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Abraham Accords

Projects associated with Abraham Accords aims to make peace more than ‘just a slogan’

“Leaders of Tomorrow” gathers young people from Israel and Morocco to develop social entrepreneurial projects that will serve both countries

“The Leaders of Tomorrow” delegation at the Israeli President's Residence in Jerusalem (Photo: Efi Yosefi)

“Making peace is not just a slogan but a project,” said Yosef Al Hajri, a young Moroccan entrepreneur in the technological marketing sector who was in Israel this month for the first time.

Hajri is one of 20 Moroccan young adults under the age of 35 who is taking part in an innovative new program called “The Leaders of Tomorrow,” founded by ISRAEL-is in collaboration with Concert Together for Israel, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mimouna Association of Morocco, Edmond de Rothschild Partnerships and Kulna Morocco Association. Twenty Israeli young adults are also enrolled in the program. 

Participants come from a social or business enterprise background and work together in teams to develop initiatives that could both impact social change as well as build connections between Morocco and Israel. 

ISRAEL-is, an apolitical NGO, was founded in 2017 to connect young Israelis with like-minded people around the world. Since the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020, the organization has set up a framework for creating direct, authentic connections between young Israelis and young people from the Abraham Accords countries. It started with Zoom meetings but has since become a formal exchange program. This latest trip, which ran from May 6-12, followed a visit by the Israelis to Marrakesh in February. 

“We are trying to promote the image of Israel, to help people in other regions of the Middle East know what Israel is and not just what the media is trying to portray,” Yishai Ben-Zion, head of the Middle East and North Africa department for ISRAEL-is told ALL ISRAEL NEWS.

As such, travelers visited a Druze village and heard firsthand how the Druze community is integrated into Israeli society. They spoke with Arab residents of the Old City of Jerusalem and saw the city’s four quarters with their own eyes. 

Together they spent Shabbat in Jerusalem; visited the grave of the famous Moroccan Rabbi Meir Baal Hanes; met the father of Christian Arab police officer Amir Khoury killed in a recent terror attack; and toured Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Museum. 

In the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, members of the Moroccan delegation spontaneously recited an Arabic prayer in memory of the victims – an emotional event that, according to ISRAEL-is, brought all the participants and guides to tears.

They also held sessions at Start-up Nation Central and presented their projects to President Isaac Herzog at his residence. 

During the presentation to the president, Abdou Ladino, general secretary of the Mimouna Association of Morocco, stunned the leader when he spoke in Hebrew.

“We are proud to take part in a program that connects young people from Israel and Morocco. As a direct result of the strengthening of diplomatic ties between Israel and Morocco, we want to create a new era of peace and hope between our peoples. We came here, to Jerusalem, to continue the journey together,” he said. 

“The Leaders of Tomorrow” delegation visits Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum (Photo: Efi Yosefi)

‘I WAS A LITTLE SCARED’

Oumaima Mhijir, an engineer who decided to leave the sector for the NGO world in Morocco, was one of the participants. In her country, she is working to support communities with the lowest socio-economic conditions, women from a background of abuse, people with disabilities, the unemployed and more.

She holds a Master’s degree in human resources and social enterprise from Basel University in Switzerland and is mother to a six-month-old daughter, Amber, who came with her to Israel. Mhijir told ALL ISRAEL NEWS that she decided to join the Leaders of Tomorrow initiative, in part to promote relationships with Israelis, against whom she mostly held prejudices. 

“I think I have been most surprised by the warmth of the people,” she said in an interview mid-way through the trip. “I knew about Israel only from what they show in the media. And I was a little scared and had a lot of question marks about coming. My brother told me I would find war and that Israel would be dangerous for me and my daughter. He told me not to take her in case I was attacked.”

But Mhijir said she has discovered “a very peaceful country. I met Palestinians living in Israel and they are largely happy people.” 

Beyond the good “hasbara,” as Israelis call public relations, the program is also geared toward making a substantial difference in the lives of the participants and their countries, Ben-Zion stressed. 

“A lot of times, people sit together and talk about how much we need to build a bridge, but without action and doing nothing with their hands it does not happen,” he told ALL ISRAEL NEWS. “When they start to act, they really bond with each other. When they create a new ‘baby’ and deliver it into the world together, it makes them into a real family.”

One of the projects Mhijir is involved with is called “Common Sign Language,”whose aim is to create a collaboration between deaf communities in Israel and Morocco through virtual and in-person meetings and by linking experts in the sectors together to share knowledge and experience.

Eventually, they hope to develop an ionic language for both countries. 

“Israel does a better job [than Morocco] of empowering people with disabilities in general and especially those with hearing disabilities,” Mhijir said. “My hope is to connect the professionals here and there so that they can learn from each other’s models and take the best practices from here and implement them in Morocco.”

Another project is called “Traveling for Peace.” Team members are developing an application and pages on social media to connect Moroccan and Israeli tourists. Registered app users will be able to enjoy restaurants, hotels and attractions at exclusive prices, as well as host and stay with people in their host country. 

From left: Abdou Ladino, Oumaima Mhijir (holding daughter Amber) and Avichai Zano during an interview with ALL ISRAEL NEWS in Tel Aviv (Photo: Maayan Hoffman)

‘TURNING THEORY INTO REALITY’

Israeli Avichai Zano, 31 from Beersheva, who is taking part in this project, equated it to an Abraham Accords version of Couchsurfing.

Zano, who is of Moroccan descent, was working as a journalist for KAN News until a year and a half ago when he quit his job in the midst of COVID-19 in search of greater meaning, he told ALL ISRAEL NEWS. When Zano learned about the Leaders of Tomorrow program, he applied. 

“I don’t know if our project will work, but what has definitely worked is the connection between the people,” he said.

Mai Avni, 27, expressed similar sentiments. She is originally from Eilat and now studying international relations and Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

"Taking part in this program is, for me, turning theory into reality,” she said. “My studies mostly talk about relations between countries and peace and accords, but in practice, it's all amorphous. The program is basically realizing the raw potential, taking a connection between countries and turning it into a connection between people.”

Another participant, Tamer Masudin, 25 from the Bedouin town of Segev Shalom, added: 

"Participating in the Leaders of Tomorrow program is beyond an experience. It's a story that is just beginning. 

“Where else can you find young Jews and Arabs from the Abraham Accord countries, with a spark in their eyes, who are motivated by the desire for coming together and creating authentic connections?” he asked. “And not just coming together, but also an opportunity to establish joint projects that will realize the vision the Accords were signed for?”

Maayan Hoffman is a veteran American-Israeli journalist and strategic communications consultant.

She is the former news editor, head of strategy and senior health analyst for the Jerusalem Post, where she launched the outlet's Health & Wellness, Business & Innovation and Christian World portals.

Maayan has led content, marketing and strategy teams at top-tier corporations and NGOs, and has held senior journalism positions throughout the Jewish world, including serving as Editor-in-Chief of the Baltimore Jewish Times and Managing Editor of the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle.

Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, American Spectator, Fox, The Hill and Roll Call, among other places.

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