“When you refuse to be a victim you don’t hate.”
It takes a lot of courage and empathy to not hate your neighbors if both of you are in the middle of a violent conflict. Refusing to be a victim is “one of the biggest contributions I am making and my family is making towards peace,” says Raghda Abu-Shahla.
Raghda is a Palestinian humanitarian worker living in Gaza. She is Assistant to the Director of Operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. She has devoted her life to bringing peace to one of the most intractable conflicts in the world. She realized early on that this mission has to start with herself. So, Raghda doesn’t just tolerate the other side but forges friendships with her neighbors.
This is why, among other things, she nurtures a border-transcending friendship with fellow BMW Foundation Responsible Leader and Israeli journalist Netta Ahituv. According to Raghda, the most powerful advocates for Palestinians are Israelis. And the most powerful advocates for Israelis are Palestinians.
Even if life right now is full of struggles that take over day-to-day life, Raghda is optimistic that this – seemingly never-ending – conflict will have a solution eventually. However, there needs to be a dramatic shift in how leaders on all sides approach the situation. The constant fight for power reduces civilians to mere numbers, says Raghda. Way too often, people become statistics, and their names, fears, hopes, and aspirations get lost in the process.
Raghda, too, has made this experience. She has to seek underground shelter whenever Israel and Hamas exchange fire. “We are treated as collateral damage by politicians around the world and that’s the frustrating point,” she says.
Medals, Merits, and More
Raghda is a Leader for Democracy Fellow of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in New York (USA), a scholar of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and a summer staff member at the International Peace and Security Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS in Bologna (Italy) providing mentoring to dozens of Peace Leaders. Raghda took part in the BMW Foundation Global Table France and is a member of the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network.