Pictured in Ramallah, West Bank, are executive director Arie Zmora of the Hamline University Middle East Fellowship Exchange and 2012 Hamline Fellows Reem Saleh, left and Mayada Diab, who works for the Palestinian Trade Association and who plans a cross-cultural tourism business on the West Bank.
The Hamline University Middle East Fellows program sprang from the history and hope of Arie and Nurith Zmora, history professors who moved to the United States from Israel 25 years ago to pursue advanced degrees and teaching opportunities.
Arie Zmora, 62, educated at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the University of Maryland, got his fill of war early in life. He was a teenage hospital volunteer during the Six-Day War against Jordan, Syria and Egypt in 1967. In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, Zmora fought with his tank battalion at the Suez Canal against Egyptian forces in battles that killed and wounded thousands. Eight years later, and by now a sergeant, Zmora and his platoon evacuated settlers from the Sinai, under the historic Egypt-Israel peace.
Nurith Zmora, who also served in the Israeli army, lost a brother during the 1967 war.
Like Yitzhak Rabin, the late Israeli military commander and moderate prime minister who went to his grave in search of Middle East peace, the Zmoras are political independents and moderates who seek better relations through cultural, educational and commercial initiatives.
A decade ago, the Zmoras, who are Israeli and U.S. citizens, decided to work on peaceful initiatives to transcend the political and religious hostilities of the Middle East through a fellowship program that's taken root at Hamline, where Nurith Zmora is a faculty member. The program is formally called the Middle East Education to Employment Project.
The Hamline Fellows, about 20 each year, come to study Minnesota business and nonprofits. They are Jordanians, Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese-Jews, Christians, Muslims, liberal and conservative. They are chosen by a small nonprofit run by the Zmoras and Hamline faculty and approved by the U.S. State Department. Many have never fraternized with people from neighboring countries or other faiths.
"In this program, the focus on business enables the participants to be just people -- not representatives of their respective communities," Arie Zmora said. "Whether Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian or Lebanese, the fellows ... come to know each other as human beings, gain mutual trust and establish friendships."
Arie Zmora, also a part-time college Hebrew instructor, started a nonprofit named the College for Reconciliation and Development, which pays him $30,000 annually to run the Hamline Fellows program. The 2011-12 program was funded largely by a $510,000, two-year U.S. State Department grant that covered about 40 fellows, their U.S. travel and two trips to the Middle East.
"Hamline faculty volunteer their time because they believe in this program," said Eric Jensen, the provost of Hamline. "There is no substitute for this kind of informal diplomacy. The business plans and relationships among the fellows continue when they return to the Middle East -- that's the objective."
During our August trip to the Middle East, the Zmoras and 2011-12 fellows were welcomed at businesses, universities, city halls, farms, technology campuses in Jordan, Israel and the West Bank. The Hamline Fellows generated local media coverage for their intrepid, cross-border relationships.
"I am a big believer in collaboration with our neighboring countries," said Nir Hindi, a Hamline Fellow and marketing executive with NegevCo in the sunny, rocky Negev region, which is also an incubator for Israel's alternative-energy and low-water agricultural industries. "We can contribute to each other knowledge and experience. We start with small steps."
NEAL ST. ANTHONY