied territory’ or ‘disputed territory’. According to Sam, occupation is defined as temporary and 52 years later it’s not temporary.
2. Palestine should be established with 3 borders set and 1 to be negotiated. This is what Israel currently is and he wants them treated the same way.
According to Sam there is a call for new elections happening. Due to the ‘occupation’, Israel will have to approve the elections and the concern is that the Israeli government will not allow them. This will change the narrative and make their lack of elections due to Israel.
The most concerning thing that Sam said was what he closed with. He said that it won’t remain nonviolent forever. In addition, he said that either Israel is occupying them or there is one state with 2 different rules for its citizens. So, if Israel isn’t an occupier then Israel is an Apartheid state. He said there is already a call to drop Statehood and declare Israel Apartheid. There are those who think this is the best way to force a 1 state solution which will end up not being a Jewish state.
Sam was fascinating to listen to and raised great caution for me. He is an extremely successful businessman and has traveled the world. He has a worldwide audience already and will be a power to be reckoned with. He already speaks on college campuses and should they choose to renounce statehood and attempt to get Israel classified as an Apartheid state to force a 1 state solution, the Jewish state is at risk.
The time with Sam and what he said is something I need to reflect much more on. Unlike many of the other speakers during the first three days, his was filled with nuance and key use of language. There are a lot of things that are rubbing me wrong but I can’t put my fingers on them just yet.
You can find him online – he has a blog and has written some powerful pieces including a sarcastic open letter to Jared Kushner and a serious letter to Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) with 8 points in it. It’s important to read what he says to understand his brilliance and the potential risk.