After spending a month in Palestine visiting the government sector, the private sector, and the NGO sector, I am convinced of the following: Palestinian women are the biggest hope left for the future of Palestine.
Among many meetings, I met Mrs. Diala Saadeh, the Vice President of Global Operations at Sahem Trading & Investment Company in Ramallah. Diala left her job with Reuters in London and returned to Palestine to improve Palestine's global trading performance with Sahem. I learned for the first time that you could invest in Palestine while living abroad. I thought to myself, "we may not have the right of return yet, but we can still make tidy returns on our investments."
Watch my conversation with Diala here:
I also met with Mrs. Alia Nasseredein, Human Resources manager at Birzeit Pharmaceutical Company (BPC). I discovered in my conversation with Alia that 80 percent of BPC employees are women. I also learned that BPC exports its medicine from Palestine to Algeria and several countries in eastern Europe.
In addition to her work at BPC, Alia gives back to her community by mentoring Palestinian women through Vital Voices, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's female empowerment NGO. Alia helps women who have little formal education or training by focusing on the skills they have - like embroidery - to earn money for themselves and their families. Alia believes it is important for women to work outside the home, not only for financial support but also for their personal empowerment.
See my interview with Alia here
Another extremely impressive Palestinian woman I met in Palestine is Ms. Manal Zeidan, the head of the International Relations Unit in the Office of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Manal is like a force of nature. She knows every minute detail about major international cities and sectors. She knows the think tanks, the policy makers, the movers and shakers in these cities, keeps up with their news, and makes sure that they are aware of PM Fayyad's efforts and successes. She is extremely professional, and young women like her show the promise of Palestine's future.
Another woman working to build Palestine is Lana Abu Hijleh, CHF International country director for the Palestinian territories. She is one of the most impressive women I've ever met in my life.
Lana has been working on Palestinian issues and development for more than 20 years, and with development non-profit CHF International, she has been working in Palestine since 1994 on economic rejuvenation, social development, democractization and effective governance, job creation, and food security. In 2009, she was honored as an Aspen Institute Scholar.
"Gaza politics is breaking my heart," she told me. "We have to get the poor people some help." Since the beginning of the Gaza blockade, Lana's focus has been on delivering meals to poor families in Gaza. Blockade or no blockade, Lana does not take "no" for an answer.
Om Mohamad is another Palestinian woman who leads by example. She organizes weekly peaceful demonstrations against the illegal Israeli separation barrier going up around her town, Al-Massara near Bethlehem. She received me, PM Fayyad's advisor Jawad Naji, President Mahmoud Abbas' advisor Dr. Sabri Saidam, and several other government ministers, sat us down with the village men, and told us about how things get done.
Om Mohamad spoke to us about the peaceful demonstrations and other community issues. "Every bit of Palestine's soil means something to us," she said. "We teach our kids not to fear. This is our land; Israeli settlers do not scare us. Palestine is bigger than anything - political positions and differences."
Om Mohamad asked the government for funding for a women's center to be established in the town so they could meet and discuss how to protect all the communities threatened by the wall.
"Palestinian women need centers where they can have their own place to grow and become more active participants in society," she explained.
Meeting Diala, Alia, Manal, Lana, and Om Mohamad and seeing how they work to make Palestine a better place gives me tremendous hope for the future of Palestine. This is the face of Palestine that the world rarely sees, and this is my humble effort to share their efforts and their impact on the world.