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Thursday, April 20, 2006

International Women's Day in Sahknin
Women As Peacemakers Conference: Changing my stereotypical views of Arab women


Women gathered from all parts of northern Israel to attend this three day conference held at Al Zahraa's new center in Sahknin the Western Galilee March 8-10, 2006 and co-sponsored by Al Zahraa, the Arab women's association, and the Dutch Women's Center for Development and Cooperation (COS). The Dutch participants were also guests in the homes of the Arab women who participated, presented Al Zahraa with a wonderful peace quilt and clearly moved by the hospitality. Everyone came ready and able to focus on the empowerment of women and to take action.

I participated with two of my friends. One an artist, is an American-Israeli. The other, a photojournalist, is Israeli/American. We could only stay for one day but that was enough for me to realize that I have a lot of stereotypes I need to get rid of.

"Arab Women are quiet and are basically sheep:"
The first day was designed so that the Dutch could understand the different issues confronting Arab women. One woman Aida Tuma Sliman (Women Against Violence) spoke about Arab women inside Israel and another Salma Wakimon from the Ibna al Balad, a radical movement opposed to cooperating with the political institutions of the state of Israel, on Palestinian identity. Ms. Sliman spoke about a recent study on Israeli Arab women that focused on all of the problems they face. Ms. Wakimon spoke about the need to understand their identity separate from Israelis. The women participants quickly became irritated at the overly academic and overly confrontational tones of both presentations. They began to raise their hands and spoke out very forcefully against the pessimism of the first speaker and the radicalism of the second. By the end of the first panel there were many voices and different opinions and mostly focused on the knowledge that Arab women can and should take it upon themselves to create the change they want to see.


"Older Arab women are totally under their husband's foot:"
The second panel was divided into “Leadership” discussion and the other was a continuation of the panel discussion. We went to the Leadership discussion. We were a big group and we sat around in a circle. The roundtable started with the plight of the Arab woman. It again began to get pessimistic so I asked them if they had come up with any solutions or practical advice about how to help women in the home and in their society. Immediately the woman to my left. grey-haired and elderly, totally covered in a beautiful soft grey burka spoke up. I have taught my children from the beginning, she said, to respect everyone in the family including the women, she said. No one in my household would dare to be disrespectful. Everyone then took up this point from her and agreed that woman can take responsibility to see that the girls do not get trapped. Creating good relationships with her husband and her children were key.

"All Arab women should fight against traditional values.
There was an interesting discussion on tradition. Some women, who were the minority, thought that women have to break from tradition and religion to really create change. But many disagreed. They said Islam has many good things to say about women. It is just that some men take advantage of some parts of their tradition to become aggressive or domineering. We should be careful to distinguish between what any religion says and the irresponsible acts of human beings.

"Western ideas of feminism are what Arab women need to study."
One interesting young woman was very clear about what women need to do. She and her husband (because she is so active in women's empowerment projects) discuss this issue a lot she said, and he is very supportive. She thinks that the most important development a woman can do is to develop character. That character is key to her relationships with her husband and with her children. When she develops her courage, her communication skills, and her understanding of the world she can be a great model to all of her family. This is the way to create real change in Arab society she said. Of course this kind of wisdom is true in all societies.

The Dutch women and we listened with great interest at the sounds of empowerment in the room. I came to the conference all set to support poor, timid and inhibited women. I left have learned a lot myself about the empowerment of women from them. I think these Arab women are finding their path into the world in a way that is distinctive and valuable. Not just to Israel but to the whole Middle East.

After all, gradual is good, dialogue is good, character is good. The ingredients for peace, wouldn't you say?

International Women's Day in Sahknin;

Women As Peacemakers” Conference:

Changing my stereotypical views of Arab women


Women gathered from all parts of northern Israel to attend this three day conference held at Al Zahraa's new center in Sahknin the Western Galilee March 8-10, 2006 and co-sponsored by Al Zahraa, the Arab women's association, and the Dutch Women's Center for Development and Cooperation (COS). The Dutch participants were also guests in the homes of the Arab women who participated, presented Al Zahraa with a wonderful peace quilt and clearly moved by the hospitality. Everyone came ready and able to focus on the empowerment of women and to take action.


I participated with two of my friends. One an artist, is an American-Israeli. The other, a photojournalist, is Israeli/American. We could only stay for one day but that was enough for me to realize that I have a lot of stereotypes I need to get rid of.


  1. Arab Women are quiet and are basically sheep:

The first day was designed so that the Dutch could understand the different issues confronting Arab women. One woman Aida Tuma Sliman (Women Against Violence) spoke about Arab women inside Israel and another Salma Wakimon from the Ibna al Balad, a radical movement opposed to cooperating with the political institutions of the state of Israel, on Palestinian identity. Ms. Sliman spoke about a recent study on Israeli Arab women that focused on all of the problems they face. Ms. Wakimon spoke about the need to understand their identity separate from Israelis. The women participants quickly became irritated at the overly academic and overly confrontational tones of both presentations. They began to raise their hands and spoke out very forcefully against the pessimism of the first speaker and the radicalism of the second. By the end of the first panel there were many voices and different opinions and mostly focused on the knowledge that Arab women can and should take it upon themselves to create the change they want to see.


  1. Older Arab women are totally under their husband's foot:

The second panel was divided into “Leadership” discussion and the other was a continuation of the panel discussion. We went to the Leadership discussion. We were a big group and we sat around in a circle. The roundtable started with the plight of the Arab woman. It again began to get pessimistic so I asked them if they had come up with any solutions or practical advice about how to help women in the home and in their society. Immediately the woman to my left. grey-haired and elderly, totally covered in a beautiful soft grey burka spoke up. I have taught my children from the beginning, she said, to respect everyone in the family including the women, she said. No one in my household would dare to be disrespectful. Everyone then took up this point from her and agreed that woman can take responsibility to see that the girls do not get trapped. Creating good relationships with her husband and her children were key.


  1. All Arab women should fight against traditional values.

There was an interesting discussion on tradition. Some women, who were the minority, thought that women have to break from tradition and religion to really create change. But many disagreed. They said Islam has many good things to say about women. It is just that some men take advantage of some parts of their tradition to become aggressive or domineering. We should be careful to distinguish between what any religion says and the irresponsible acts of human beings.


      1. Western ideas of feminism are what Arab women need to study.

One interesting young woman was very clear about what women need to do. She and her husband (because she is so active in women's empowerment projects) discuss this issue a lot she said, and he is very supportive. She thinks that the most important development a woman can do is to develop character. That character is key to her relationships with her husband and with her children. When she develops her courage, her communication skills, and her understanding of the world she can be a great model to all of her family. This is the way to create real change in Arab society she said. Of course this kind of wisdom is true in all societies.


The Dutch women and we listened with great interest at the sounds of empowerment in the room. I came to the conference all set to support poor, timid and inhibited women. I left have learned a lot myself about the empowerment of women from them. I think these Arab women are finding their path into the world in a way that is distinctive and valuable. Not just to Israel but to the whole Middle East.

After all, gradual is good, dialogue is good, character is good. The ingredients for peace, wouldn't you say?


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

American-Arab Bridge Building – Try It, You'll Like It!

In January our longtime friends Jean and Phil Rosenberg came to Israel to visit us. I brought them to visit my friend Trees Kosterman in Sahknin, in the western Galilee. Something wonderful happened afterwords at a sports store after our meeting and I'd like to tell you about.

Sahknin is an Israeli Arab town with a reputation. It hosts the only Arab soccer team, Bnei Sakhnin. They won the championship a few years ago despite not having a stadium to practice in. Sharon promised one but it was the government of Qatar that finally came up with enough funding to complete it. Sahknin is also known as a site of civil disturbance and tragedy in 2000 when several people were killed during an angry demonstration.

My friend Jean is one of the founders of Imagine Peace Network, a small organization that funds women's programs around the world. Trees is the development officer for Al Zahraa, the Israeli Arab Women's Association. I thought Jean should see what Al Zahraa was able to accomplish and perhaps she could help in some small way. Trees, a Dutch women devoted to women's empowerment, is married to an Arab and has two daughters.

We spent a wonderful couple of hours together. At the end Jean and I decided we wanted to buy Bnei Sakhnin soccer memorabilia to take home as souvenirs. When we finally located the store our husbands decided they wouldn't come in so just Jean and I entered the shop.

When we went inside there was a man behind a counter. He looked at us, glowered, and went back to his newspaper. Surprised I went about the business of trying to make friends by showing Jean all the wonderful sports equipment, oohing and awing at this and that. I was hoping we could make him feel friendly but we didn't succeed.

Then I looked past him to another part of the store and saw that a man was on his knees praying.
I quickly moved Jean into another part of the store and whispered about the man so she wouldn't risk offending him. We looked at things in front of us but as we looked more closely we realized that we couldn't tell the difference between the team paraphernalia and the regular sports equipment. Everything was in Hebrew or Arabic which neither of us can read. Giggling because we were so nervous we realized we would have to ask the shopkeeper.

We went back to the shopkeeper and asked politely which were Bnei Sakhnin souvenirs. He looked at us for several minutes and then said, mostly in Arabic: You are English? “Yes, Americans,” I said hesitantly (we are not well liked among Arabs – actually this is not true – Americans are liked a lot but the current administration is very disliked).

His whole face lit up in a smile!
“You mean Americans are in Sakhnin? You Americans don't think that every Arab is a Osamu bin Laden???????? Americans are here in Sakhnin?? "
He was thunderstruck! He immediately took out a Bnei Sakhnin key chain and gave us each one. He showed us scarves, banners and apologized that the hats were all sold out but he was ordering more. The man who had been praying came over and, all smiles, helped us look at different possibilities as well.

I think we gave him something interesting to tell his family at the dinner table that day. And every time I look at my key chain, I see another chink in the wall that separates two great cultures.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Trying to Turn the Page

This weekend some Israeli-American friends arrived for a homecoming from Miami. They made me realize how important these next few years will be here in Israel.

These friends are wonderful, kind and generous people. They are now Americans but they love their home country as well of course. Yet they were not at all nationalistic. We went to the husband's kibbutz north of Tel Aviv and he showed us the Arab villages in the West Bank which was all of a mile and a half east of the kibbutz. He still has family on the kibbutz and showed how deeply he cared about them. But he didn't have any fear or hostility towards these Arabs. In fact in Miami they were friends with Palestinian Arabs who lived in those West Bank villages close by.

We spoke about a recent incident in which two Arab boys managed to get through the Barrier Wall into an Israeli Jewish village. There was widespread panic and the schools were closed. We thought about what brings about such a dramatic response. It must be difficult to live so close to people you consider the enemy.

Many Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians also don't know a lot about each another. There is a lot of information available, in books and on the Internet. Unfortunately once you have already formed an opinion about the “Other,” you don't go reading things to make sure your opinion is right. If you talk to people, you talk with people who feel the same way you do.

There are people who have already gotten beyond the tension. My Israeli Arab friend in the Western Galilee has a good friend in a Jewish village not far away. They are both passionate environmentalists and work together on projects creating sustainable development. They became friends because of their love for their work. And coexistence has become part of this work. In November they will put an olive harvest festival together. I am sure there are other examples of these small seeds of change as well.

There are small acts of kindness and understanding that we can do as well.

For example, I have two Earth Charter discussion groups to which Israeli Jews and Arabs attend. One focuses on dialogue skills and has been operating for a year. We haven't talked about each other's culture, more about the need to create a sustainable community. Sometimes NOT talking about a subject creates compatibility. Sure enough, one Israeli Jew has suggested that we begin learning more about Arab culture. And of course we are going to do just that.

And just in talking with Arabs and Jews we can add a small moment of friendship. We have our own diversity and occupation struggles in the US, after all, so we can be empathetic. Or we can express our belief that such great cultures can find their way to peace. Peace in the Middle East is in everyone's best interest. If you have any other ideas, I'd be pleased to include in my articles.

Dialogue Skills:
Silence is such an important tool in dialogue. Most cultures are much more quieter than we are. We are taught to say what we think when we think it. However getting yourself to allow time for reflection in a conversation between two people can be a wonderful way to deepen that relationship. To hear that someone has just spent time thinking of what you said is quite rewarding. Try it on your child or your husband too. It works wonders.

Etiquette:
RSVP – it seems to me to be a no-brainer to respond to invitations, but these days many of the most simple acts of good manners seem to going by the wayside. Many people just don't bother to respond one way or the other. Yet whether we realize it or not, our actions create what we want our society to be. Such acts of respect, like answering an invitation, is one way we weave that society. If we want a better society, we need to build that society based of acts of respect for others. Even if you are dealing with a culture different from our American culture, you can advance our standing in the world more by showing other cultures that we are respectful people than by demonstrating how casual you can be.

Good Idea:
I've started a Women's Forum group in my community. It is very simple. Some Israeli friends and I decided we wanted an evening to share our creative pursuits and thoughts about the world, and to help build community amongst ourselves.. So we meet once a month in someone's home for a couple of hours. People share poems or ideas or experiences and the facilitator blends all of the contributions together into a wonderful synthesis. It is great fun and everyone looks forward to the next one.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Al-Zahraa – An Israeli Arab Women's Organization: Successful Women's Empowerment One Woman at a Time

Wafa Shaheen Itrad walked out of a Israeli Women's Conference in 1997, angry that despite two days of women's issues, only two hours were allocated to Israeli Arab women, despite the fact that there are 550,000 Arab women in a population of 6.5 million. So she decided to set up her own organization. She went to the mayor of Sakhnin and discovered that there was a women's group but it was run by the mayor's wife and they only shared recipes and sewing ideas. She created Al-Zahraa with friends from the Arab Democratic Party. Today it is making a great difference in Arab women's lives in the western Galilee.

Al Zahraa conducts women's empowerment and leadership courses in Sakhnin and throughout the towns and villages west of the Galilee. Trees Zbidat-Kosterman, the development officer, is a social worker from the Netherlands, and lives with her Arab husband and children in Sakhnin. She explained what happens at the beginning of each empowerment course. “At first the women begin to weep and then everyone weeps. Then they begin to share experiences and to advise one another. These women stay in their homes so they don't have the chance to talk together. Sometimes it is that their husbands will not listen or it is also because they are concerned what the neighbors will think. Sometimes they don't know that other women share the same kinds of problems.”

These days there are two additional problems. The men tend to take out the misery of the current conflict between Israelis and Arabs out on their wives, out of frustration. And, the younger generation, better educated and more knowledgeable about possibilities, are fighting with their more conservative parents.

The courses given by Al Zahraa try to bridge the gap and enable women to become more responsible and participate in the community. The individual success stories include a widow who created a catering service, another woman who is now a successful hairdresser, another who faced her husband who no longer strikes her. Women leaders from villages now come seeking advice, get trained by Al Zahraa and then conduct courses in their villages. Unfortunately it is difficult to do more because of lack of funds. Since Israel is technically a “developed” nation, many international aid agencies can't support Arab women living in Israel.

One trainer, Najah, a gentle, religious yet ardent activist, has an outing once a month for the women. They rent a bus and see an Arab site or go walking in the nature reserves. “These women,” she said, “just stay at home and get fat. I want to educate them, to give them time for themselves and to be together with other women. The trips are so prized that the 52 seat bus always has a long waiting list.

Al-Zahraa is a leader in women's advocacy as well. They helped to create the Arab Women's Network. In July they had an important meeting to develop women advisers for the local councils. These councils are required by law to have women advisors but they (both the Israeli government and the Arab councilmen) don't take this seriously and do not budget for it. “Usually the men get the secretary to take notes and then call her the”women's adviser.” Trees said. This conference, attended by Knesset members and the Ministry of the Interior, addressed this issue and created an opportunity for women to right this wrong.

Although the Arab women of Israel have their own unique problems, most of the problems they face are faced by sisters in every nation in the world. I felt tremendously encouraged knowing Al Zahraa exists, feel privileged to meet such wonderful women creating change. Indeed, with Al Zahraa, Sahknin, a winning soccer team and new stadium, an environmental education center and water treatment center that is state of the art, you can feel that something is happening here. For further information, please contact Trees Kosterman at Treeskosterman@yahoo.com.

Dialogue Skills:

I asked Najah what she would like to tell westerners about how to communicate with Arabs. She said not to blame something one person does on the religion he practices. The suicide attacks and bombings in London or here in Tel Aviv are done under the influence of bad people she said. These bad people are able to have such influence because there is so much despair. This is not an excuse, of course, but remains a compelling reason. In Islam it is forbidden to kill innocent people. That just like in Christianity, turning the other cheek is a part of her religion.

I realized that she was right. We westerners do not talk about Hitler's religion, or Jack the Ripper's, or Timothy McVeigh's when we talk about why they did such terrible things. We talk about their mothers, or fathers, or bad experiences in life. We should pay more attention to how we discriminate between cultures. What a great lesson from her!

Etiquette:

Trees said that Arabs are usually very accommodating to westerners and forgive a lot. However she gets really disturbed when foreigners do not pay proper respect and wear miniskirts and such on the streets of Arab towns. She thinks it says that we westerners can't be bothered to be polite. So heads up!



Good Idea:

Many of us may be uncomfortable and unsure about how to “act” with Arabs. Najah said that they really are open people and want you to be yourself. And remember that just as there are all kinds of American women there are all kinds Arab women. They also have the same spectrum of religious and cultural diversity. Some are Christian, others Muslim, some Arab, others Druze, still others Jews. You may not have many opportunities to meet Arab women but if you do, you already have what it takes. Americans know how to just be yourself.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Beauty of Sanctity

I'd like to take a minute to applaud the Israelis. This is a great cultural community. One of the ironies of watching the Israelis go through this disengagement processes is that you can criticize them for their treatment of the Palestinians and for not learning the lessons that the Brits and we Americans had to learn painfully when we mistreat our minorities. Yet you have to admire how they are able to search deeply within, their broad vision, and deep appreciation for art, music and culture.

I recently went to the Israel Museum to see their 40th anniversary exhibitions, collectively called Beauty and Sanctity. There are many aspects to this: In the Beginning: Prehistory and the Origins of Myth, Vanishing Point, about infinity, Capturing the Soul of Nature, Beauty and the Book, Saints in European Art, Sacred Beauty, Ideals of Human Beauty, Lights, light in its various representations, the story of the Wandering Bible, Islamic Art and Jewish wardrobe precepts, and the one I saw, the Beauty of Sanctity.

First of all, since I live in Tel Aviv, where people are more secular, I thought the Israel Museum would be biased towards all things Jewish. Well I was wrong. The Israel Museum is dedicated to co-existence. I also had thought that ALL Israeli Jews wouldn't appreciate the values of others. Well I was wrong here too. I saw real respect for the sanctity of other religions and cultures. I came away realizing that there is a capacity in Israel which is in many ways fitting, as the center of three great religions, to offer the world space to think about common goods – like beauty, like sanctity -- to lift the human spirit in these disturbing times.

The Beauty of Sanctity looks respectfully at sanctity from all perspectives and from different cultures. I was very impressed how many different religions and cultures were represented. Africa, Asia, Islam, native American, archaeological and contemporary. I was most struck, though, when I saw the bust of Hadrian, the general who is so favored in the rest of the world but who destroyed Jerusalem. How could they see sanctity in such a man, I asked the curator. Well, she said, other people thought he was a god. Allowing him to be part of the exhibition speaks volumes to me.

What really sent chills up my spine was a video of cars on the highway stopping as they do every year to pay tribute to the victims of the holocaust. I have seen this with my own eyes and was impressed. But seeing it in the exhibit of the Beauty of Sanctity demonstrates that Israelis see themselves, and all humans, as the ones who create sanctity.
American-Israelis, Ethiopian-Israelis, Iranian-Israelis, Yemenite Israelis, etc, and all of the tourists and foreign business people and diplomats. That we can create sanctity by trying to, today, in 2005. You can. I can. A people can. I think this is something extraordinarily hopeful. For Israeli Jews and Arabs. For Palestinians. For Americans.

In these days before disengagement when everyone is working so hard, and all of our hearts and our prayers are engaged, here and around the world, for the sake of those who have given their lives and for our grandchildren. We too are creating something worthy of respect together. Creating sanctity here in this beautiful place.

Dialogue Skills:

Make sure when you are having an important conversation that you understand where the other person is coming from. Not doing so creates lots of miscommunication. A simple question like, “do you mean to say – and then restate what you thought you heard --” goes a long way towards creating good and satisfying conversations.

Etiquette:

I think one of the ways we can demonstrate our American belief in the individual and that everyone is equal is to thank the people who wait on us. So many people just ignore the hotel staff who clean our rooms or the wait staff who take away our dirty dishes. A quick thank-you always produces a smile. And since we Americans are so recognizable by the way we dress and speak, people will remember that Americans are nice people.

Good Idea:

Think about sanctity in your life. Add it to your conversations with your family and friends. See how people honor.


Please send your thoughts, questions, answers and good ideas to Stephanie Tansey at talk@aafsw.org.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Power of Dialogue

Laura Bush's trip to the Middle East is part of an ongoing effort to show the people in this region that Americans can be helpful and likeable as well. I have my own recent experience to tell as well.

Bob and I were just in Amman, Jordan which was the final stop of a ten day vacation visiting the Gulf in countries such as Bahrain, Oman and the UAE. It was a vacation/familiarization trip since we are posted to Israel yet never really thought we would go to this part of the world. Sound familiar??

In Amman I contacted a colleague of mine. He has an environmental education NGO and I met him as a fellow participant of the Earth Charter Education Conference in Urbino, Italy in 2003. We had many long talks about peace in the Middle East at the time and created a very interesting relationship during the conference. He was very frank with me. He was so angry at American diplomats/Americans because of their/our support of Israel, our support of bad Arab governments, etc. He said he would have to refuse to see my husband if I came to Amman, but would love to work with me on Earth Charter projects. Because he and I agreed completely about the need to promote the Earth Charter's principles as a way to nurture a just, participatory and sustainable global society.

When we got to Amman, he was now in the role of host, so welcomed both of us graciously. Bob is a very friendly guy. He is also the Environment, Science, Technology and Health Officer in Tel Aviv, so there were many things they could talk about. I sat in the back of the car and just let them get to know one another.

He took us to “Wild Jordan” which is a wonderful eco-friendly restaurant, center and show-case for the environment – organic food, beautiful textiles and jewelry, wonderful view, maps and calendar of environmental events. It was a project of USAID.

As we approached the dining area, Bob asked if he had been in touch with the Environment Officer in Amman, and how many such civil society organizations worked with the US embassy. He said recently there was a reluctance for anyone to work with the embassy on projects (because of the conflict). Bob paused at this but didn't say anything.

At dinner I approached him with the idea of having an Earth Charter Conference together with Palestine and Israel. He nearly lost his cool!!! and said that it was not possible at this time. But then I spoke about the value of dialogue in my work. How the Earth Charter principles and our effort at living them could be part of a new sea change here in the Middle East. He then thought about it and said it could work. We could start by doing activities in the individual countries, he said, and then have a conference after that. You could see the sea change in him already as he became part of the solution.





















Dialogue Skills:
The real essence and practice of humanism is found in heartfelt, one-to-one dialogue. Be it summit diplomacy or the various interactions of private citizens in different lands, I think genuine dialogue has the kind of intensity described by the great twentieth-century humanist and philosopher Martin Buber (1878--1965) as an encounter “on the narrow ridge” [2] in which the slightest inattention could result in a precipitous fall. Dialogue is indeed this kind of intense, high-risk encounter. Too little courage and nothing changes. Too much force and the person will get angry.

To be successful,a you have to connect in such a way as to remove the ingrained stereotypes, dogmatism or whatever prevents that person from being connected to the community of life. That is why heartfelt dialogue, one-to-one, is the key.








As ripples of dialogue multiply and spread, they have the potential to generate the kind of sea change that will redirect the forces of fanaticism and dogmatism. Your small efforts to talk to people in such a way that they see your worth makes you part of that sea change. The cumulative affect of such seemingly small efforts is, I believe, sufficient to redirect the current of the times.

Etiquette:

Email etiquette with Arabs – email and then call the person and discuss the content of the email. Don't think, like I did, that if they don't email you back they are not interested in what you have to communicate.


Good Idea:

Learn ten words in Arabic. Especially “Salaamalaykum.” Saying this establishes you as wanting to be inside Arab culture and not a stranger.
They will reply “Alaykumsalaam”
I used this a lot in Turkmenistan with taxi drivers and instantly created a rapport with them.



Please send your thoughts, questions, answers and good ideas to Stephanie Tansey at talk@aafsw.org.

Monday, April 18, 2005

New Professionals Association Reaches Out to Diplomatic Community

The latest activity of the New Professionals Association (NPA) here at Embassy Tel Aviv is a great way to promote better communication! It was a panel discussion on U.S. foreign policy with DCMs from China, Russia, France, Great Britain and Egypt.

This event, which was held on March 4th at the Chancery and open to the entire American diplomatic community, was created by the NPA to get a better understanding of the views of others in the diplomatic community. It was quite an interesting event, and even though it was behind closed doors so the viewpoints cannot be repeated here, the value of having such an event needs to be acknowledged because it not only enabled the audience to become more knowledgeable but also enabled the DCMs from these countries to talk to rising American professionals.

The idea of such an event came from the 2004 Junior Officers Conference in New Delhi. At that conference, several third-country DCMs presented their views of American foreign policy to the entry-level American professionals in attendance. Based on the success of that event, our Tel Aviv representatives decided to do a similar event here. Over lunch NPA members Lisa Wishman, Jessica Simon, and Stacy MacTaggert discussed with me the recent event and the association's goals.

The New Professionals Association was formed for U.S. diplomats with less than four years' experience in government. The event is in keeping with their three goals: 1) improve entry-level employee morale, 2) increase basic skills and knowledge of USG operations, 3) provide exposure to and networking opportunities with American and foreign colleagues at all levels.


Because this is a large embassy, the entry-level professionals don't often have the opportunity to meet such senior foreign diplomats, explained Jessica Simon. “So events such as the panel enable us to understand and give us the experience to communicate with leading players in the diplomatic community,” she said. Summarizing the panel discussion, they felt they learned that much of the foreign policy of all countries is driven by established relationships that don't change all that abruptly. Certainly administrations affect foreign policy but relationships between countries develop over a long period of time. They also left with the idea that everyone knows the foreign policy of the others quite well. So overall, the event with the foreign diplomats was quite enlightening.

The New Professionals Association is open to entry-level officers and specialists from all U.S. Government agencies because they feel that knowledge of the diplomatic and official Israeli community is good for everyone to understand. The NPA has also planned two happy hours open to new professionals at other embassies to great success, and their foreign colleagues are anxious for more. Everyone has the same learning curve, after all.

This effort to be inclusive instead of exclusive is in keeping with the American spirit, don't you think? Good for them, and good for the U.S. State Department.





Dialogue Skills:

Lisa Wishman, who in the past lived and studied in Israel, gave some intercultural advice that could be of great significance: “In Israel,” she said, “no” is not “no.” It is the beginning of a negotiation.”

I am definitely going to use this gem!

Outreach Idea:

Want to get to know people in your host country? Sometimes, Lisa Wishman said, you need to invite them instead of waiting for them to invite you. “Israelis have busy lives, too – family obligations and classmates form close-knit circles that are hard to break into,” she said. But they are happy to go out with you and can be very warm and friendly. ”You need to get over being shy and just ask!”

Etiquette:

Lisa Wishman should hang out a shingle. She explained that in the U.S. we say “excuse me” whenever we bump into or move in front of someone, and in many general purpose type situations. However, Israelis do not. But they are not being rude, as Americans automatically assume: It is simply accepted that one does not need to acknowledge such acts. In fact, in China it is much the same. My Chinese colleague Mac Fan would say, “Stephanie, why are you always apologizing? Don't you realize the apology is understood?”

Good Idea:

Two days after the Palestinian election, the NPA invited experts on Palestinian politics who are also members of the Palestinian community to speak to the group on the election’s outcome. If you have a major event happening in your neck of the woods, you could invite major players to the Chancery to help inform your community. The more the American diplomatic community is informed, the more interesting and on target your living experience here is. I think spouses in particular would like such opportunities.