Steve Kalishman, Director, Sister City Program of Gainesville, Inc. and Citizen Diplomacy Initiatives
In 1998, Gainesville, Florida became the first U.S. city to establish a trilateral sister city partnership with Israeli and Palestinian cities. Gainesville formed relationships with Kfar Saba, Israel and Qalqilya, Palestinian Territories in an effort to bring the three communities together to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation — one individual, one community at a time.
Gainesville, Kfar Saba and Qalqilya partnered in a new paradigm for creating collaborative relationships at the municipal level. While city leaders from Kfar Saba and Qalqilya did not believe they could establish a bilateral relationship between their cities, they eagerly endorsed Gainesville Mayor Bruce Delaney’s proposal to form a trilateral relationship, with Gainesville serving as a bridge between Palestinian and Israeli communities. Elected leaders in all three cities provided the legitimacy and credibility for residents to comfortably take on the role of citizen diplomats, leading to the development of trusting relationships that have endured and continued to strengthen, despite political and physical barriers.
Dr. Manal Fakoury, a Palestinian-American, has been active in bringing awareness to Americans of the lives of ordinary Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Her voice of reason, compassion and non-violence, as well as her vast influence with Arab and Muslim leaders in the U.S., make her an invaluable asset for the objectives of Citizen Diplomacy Initiatives (CDI).
On September 26, 2011, Manal, Steve, and Paul led a delegation including Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe and City Commissioner Randy Wells, the art and music directors of a Gainesville school, and a Los Angeles-based Hip Hop group (Luminaries) as citizen diplomats to meet their counterparts in Israeli and Palestinian communities.
An Israeli film crew captured more than 50 hours of amazing encounters with mayors, governors, national leaders (including Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad), businessmen, teachers and ordinary people for a feature-length documentary called When the People Lead. As a result of that two-week journey, Manal, Steve and Paul believe that trilateral sister city programs, along with other citizen diplomacy initiatives, offer the best chance for creating relationships among Israeli, Palestinian and American communities.
See below for a featurette trailer of the upcoming documentary featuring their experience in the Middle East.