My trip to the West Bank (and relevant leadership lessons)

I’ve just returned from a three week trip to Israel, glad to be home, but grateful for my time in Israel.

While there, I had a very interesting experience, touring a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank. I’ve been hearing about them all my life, but I don’t think I’ve seen a single photo of one. As one Israeli CEO pointed out to me, this is a very unusual (perhaps unique) situation, in which a third generation is now growing up as “refugees.” Usually, people either return home or integrate into a different country and culture, rather than remain in a permanent status as refugees. This situation exists not only in the West Bank, but also for some Palestinians in neighboring Arab countries. (The United States owes much of its diversity to wave after wave of refugees of one sort or another, from different events and countries.)

This particular camp has over 10,000 people living in one square kilometer. The steep, winding streets pass between concrete buildings, with little shops on the ground floor. The inside of my hosts’ home was lovely, with beautiful furniture and carpets. One of them, who was educated in medicine outside of the West Bank, told me that he planned to move to another country, because he has no future there and no way to practice his chosen profession. To them, owning a home and having a job are a dream achieved only by a few.

One fascinating sentiment I encountered was a firm belief among those I met that groups like Isis and Al Qaida are not Muslims at all, and that their behavior is in direct contradiction to the teachings of Mohammed (may peace and blessings be upon him). I recall that when US forces invaded an Al Qaida camp and found their recruitment manual, it said not to try to enlist devout Muslims. Presumably, they would know that what Al Qaida says about the Koran and Mohammed is a load of crap. I was reminded of my views (and that of many Christians) about the Spanish Inquisition, which, unlike these terrorist groups, was an officially sanctioned arm of the Church. Would Jesus have condoned their behavior? Are they the representatives I would want the world to use to understand Christianity? Don’t think so.

A man told me something very interesting: “We don’t have a problem with the Jews,” he said,” we have a problem with the Israeli government.” I’m not sure how many Palestinians share this sentiment, but it is a very hopeful one.

I read an article about a year ago that said that many Palestinians have begun to conclude that non-violent forms of social action are more likely to be effective than violent ones. We don’t hear as much about Palestinians who are practicing non-violent forms of protest, like boycotts, as we do about bombers. (They don’t make as exciting news stories, I suppose.) If they begin to use Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela as role models, rather than Osama Bin Laden, the problems here may be resolved much more quickly. As I pointed out to them, making the Jews feel safe is the shortest path to getting what they want in this situation. More stimulation of Israel’s post-traumatic stress disorder just makes everything stay stuck.

Even after learning about all the complicated circumstances that have led to the current situation, it looks very strange indeed to my American eyes. Mathematically, I think we have found a stable, lose-lose Nash Equilibrium. Things are not good for either side, and both sides have an incentive to keep them the way they are. I firmly believe that this situation is training for the human race: a set of complex, wicked problems that can only be solved if we graduate to truly collaborative, win-win thinking. I’m hoping to enroll some of the people I met on my trip in the Collaborative Operating System training starting very soon, in order to get that process jump-started.


Tim Kelley