(October 7, 2019 / JNS) Members of Congress spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives last week to recount their experiences of an “untold story of hope and opportunity” they encountered in Israel in August as part of a congressional tour sponsored by the U.S.-Israel Education Association.
“We saw firsthand Israelis and Palestinians working together to promote peace and harmony. … Many of the Palestinians were making between three and four times what they would otherwise earn if they did not have this opportunity to have this integrated business that we saw going on in Israel,” said Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.). “They were standing up to what I would call strong divisive forces that seek to vilify Israel and undermine its credibility as a force for peace.”
Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said: “You saw people, not nations, working together to make life better for their community.”
Already facilitating the Israeli and Palestinian business leaders with such efforts is the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which works to promote and facilitate mutual business partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. The chamber is led by an Israeli resident of Ariel, Avi Zimmerman, and by Palestinian leader and businessman Ashraf Jabari from Hebron.
Founded in October of 2017, the chamber consists of 250 Israeli business leaders, with another 250 of their Palestinian counterparts and another 100 Palestinian entrepreneurs.
“It is good for Palestinians to be able to take advantage of the miracle of the Israeli economy—giving them that opportunity so that they can have a better life for them and their families,” said Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.). “I hope that we in this country and we in this Congress do everything in our power to help these people grow economically in their businesses, but also to find that peace that only people-to-people actions can find for us all.”
Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who serves as a congressional representative to the U.N. General Assembly, led the delegation and said: “We were witnessing amazing cooperation between the Palestinians and the Israelis. For me, I just feel like it is the untold story. It is a story about opportunity and hope at a time when too many despair. It was the Palestinian business leaders and workers who told us that BDS hurts their ability to work and to provide for their families. They want economic freedom, not boycotts.”
Motivated by what they saw, McMorris Rodgers and members of the delegation intend to lobby the White House regarding the importance of making such a business model a key aspect in any Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
“We are going to be talking to the administration and urging them to include in any kind of a peace plan this economic cooperation and America standing in support of this bottom-up, grassroots approach that really makes a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “We need to have the economic cooperation and encourage the economic cooperation between the Israelis and the Palestinian business leaders.”
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