Sunday, August 19, 2007
Let's show that we mean business with Palestine
Let's show that we mean business with Palestine
Break through restrictions that hold back prosperity
By FAROUK SHAMI
Presidents and prime ministers, secretaries of state and special envoys have spent nearly six decades trying to solve the seemingly intractable Palestinian/Israeli issue.
I am not a politician. I am a businessman. And I know what those who want peace also surely must know. There cannot be peace without economic development and justice.
I came to America in 1964 from a small village in Palestine. I had little money in my pocket and washed dishes in restaurants to pay for my college tuition. Today, I run a $400 million beauty products company that employs more than 10,000 Americans.
I built my company from the ground up, initially developing hair care products in my garage. I have America to thank. I work hard and pay my taxes. I give back to my community. All the rights and opportunities that come with American citizenship are mine. In my 43 years here, I never felt the sting of discrimination.
Then I visited Palestine this summer. I went there in order to invest in my country of origin, with plans to build a hair products factory that will employ a projected 500 Palestinians.
I traveled with my business partner who is also American — an American named John, not Farouk. We had to pass through Israeli border controls in order to enter the occupied Palestinian West Bank. We were forced to stand in separate lines, because of my ethnicity. We had to fight for the right to drive in the same car.
Coming from America, where people are no longer separated based on race or religion, my sense of fairness was offended. But discrimination is a fact of life for Palestinians under Israeli rule. West Bank Palestinians drive on separate, decrepit roads and are routinely subjected to lengthy waits at checkpoints, while Israeli settlers living on confiscated Palestinian land speed by on modern freeways. West Bank Palestinians must ration water, while Jewish settlers cultivate lush lawns and fill their swimming pools.
Several Palestinian-American businesspeople invested in the West Bank and Gaza after the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993. But the years after Oslo led to a shrinking land base and crippling restrictions on Palestinian movement. The number of Israeli settlers living on Palestinian land doubled. And Palestinian farms, villages and cities were dissected and isolated by the networks of roads built to serve Israeli settlers and by Israel's wall that swallows up huge swaths of West Bank land. Hundreds of checkpoints stifle the movement of goods and people, preventing young Palestinians from getting to school, to work and to their families. Palestinian businesses fail because Israeli travel restrictions and closures prevent workers from reaching work. Business owners cannot import the raw materials they need or export the goods they produce.
Palestinians have the human capital to build a strong, independent economy. We do not need to rely on international handouts. But our hands must be untied. For our ventures to succeed there must be an investment-friendly environment.
The absence of economic and social freedom for Palestinians is in no one's long-term interest — not Palestinians, nor Israelis, and certainly not Americans. Polls show that our unquestioning support of Israel fuels anti-American sentiment in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Palestinians must enjoy economic rights and the freedom of movement necessary to build a thriving economy. Job creation will bring hope and economic security. Hope and economic security can bring peace.
Many players can advance the quest for peace.
Palestinian-Americans are a wealthy community with an important role to play. We must take our dollars and skills and invest in Palestine in greater numbers.
Israel needs to ease the stifling restrictions on the movement of Palestinian goods and people, and end its policy of discriminating against non-Jews under its rule.
And America, the largest supplier of diplomatic, military and financial aid to Israel, needs to insist that Israel treat the Palestinians fairly and with respect.
Instead of building walls to separate the two peoples, let us build joint ventures to compete in the world market. A better world is within reach if we all join to demand that all the people living on the same land — Jewish Israelis, Christian Palestinians, Muslim Palestinians and everyone else — enjoy equal rights, just as we do in America.
Shami, a Houstonian, is founder and chairman of Farouk Systems, a professional hair care and spa products company headquartered here.
I very much appreciated Farouk Shami's "Let's show that we mean business with Palestine: Break through restrictions that hold back prosperity" for I think he has outlined a very reasonable, rational approach towards building a just and lasting peace - as well as progress for ALL in the Middle East: Invest first in true freedom for the Palestinians... wherever they might be.
Anne Selden Annab
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