Hold strong opinions weakly.
Or so they say. It’s late afternoon in Jerusalem where I’ve been the last 24-hours on tour of Israel with the Reality Tech leadership development program—an 8-day exploration of Israel’s tech and cultural scenes. I’ve been touring with 50 prominent executives and venture capitalists in tech, sharing space, having uncomfortable conversations, and learning deeply about the complexities of a nation not unlike the one I call home.
Last night I met a young Palestinian girl named Silina who shared her story of going through checkpoints each day at the West Bank border to attend a coding program called MEET – Middle East Education Through Technology – a competitive computer science and entrepreneurship program in which Israeli and Palestinian students work together under one roof. Before the program, she’d only known Israelis by the name of “the enemy” or as soldiers behind the olive uniforms that stopped her family’s car at the checkpoint intersection.
She volunteers and recruits now for the program, even when her university dean called her a traitor, and she’s losing standing in her community for associating with said enemy. But Selena, a force if you ever meet her, is not backing down. “I don’t spend my time trying to influence the older people. They will never change. But the younger people, we will make a change. It will take 30 years or more, but people underestimate how much small impact matters.” Since its founding in 2004, the program has graduated over 230 students and 9 have earned full-ride scholarships to MIT.
Prior to landing in Jerusalem, our tour brought us in front of the national industrial parks in Nazareth where engineering education programs are extending to Palestinians to begin solving for high poverty and inequality.
These are small stories of hope and opportunity in what is one of the most politically afflicted regions in the world suffering under thousands of years of attempting to own both an identity and a land.
By no means do I attempt to assert that one trip, with its plush accommodations, and introductions to 50 incredible strangers have made me an Israeli apologist. I am, however, grateful for the tech leaders and business owners and Holocaust survivors who opened their doors and their homes and their critique of their own government to think around how tech can set new pathways for inclusion, possibility, and collaborative coexistence.
This article was originally published in The Plug, a daily tech newsletter covering founders and innovators of color. It is reposted here with the permission of the author, Sherrell Dorsey, founder of The Plug.
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