Different sides of conflict learn to live side-by-side

In our world today, we are faced with many conflicts. Some of those conflicts being rooted from years of mistreatment, injustice and hatred towards the other side. The longest lasting battle still prominent today is, by far, the Israeli- Arab conflict.

The Israeli-Arab conflict has been a non-stop predicament ever since the establishment of the Israeli state back in May of 1948. Today, the world has been scratching theirs heads trying to find a peaceful solution in order to stop the violence and maintain peace throughout the region.

Walid Issa, SCSU alum and now a grad student, along with Lior Frankiensztajn, a very close friend of Walid may have found the solution. The program is called “Shades” and it preaches that if you have the right “problem solving tools”, two conflicting parties can find there way to a solution. On Wednesday, they both hosted a seminar in the Atwood Theatre.

To understand Walid and Lior’s method to solving the problems in the Middle East you must first understand their story.

Walid was born in a Palestinian refugee camp, and all of his life lived in fear of the Israeli government. Contrary, Lior, born in Israel, was once a soldier for the Israeli government and lived in fear of Arab rebels that attacked the country constantly.

Lior and Walid first met in the United Stated in a home in Washington D.C. where both of them were to live together under the same roof of a host family through the ‘New Story Leadership Program.’ Their initial meeting was very sensitive to say the least. Both of them had already had their minds made up about each other.

“I currently live in Tel Aviv and served in the army for five years. I was an officer and lieutenant. After the army I worked in South America on consultancy issues, counterterrorism and then I went to study at a private college called I.D.C. in Israel, and at some point I was accepted to a leadership program in Washington D.C. called ‘New Story Leadership’, in which we do internships in congress and we are also partnered with Palestinian sort of brothers to live in the same house with in American family and this is my brother [Pointing to Walid],” Lior said.

“I grew up in the Heshura Refugee camp in Bethlehem; I have five sisters and three brothers. After I graduated from high school, a very generous American family brought me here to Minnesota and they paid for my first two years of college, I went

Walid Issa (left), moderator Nizar Farsakh (middle), and Lior Frankiensztajn (right) difficult discussion on deeply rooted conflict.
Walid Issa (left), moderator Nizar Farsakh (middle), and Lior Frankiensztajn (right) difficult discussion on deeply rooted conflict.

to community college, Normandale community college, and then I came to St. Cloud, I finished my undergraduate school in applied economics and now I’m finishing graduate school in applied economics,” Walid said.

“You know living with an American family that they are very generous that they are very good hospitality and they have always pushed me to take an extra step to experience a new environment that’s outside of my comfort zone, and you know coming to St. Cloud, with the help of my professors and with the help of the community of St. Cloud it just pushed me forward, encouraged me more to realize the importance of getting out of my comfort zone,” Walid said.

“When I was in Atwood one day I sat and thought about my American family who was catholic and I am a Muslim and how we got along so well and I thought about St. Cloud State and how diverse the campus is and I thought, “Why not in Israel and Palestine?” So that’s why I applied to the ‘New Story Leadership Program’ and how I met Lior. We lived together.” Walid said.

In the beginning it wasn’t easy to say the least, both Lior and Walid went into the program very opinionated and biased to their own ideas and sides.

“It was difficult in the beginning. It was just after the older revolutions in the Middle East, I came from my military background and Walid came in as the president of “Students for free Palestine”, and it was a difficult encounter. Each of us had our own positions and stereotypes about the other side, I came with a very tricked idea of what I want and what the future should look like, Walid had his own identity and motivations and it clashed,” Lior said.

“After a few weeks we started to realize however that we both share some of the same views and when we had those conversations we had our American host family there to help facilitate, as we conversed more and more we started to have this shared vision,” Lior said.

This shared vision is called “Shades,” a program in which both Lior and Walid travel and give seminars and classes on how to problem solve effectively. The idea behind it Walid and Lior said was that if you give people the skill to converse effectively, eventually, when the hard topics start to unfold, the parties will be able to successfully solve there problems to ultimately find a “win-win” solution.

This program, after years of work, Lior and Walid took it to the professors of the Harvard Law Program where the department funded the Shades and help them improve it. Lior, Walid and members of the Harvard Law School took a journey to Israel and Palestine to give seminars.

On Wednesday, the seminar hosted in Atwood Union, hit home for a very diverse crowd with many questions.

Both Walid and Lior are extremely confident in the future of Shades and are hoping to see a deep impact in not only the Middle East but also wherever the rest of the world sees conflict.

During the seminar, Lior and Walid both expressed extreme determination to make both of their home countries a peaceful place for the generation of incoming children, so they do not have to suffer like they did and can live in a world were they do not have to worry and live in constant fear of their lives and the people surrounding them.

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