While many hope for world peace, few Americans are in a position to do something about it. Instead of watching helplessly from afar and debating the issues based on secondhand information gleaned from the media, Inbal Naveh ’09 decided to capitalize on a generous deferral program offered by Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. In September 2009, she moved to Israel to help with efforts to build peace and fully engage with the issues on the ground.
Naveh explains, “Peace building in the Middle East has always fascinated me and has been important to me, but it was too emotional.” As the daughter of Israeli immigrants, she spent every summer in Israel with her grandfather, an ecologist, and her grandmother, a founder of Israel’s Hebrew ulpanim [language schools] for Ethiopian immigrants. However, she never felt fully prepared emotionally to delve into the politics of the region beyond dinner-table conversation. When Weil, Gotshal announced its deferral program, Naveh immediately thought about the possibility of working in Israel and seeking out opportunities to have a direct impact as opposed to more sheltered experiences.
She chose to split her time between the Peres Center for Peace, a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Israeli President Shimon Peres, and Bialik-Rogozin, a school in South Tel Aviv that caters mostly to the children of foreign workers, representing 48 countries around the world and including many of the Sudanese refugees under the age of 18 who were absorbed by Israel.
The first time Naveh visited the school she knew she had to come back to spend more time with the students there. “Every day at Rogozin is a lesson in humanity and the power of diversity in education,” she says. At Rogozin, she helped second- to twelfth-graders with English. One of her most powerful experiences was teaching a fifth-grade boy to read English starting from the letter A. “This is a kid who refused to do his homework, let alone sit down and take exams—he just flat out wouldn’t try. But after a few months not only was he reading, he would ask for assignments.”
After completing a six-month volunteer stint at the Peres Center and the Rogozin school, Naveh was offered a specially created position with the Peres Center for the next six months before leaving to work with Weil, Gotshal in the firm’s Manhattan office. “It was a huge honor,” she says. “As project manager in the civil leadership department, I worked on two main projects: the Young Political Leaders fellowship program, which brings together up-and-coming Palestinian and Israeli politicians for workshops, training, and dialogue, and the Peace NGO Forum, an umbrella organization for more than one hundred peace-building Israeli and Palestinian nonprofits.”
Living in Israel and working in Ajami, Jaffa and South Tel Aviv, communities where tourists normally don’t venture, has offered Naveh a unique perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and domestic politics. She says, “In the states you hear about the conflict all the time—people seem to love to tell me exactly what they think about Israel the minute they hear the origin of my name. There are such strong opinions out there, particularly in the academic realm, and yet some people have never been in the region, never spoken to anyone directly impacted by the conflict, and lack the insight that comes with firsthand experience.” One of the most exciting and rewarding things for Naveh has been exactly this: Unlike most people she knows, she has contacts in both Israel and the West Bank. When something pops up on the news, Naveh is proud to say she can pick up the phone to her colleagues in Ramallah and ask them what is really happening on the ground. “Sadly, this kind of access is incredibly unique but at the same time unbelievably important in formulating an educated opinion about the conflict and the complex situation in the region.”
Bringing together Palestinian and Israeli politicians has resulted in greater understanding on both sides. The Young Political Leaders fellowship project, which engages Palestinian and Israeli leaders through a yearlong program, asks its participants to make presentations as part of the program. For example, an Ethiopian Jew presented what it means to be in Israel as an Ethiopian Jew. “Many of the Palestinians didn’t know of that history or realize what it means for Jews outside of Israel to have a place like Israel to call home and where they can seek asylum.”
Naveh and her colleagues work incredibly hard to nurture Israeli-Palestinian relations and it is serious work that at the end of the day is never really finished. Yet this doesn’t mean that it’s always a high-pressure work environment. In fact, she marvels that no matter how stressful the day, the staff
always takes time to have a full three-course lunch. No one eats at a desk or settles for convenience food. She relates, “Early on, I brought a sandwich for lunch one day and people said to me, ‘That’s not lunch. That’s a snack!’ It’s amazing that we all sit down at a table and have real meals.”
A version of this profile first appeared in Create Change, Stanford Law’s John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law newsletter (www.law.stanford.edu/program/centers/pip). Anna Wang is the center’s executive director.
Categories: Public Interest Law