Green Olive Collective — Not your fly by the night organization

Sam Bahour
Oct 2 · 4 min read
Green Olive Partners Fred Schlomka (L) and Mohammad Barakat (R)

His name was Fred Schlomka. His email arrived in my inbox on Wednesday, 30 Nov 2005. I answered positively. The rest is history. I found a friend for life who is just as committed to peace with justice in Palestine and Israel as I am; only difference is that we are mirror images of one another, both arriving from our respective diaspora communities. Fred is a Jewish-Scotlander who relocated to Israel. I’m a Palestinian-American who relocated to Palestine.

Fred and I have spent our lives in the service of our communities and, although it seems our efforts may require more time than we have to offer, we are both hell-bent on making sure we employ the time we are fortunate enough to have to advance peace. Not any peace. Real peace.

The email that started our relationship came from Kfar Saba in Israel and read as follows:

Sam -

Jeff Halper and I are long-time colleagues, working together in The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and other projects. He suggested [I] contact you.

I have been invited by the US Ambassador [to Israel], Dick Jones, to arrange a private briefing for him with a few people who have an intimate understanding of the situation on the ground in Palestine. Jeff and I both agree that time may have run out for the creation of a fully sovereign Palestinian State unless there is serious intervention by the international community. We would like to convey this information directly to the Ambassador, backed up by hard information and analysis.

I am hoping to assemble a small group for the meeting and Jeff has suggested that you might be a good addition. I understand you are a businessman with broad knowledge of developments in the West Bank. We are looking at Friday 16th December. Please call me at 054–693-[****] so we can discuss the matter. Thanks.

All the best,
Fred

Long story short, we did end up meeting the U.S. Ambassador in Tel Aviv and we made our case — that the peace process, which had already started to falter, needed the civil societies to be engaged to have any chance to succeed and success to us meant, and still means, “a fully sovereign Palestinian State.”

We went on to meet many times thereafter. Fred’s wife Sunita is an amazing professional harp musician. I had the pleasure of meeting her when I visited their home in Kfar Saba before they relocated to Jaffa. Regretfully, now I hold a West Bank residency (issued by Israeli occupation authorities) so I’m unable to visit them without Israeli military approval, even though I’m a U.S. citizen (a story for another day).

In one of our many meetings I recall us sitting at the Pronto Café in Ramallah. I arrived and Fred was tapping away on his laptop. We got to talking and he showed me a “blog” that he was creating. I had heard of blogs but did not have my mind fully grasping it yet, so I asked. What’s a blog? Fred patiently gave me the scoop and I’ve been creating and managing blogs ever since.

It turns out that the blog Fred was working on was the start of his alternative tour agency, Tours in English, which developed over the years to be the Green Olive Collective (www.greenolivetours.com). This Collective is not your fly by the night organization. It’s an Arab-Israeli cooperative with a mission, a big mission — to offer tours to Israel and Palestine that are alternative tours to the commercial offerings that tend to shy away from the political reality on the ground and the complicated realities that have emerged. Green Olive Collective’s tours dive deep into the culture and politics of the region. Fred and his tour guide partner Mohammad Barakat have brought my way dozens of persons and groups to meet, all well worth the time, for me and them.

Just as when Fred reached out to connect with me nearly a decade and half ago, he, and now along with his partners, does not hesitate to take the first step in educating and engaging for peace and justice. However, Fred’s approach is mindful that, not only are we living in different cultures, but that we are living in a reality of occupier and occupied, not to mention his deep understanding of the nuances of working with communities that are dispossessed and discriminated against.

I cherish friendships but am devoted to friendships with meaning. Fred falls into the latter and I look forward to our next meeting, next tour, next technology to explore, and ultimately living in a free and independent Palestine where we can freely meet and his wife Sunita can perform in Ramallah and we can jointly attend her performance in Jaffa, unhindered by Israeli military occupation, Separation Walls, or never-ending hate.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant from Ramallah/Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is chair of the board of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy (AVPE) and serves as a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network and is co-editor of “Homeland: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians” (1994). He blogs at ePalestine.com. @SamBahour

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