"Uri Pomerantz and Hisham
Jabi are supposed to be enemies," begins today's San Francisco
Chronicle front page article about a young Israeli-American and West Bank
Palestinian who both lost close relatives as innocent victims of Middle East
violence that has no future at all.
But vengeance doesn't interest these university students a bit.
Instead, Uri Pomerantz ( Pomerantz@stanford.edu ) and Hisham Jabi ( HRJabi@aol.com ) are business partners.
They and colleague Bryan Berkett ( BJB41@columbia.edu ) have tapped their courage and intelligence to create Jozoor Microfinance to improve Palestinian unemployment, lessen hopelessness and violence, and build a very different future together.
You can read more on the Web
at http://www.jozoor.org/ .
Last week their hopeful business plan for Jozoor won first prize and $7,500 in the Stanford Social Entrepreneur Challenge.
You can see photos from that evening at http://www.shutterfly.com/osi.jsp?i=67b0de21b33fa98d0578 .
Also, listen to a 5-minute interview of Jozoor youth-partners on "MarketPlace," courtesy of Minnesota Public Radio on April 25, 2003. The streaming audio is on the Web at:
It has been
a thrill to meet these young men -- examples of a quantum leap, a new breed of
students who are performing their version of the hundred point football game,
the 200-point basketball game, the 3-minute mile.
They are a new breed of youth who will not be denied their new, cooperative, successful Middle East community.
Published in the San Francisco Chronicle, page 1, Friday,
May 30, 2003
Unlikely allies in business of hope
Jewish, Palestinian men work together on West Bank loans
DON LATTIN, Chronicle Religion Writer
Uri Pomerantz and Hisham Jabi are supposed to be enemies.
Pomerantz, an Israeli-born Jew who graduates from Stanford next month, lost his great-aunt in a terrorist attack last year in Jerusalem.
Jabi, a Palestinian completing his business education in Southern California, lost his cousin when she was shot and killed in the West Bank town of Nablus.
"I was very, very angry," Jabi recalls. "I could be a suicide bomber. I could have slipped in that direction."
But Jabi is not a terrorist, and Pomerantz is not his enemy.
They are business partners.
Rather than targeting new victims in the seemingly endless cycle of Israeli- Palestinian violence, the two entrepreneurs are "targeting a neglected market."
Teaming up with a third partner, Columbia University graduate Bryan Berkett, they have formed Jozoor Microfinance.
Their goal is to offer small loans to angry and unemployed Palestinian men in West Bank towns left isolated or occupied by Israeli troops.
Last week, the enterprising trio and their hopeful business plan won first prize and $7,500 in the Stanford Social Entrepreneur Challenge.
"They have a good, simple idea -- that's the key for success," said Gordon Bloom, a lecturer and faculty affiliate at the Center for Social Innovation at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
Their business plan would offer small loans -- $200 to $600 -- so young Palestinian men could start microbusinesses in impoverished West Bank towns.
Investment in the Palestinian economy plummeted from an estimated $1.5 billion in 1999 to $140 million last year, according to a World Bank study released in March.
The same study found that more than half of the workforce in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is now unemployed. Many of the unemployed used to have day jobs in Israel but now are sealed off by Israeli security forces.
"They are just sitting around, playing cards, drinking coffee and waiting for the second invasion of their towns," Jabi said. "They are prime targets for recruitment by terrorist groups."
ROOTS OF AN IDEA
Jabi knows the frustration of being an unemployed Palestinian.
In 1994, six years before the latest cycle of violence began, he started an information technology company that grew to employ 50 Palestinians.
Unable to conduct business in a virtual war zone, Jabi decided to continue his education and landed a scholarship to study at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management in Claremont.
Jozoor means "roots" in Arabic, a reference to its goal of addressing the economic roots of Palestinian unrest.
It began when Jabi and his Israeli business partner met through a mutual friend.
Pomerantz was just finishing his undergraduate degree in political science at Stanford and thinking about what to do next.
Born in Jerusalem, Pomerantz moved to the Bay Area when he was 6 years old. His American father and Israeli mother had met when his dad was traveling in Israel in the late 1970s.
"He was trying to find himself, and he found my mom," Pomerantz said.
Like many young American Jews, Pomerantz tried not to think too much about the rising death count in the fight between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Then his great-aunt, 79-year-old Sarah Hamburger, was shot and killed on Jan. 22, 2002. She and Pomerantz's grandmother had been standing at a bus stop in downtown Jerusalem when a terrorist opened fire, killing two and wounding a dozen other innocent bystanders.
"I saw how it turned my family cold and inward and further away from the Palestinian side," said Pomerantz, 21. 'It's a natural reaction, but it just perpetuates the conflict."
'I WILL NEVER FORGET'
Jabi, 33, was the same age as Pomerantz when his cousin, 24-year-old Lubna Alkadeh, was killed while Israeli troops were quelling a demonstration in Nablus.
It was back in 1991, during the first Persian Gulf War. According to published reports at the time, Alkadeh was standing on her balcony breast- feeding her baby when she was shot from the street.
Jabi said it had taken him years to get over his anger about that shooting.
"When you go through something like that, you can't see reality -- you are absorbed with anger and frustration," he said. "I will never forget those days, but I forgive the Israelis. I cannot forget, but I can forgive, which is a huge difference."
Jabi and Pomerantz say Jozoor will use a "group solidarity" lending model. Several small loans are made to members of the same extended family -- such as five $200 loans to a group of brothers or cousins. If one lender fails to repay, the entire group becomes ineligible for more financing.
"People have peer pressure, or family pressure, to repay their loans," Jabi said. "It has worked in places like Bangladesh."
Jabi and his two partners are soliciting donations to fund a $50,000 pilot project in Sulfit, a northern West Bank village near Nablus.
They will be looking for customers like Khalil, a cucumber farmer who sold his vegetables in Nablus until security checkpoints made it difficult for him to make the trip.
With a loan of $300, Khalil could avoid the problem of spoilage by becoming a pickle vendor. All he'd need to start would be a supply of new pickle jars, a few barrels of salt, some preservative chemicals and some shipping crates.
Another example would be a West Bank hairstylist who used to drive to Tel Aviv for work in a big salon. Now unable to enter Israel, he could buy a chair and supplies to start his own small shop.
"This is not charity," Jabi said. "They have to make monthly payments. But he might hire someone to sweep the floor, or put in another chair. You're giving life to people who are dead."
For more information on their project, go to http://www.jozoor.org .
E-mail Don Lattin at DLattin@sfchronicle.com .