HCEF’s 13th International Conference Report
Dr. Saliba Sarsar, Secretary, HCEF Board of Directors
The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) held the events of its 13th International Conference Friday, October 28 through Sunday, October 30, 2011. The focus of the conference is reflected in the title, “Investing in Our Community, Building Our Future.” The conference was preceded with 2 events on Friday: an IT Sector Forum and the 1st America-Palestine Youth Conference, and proceeded on Sunday by the 2nd Investment and Business Conference.
More than 500 participants, within the three day conference period, joined us to learn more about ways in which they can ameliorate the living conditions of people in the Holy Land, and more about how investment and business in Palestine can help Build Our Future.
The unemployment rate in Bethlehem is 22.9%, the second largest after Gaza. To promote the HCEF/Reach Call Center in Bethlehem, which will create about 100 jobs in Bethlehem, the conference included an IT Sector Forum which took place Friday, October 28, 2011 from 10:00am – 4:00pm at the Washington Marriott, Washington, DC. IT professionals from Palestine, the Middle East and the US met to discuss the dynamics of strengthening the IT Sector in Palestine! This meeting encouraged networking and the development of partnerships amongst IT professionals, NGOs and many others who came together to share ideas and concepts on new initiatives and endeavors to develop the IT sector in Palestine. As a result, plans were developed to effectively achieve that goal.
The 1st Youth Conference, held at the National Presbyterian Church, stems from the first successful national HCEF program ‘Know Thy Heritage (KTH) through which 33 Palestinian-American Youth in the Diaspora were taken to ‘visit and live Palestine’. During the Youth conference, the delegates, now Ambassadors of Peace, highlighted and discussed ways in which the journey personally affected them, as well as the efforts and steps they will subsequently take in working with HCEF to enhance the 2012 KTH Journey!
On the evening of Friday, October 28, His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington greeted the HCEF 13th International Conference Awards Banquet particpants! His Eminence made this statement “the international conference promotes an explicit icall to peace in the Middle East and in our world by providing a platform for interreligious dialogue focused on building community together with the promotion of investment and business opportunities in Palestine.” Sir Rateb Rabie, KCHS HCEF President/CEO and Mr. Hashim Shawa, Board Chair and General Manager, Bank of Palestine, honored HE Cardinal Wuerl for his continued diligence and outstanding support of the Christians in the Holy Land and for his efforts as an advocate for peace and reconciliation. They presented HE with the key to the Holy Land and extended to him a personal invitation for HE to take a Holy Land pilgrimage.
-Dr. Jim Zogby receives the Path of Peace Award-
The 13th International Conference Awardees included 2011 Path of Peace Recipient, Dr. James Zogby (left), President, Arab American Institute Foundation, 2011 Living Stones Solidarity Awardees, The Ajram Family Foundation, 2011 HCEF Award, Mr. Raja Khoury, President, Pillar Construction and 2011 HCEF President’s Award, Sir Elias and Lady May Shomali, KCHS/LCHS.
Saturday morning, October 29, 2011, in introducing the conference theme, Rateb Rabie, HCEF President/CEO, explained its importance, mainly as “it highlights the need for a collective commitment to invest in the building of community.” “The title,” he stated, “projects faith and hope for a better future for Palestinians and all others who inhabit the Holy Land.”
In a panel entitled, “Christians of the Holy Land,” chaired by Fr. Drew Christiansen, S. J., Editor-in-Chief of America Magazine and HCEF Co-Founder and Advisory Board Member, clergy and church leaders reviewed the current challenges facing Christians in Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, and discussed ways to overcome them. There was general agreement that Americans and others have little awareness of the presence of Arab Christians. Rev. Samer Azar, Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Amman, Jordan, made it clear that Arab Christians represent indigenous Christians who have lived in the Holy Land for millennia; he reminds us that “they are neither converts from Islam nor remnants of the Crusaders.” A growing fundamentalist movement, the impasse in the peace process, a lack of freedom (especially religious), and unstable political conditions all impact the Arab Christian community. Despite the multi-layered challenges, Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, urged all attendees not to ignore the other and to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, “the city of surprises!” He asked that we reach “above the dark clouds to see the sunlight.”
In a videotaped message, Prince El Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan explained that Arab means both Christian and Muslim. Moving beyond conflict, extremism, and the tragedy of 9/11, he asked, “Isn’t it time to fight for the future, for compassion, and for the policies of peace?” For Prince El Hassan, “the acceptance of difference implies the freedom from fear,” and “such acceptance is the only way forward for Jew, Christian, and Muslim, and for humanity as a whole.” He recognized “the need for creativity away from the turmoil,” and for serious conversation about shared values. Working for congruence and being loyal to the truth will lead to an understanding of one another.
-Peace Building/Interfaith Voices of Peace-
The non-presence of Arab Christians in the mind of America was brought up once again in a panel on “Peace Building and Interfaith Voices of Peace,” which was moderated by Claudette Habesch, Secretary General of CARITAS Jerusalem and HCEF Advisory Board Member. Rev. Dr. Fahed Abu Akel, AMIS Executive Director of the Peachtree Presbyterian Church and HCEF Advisory Board Member, stated, “When they say Arab, they think Muslim; when they say Israeli, they think Jewish. The Arab Christians are nonexistent.” He urged the United States to apply tough love on Israel, and for Israel to end its occupation. Rabbi Arthur Blecher, Beth Chai, the Greater Washington Jewish Humanist Congregation, explained, “honest dialogue requires trust. If peace is to materialize, recognizing the other’s humanity, understanding of the other, and cooperating with the other are a must.” Imam Yahya Hendi, Muslim Chaplain at Georgetown University and President of Clergy Beyond Borders, explained that the Holy Land is sacred because it is home to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. “We are in one covenant with God, and that is why we need to keep our covenant with one another,” he stated. For Imam Hendi, “if we honor the children of God, God will honor us.” Our main tasks are to listen to each other, to hear each other’s narrative, to act, and to include the clergy, women, and youth in the process.
Bareeq Albarqui and Joseph Abushawish, two Palestinian American youth delegates, who ‘visited and lived Palestine’ through the “Know Thy Heritage” (KTH) HCEF program in July-August 2011, shared their experiences and a video of their trip with the conferees. They explained how KTH has empowered them by strengthening their knowledge of their Palestinian identity, culture, history, and traditions, as well as their understanding of the Palestinian economic environment, political landscape, and social conditions and structures.
-Know Thy Heritage (KTH) Delegates speak at 1st Youth Conference-
These 33 delegates are now Ambassadors of Peace and have committed themselves to working with HCEF to enhance the upcoming 2012 KTH Journey! It is important to state that the KTH program is made possible through the generosity of Bank of Palestine, Consolidated Contractors Company, Paltel Group, Palestine Investment Fund, and Quds Bank.
-Investing in Our People, Investing in Our Future-
The KTH youth presentation was followed by a panel on investing in people and the future. Chaired by George R. Salem, Esq., Law Offices of George R. Salem, PLLC and HCEF Advisory Board Member, the panel included talks by Ammar Aker, CEO, Palestine Telecom Group (PALTEL); Hashim Hani Shawa, Chairman of the Board and General Manager of the Bank of Palestine; Bassem Khoury, Founder and CEO, Pharmacare and Dr. Jihad Al Wazir, Governor of the Palestine Monetary Authority. What was common to their presentations is that investing in people pumps positive energy into society and brings hope to the future. Each spoke of actions and initiatives that are advancing a vision of investment, leadership for investment, and resources for investment in people, even amid the unbearable conditions of the Israeli occupation.
A special emphasis was placed on the need to create massive job opportunities, especially in the banking, information and communications technology, and pharmaceutical sectors. Growth in the number of these positions must continue in order to build strong foundations of financial management and transparency that are necessary for promoting economic well-being and prosperity in Palestine. Another special emphasis was put on the need to contribute toward corporate social responsibility. As Mr. Shawa explained, “this contribution surpasses business transactions … to support activities, events, and programs that combat poverty and draw a smile in the faces of children, invigorate the nation’s economy, and contribute to achieving sustainable development.”
Saturday afternoon brought three concurrent workshops: The Investment Environment and Business Opportunities, Know Thy Heritage, and Religious Tourism. The latter, chaired by Gail Freeman, HCEF Living Stones Pilgrimage Coordinator, explained the importance of promoting pilgrimages to the Holy Land and making the Palestinian Territories a major destination for tourism. Speakers included Edita Krunic, President of Select International, which is the Official Operator of HCEF Living Stone Pilgrimage program and Sami Khoury, Palestinian Tourism Consultant.
-The Long Overdue State of Palestine-
Saturday’s conference events culminated with a panel on “The Long Overdue State of Palestine,” which was chaired by Dr. Saliba Sarsar, Secretary of the HCEF Board of Directors and Professor of Political Science at Monmouth University. Panelists included Dr. Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, College Park; Ambassador Maen Areikat, Chief of Mission and General Delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization to the United States; and Dr. James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute Foundation (AAI).
Dr. Telhami explained that “the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will not be resolved on its own.” The United States has to push forward on this issue before it can proceed with resolving other regional issues. However, domestic and other challenges abound, which give President Barack Obama no incentive to do so at this time. Dr. Telhami stated, “The U.S. should have looked at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) vote as an opportunity.” A U.S. veto, if it were to be cast, will be consequential as it affects public opinion and decisions in Egypt and other countries. Ambassador Areikat said that the PLO will persevere in its efforts to secure the requisite nine member states in order to put the Palestinian bid for statehood up for a vote by the UNSC. If necessary, the PLO will submit a request through the UN General Assembly for Palestine to have a non-member state status. By going to the UN, “the PLO is not picking a fight with the U.S.” Congressional threats to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority hurt American interests, not only Palestinian interests. The Palestinians need a clear frame of reference and a halt to Jewish settlements before negotiations are resumed. Dr. Zogby spoke of his love for, and his experience with Palestine. He related how America used to have no image of the Palestinians. It was always “the Israeli people versus the Palestine problem.” The Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” he said, “is a defining issue in U.S.-Arab relations.” While things are changing, there ought to be more listening to the other. “Whether diplomacy works or not, we need to know,” he asked, “what do we do along the way?”
Mr. Rabie shared his encouragement as he reiterated the importance of providing sustainable support through the cooperation of various leaders, organizations and individuals working together to build the future. HCEF endeavors to be successful in continuously connecting the ecumenical religious community with the business sector to promote peace and human security in the Holy Land.
Sunday, October 30, 2011 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, IT, NGO and various other business leaders came together at the Washington Marriott for the 2nd Investment and Business Conference to expound upon and further solidify their investment opportunities in Palestine, as well as their strategic networking and partnership opportunities developed for the purpose of creating jobs and building hope for the future.
-2nd Investment and Business Conference-
Mr. Hashim Hani Shawa, Board Chairman and General Manager, Bank of Palestine, Dr. Bassem Khoury, President and Founder, Pharmacare, Former Minister of the National Economy, Dr. Jihad Al Wazir, Governor, Palestine Monetary Authority Mr. Sami Khoury, Palestinian Tourism Consultant, Mr. Laith Kassis, CEO,EnterVentures, Mr. Nicola Khamis, President of Jala Food, and Jala General Manager, Mr. Shukri Dallal each presented their specific areas of expertise and ways to propel the economic status of Palestine through increased investment opportunities and the creation of jobs!
Mr. Hashim Shawa complimented HCEF, and specifically Mr. Rateb Rabie, for his diligent endeavors in successfully connecting the religious and the business communities. He further stated “perhaps the name ‘Holy Land Economic Forum’ would be a more appropriate name for the HCEF acronym as it effectively represents the commitment of HCEF to explore all avenues of building support for the people of the Holy Land and creating jobs in Palestine.”
In its mission, conference theme and endeavors, HCEF demonstrates the words of a wise African proverb that states, ‘For tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.’The creation of jobs in Palestine and a strengthened Palestinian economy are effective and firm foundations for building our future and promoting peace and human security.