Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy
Our Vision: Americans & Palestinians Freely Doing Business Together
Our Mission: Creating Business Relationships Between Americans & Palestinians
In the spring of 2017, I stayed 24 days in Ramallah. During this visit, I invested quality time with AVPE’s team in Palestine while also engaging with local businesses and other organizations to advance the work of AVPE. In addition, I had the unique opportunity to participate in several special events that occurred while I was there.
Nisreen, our newest Board member, graciously provided wonderful office space for us at RITAJ Managerial Solutions, a consultancy that she founded 15 years ago. In addition to all the comforts of home, we had access to strong Wi-Fi connections and ideal space for impromptu meetings with white board to put order to our flow of ideas. This was the perfect environment for the 4 of us (Sam, Nisreen, me and the newest member of our Palestine team, Reema) to collaborate and to provide me a base of operation.
Together we worked on refining our approach to creating engagement and relationships between Palestinians and Americans in the business community. Then various constellations of us met with more than twenty Palestinian organizations in the business community to get feedback and reactions to ideas that we were generating together.
Touring Alhijaz Chocolate LTD
AmCham Palestine Meeting
Through this process, we made an exciting discovery that many trade and funding organizations would be willing to market our services to their members or the businesses that benefited from their funding. Some were even eager for us to do so. Business people with whom we talked supported our charging a fee for the services that we deliver. Many business opportunities discussed during our meetings are going to be followed up by the Palestine Operations Officer.
CTR Orientation & Training
Our meeting with officials of the Palestinian Market Develop Programme included a discussion abou t the plans for funding Commercial Trade Representatives (CTR) in six countries including the USA. They agreed to include our new Palestine Operations Officer in two weeks of training that was being organized for the CTRs and people who were staffing organizations that served the Palestinian business community. In May, she joined the group of about twenty-five people who attended this CTR Orientation and Training Program.
We were challenged by Said Abu Hijleh, the Chief of Party for The Compete Project to examine value chains and help Palestinian enterprises develop products that are higher in the value chain or are more profitable items in a value chain. We were reminded that Palestinians need to export what the world wants and not become trapped by what they are currently producing. We will challenge Palestinian businesses to envision the needs of USA customers and how their products and services can meet those needs.
I observed that in the heart of Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron the shopping areas are packed with people—even more dense than an American mall on black Friday. There are numerous small stores that serve the passing crowds.
After experiencing some difficulty in getting a yellow-plated cab (able to drive in Israel proper and on Israeli settler roads in the West Bank) at my hotel in Ramallah, I took a green-plated cab (able to drive on Palestinian roads in the West Bank) to the Qalandiya checkpoint on my way to a Friday appointment with a staff member at the Quartet. Upon arriving at the checkpoint, I decided not to exercise my American privilege of walking across to a cab on the other side. Instead I joined the crowds of Palestinian green card holders that were in line to cross the checkpoint. One hour and twenty minutes later I arrived on the Israeli side of the checkpoint.
During the waiting time behind bars that seemed more designed for cattle than people, small groups of women chatted expressively in Arabic while others talked quietly and still others were quiet and subdued. My inner distress, anger and feelings of claustrophobia and helplessness did not seem to be shared by those I had joined. Remember since there is no 3G in Palestine, they cannot use their mobiles as Americans do especially the young crowd. Nothing dramatic happened when they closed one of the metal enclosures and then reopened it about 5 minutes later. Maybe I experienced firsthand sumud (steadfast perseverance).
Unless one walks in the shoes of Palestinian green card holders, it is difficult to fully grasp the extent to which their movement is restricted. In America, we have traffic jams in cities, but there are alternative routes that can be taken. Because of the wall and restrictions about traveling on Israeli settler roads, a trip from Ramallah to Bethlehem in a yellow-plated car is about 30 minutes. A green-plated car is likely to take triple or quadruple that amount of time. And in contrast to American cities, there are no alternative routes for a green-plated car. The route for the Palestinian green card holder from Ramallah to Bethlehem includes not only car traffic it also includes green-plated heavy vehicles that haul goods like stone and marble. If one gets stuck behind a slow-moving truck, it may be impossible to pass safely when the traffic is heavy. Finding a location of a meeting without taking a taxi is difficult. Sometimes even a taxi has difficulty finding a location. It takes a visitor walking in the shoes of Palestinians to realize that a Palestinian green card holder spends much more time getting around than for Americans to move around in America or Israelis to move around in Israel.
Palestinian Road to Hebron Blocked
Palestinian Road to Bethlehem
One of the events that we attended was the opening of the new Arab American University campus in Ramallah. The building was quite impressive. One of the centers housed in this new building was a Center for Conflict Resolution. I was thrilled to meet Martin Luther King III who came from America to dedicate the center.
Sam, Nisreen, Ed with Munib Al-Masri,
Chairman of PADICO Holding
Dr. Samir Hulileh, CEO of PADICO, was the featured speaker at a RITAJ Roundtables event—Where Practitioners Engage. Dr. Hulileh’s presentation was entitled “Gaps in Palestine’s Investment Environment.” Even though I do not speak a word of Arabic, I felt the focused attention, serious intensity and the deep engagement of the event participants. Ten days later we attended a farewell reception for Dr. Hulileh upon his retirement as CEO of PADICO. AVPE is most appreciative that PADICO provided financial support so we could start our Palestine operations in 2015.
Despite the confinement and constraints of the Israeli occupation, there are many successful companies in Palestine. Palestine has its own stock exchange with nearly 50 companies listed. AVPE has a relationship with over 20 Palestinian businesses that are providing jobs, growing and profitable.
Perhaps the most striking memory that I have is the kindness of Palestinians to a stranger from another part of the world—a stranger who did not speak their language and whose government enables the Israeli occupation. One English-speaking Palestinian used his mobile to speak in Arabic and direct the driver of a cab that I had reserved to come and find me. After showing up at the wrong location, a firm that was breaking down an exhibit told one of their staff to drive me to the location of the business where I had an appointment. Within ten minutes, I arrived at the business that the local taxi drivers had been unable to find.