Let Us Do This Together

I was born in Jaffa, but left when I was 9, when the war broke out. I was lucky, my family could afford to leave on our own terms, and had somewhere to go, a luxury that many of my countrymen did not have. But our family also suffered innumerable losses, most important of these, our sense of security and dignity.

I have gone back to my family home in Jaffa, which is, of course, now occupied by a well-off Jewish family, who had the chutzpah to try and sell it back to me at a cost millions of dollars over what it was worth back in 1948. Like all those others that fled the violence of 1948, and consequently, in 1967, my family has never been offered compensation or restitution for our many losses.

I, like many refugees, do not expect to one day live in Jaffa and become Israeli citizen and serve in the Israeli army. I have made my home elsewhere -- but I do expect that one day my family will receive a just settlement. Again, I am lucky; I am not languishing in hopelessness in a camp in Lebanon or Syria, whose uncertain future is our priority.

I returned to Palestine, as an American citizen, during the Oslo euphoria. Like many of my colleagues, I was filled with hope and determined to be part of building our future Palestinian state. In just a few hours, we were able to raise $280 million over the phone, all from Palestinians that had flourished in the diaspora and were ready to give back. Since then, however, I have been on an emotional roller coaster that I am ready to disembark.

While those businesses that I helped establish -- Paltel Group, our largest telecommunications provider, Padico Holding, an investment firm, and the National Beverage Company, the Coca-Cola licensee, are doing well, they are stunted in their growth by the innumerable obstacles placed on us.

Just as an easy example of the ridiculousness of these barriers, imagine that Palestinians cannot get their work emails on their smartphones because the Israeli government has not release the spectrum for 3G. 3G is available in the poorest countries in Africa, and I cannot download a YouTube video on my smartphone.

Yes, peace would make the lives of all Palestinians better, but life would also improve for Israelis. Imagine, for example, a country where your young men and women don't have to carry a machine gun into bars. Or a country where kids don't have to learn to run to bunkers at an early age. Or a country that could fully benefit, with diplomatic recognition and security assured from trading with its neighbors and could find itself on the doorstep of an unprecedented growth and prosperity.

For you, and for Palestine, I have hope. Last year, I helped establish an unprecedented initiative, Breaking the Impasse, a group of Palestinian and Israeli business leaders who finally had the courage to speak up and say "enough." For none of us was the decision to join this group easy. We knew we would be attacked, we knew our motives would be questioned, and we knew that the path to peace would not be easy. But like me, all of my colleagues, both Israeli and Palestinian, realize the deep wounds that this conflict has scarred us with, but that will, collectively, heal.

This situation requires leadership, from both sides, and in all aspects of our societies. We cannot just leave the hard work for our politicians, all of us have our part to play. Think about the mothers who teach their children tolerance, fairness and forgiveness. Think of our school teachers who shape the way our children see the world we live in. Think of our managers who help build understanding through cooperation and collaboration.

I know many of you are skeptical of yet another peace process. But today I ask you to support us, to remain skeptical but not be destructive. There are enough people on both sides benefitting from, and hoping for, a prolonged conflict. I assure you, however, that for every courageous Israeli, you will find an equally courageous Palestinian, and through all of us, peace IS possible.