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Posts Tagged ‘The Elders’

Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson on Climate Change: Who Will Lead?

April 22, 2014 by

The Elders have published a blog by Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson, Climate change: who will lead?, urging youth to mobilize ahead of the Paris climate conference in December 2015. An excerpt:

“With the latest warnings delivered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over the past few weeks, no world leader will ever be able to claim that they were caught off-guard by climate change.

As former heads of state ourselves, we’ve experienced global crises from within the corridors of power. Some may take the world by surprise, but sometimes the warning signals are such that there is no excuse not to act. The IPCC report is such a signal.

The report of Working Group II of the IPCC is the most sobering assessment, to date, of the risks posed to humanity by climate change, describing a range of threats in a clear yet measured tone. Around the world, people’s crops and homes are in danger already. This will only get worse if nothing is done. Economic shocks and worsening poverty, exacerbated by a warming planet, will also increase the risk of armed conflict. It is the world’s poorest who are the most vulnerable. The report does not dictate exact scenarios but tells us, with unprecedented authority, what we must be ready for.

For this reason, it is a compelling call to action for governments. We hope it can trigger decisive action – notably on greenhouse gas emission reduction and financing for climate adaptation – on the road to December 2015, when world leaders will meet at a major conference in Paris to agree a new climate deal.

This week we are coming to Paris, as Elders, to help build momentum towards this deadline. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this process. Climate change ignores national borders. Multilateral negotiations remain the best approach for the world to reach a comprehensive solution. We are calling for a robust, fair, universal, and legally-binding agreement in Paris in 2015.”

Read the rest:


Richard Branson’s Blog about Nelson Mandela’s Funeral

December 18, 2013 by

Richard Branson, who is on The Elders‘ Advisory Council with Jeff Skoll and Sally Osberg, just wrote this blog that we’d like to share with you:

“It was a great honour to be present at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in his home village of Qunu. There is an African saying that you’ve not buried the person unless you go to the village, so it was a fitting send off to Madiba.

We drove through the night to get to the funeral, and were met by a magnificent rainbow, which seemed appropriate for this beautiful rainbow nation.  I spoke to a lovely five-year-old girl called Jamie, who summed up how we all felt when she said: ‘It really makes my heart sore. I think I might cry.’

The government organised the memorial service earlier this week, which was a great occasion shared by people all over the world celebrating the life of Madiba. If he had been organising it himself I’m sure there would have been a little more dancing and singing!”

Read the rest, and see photos:


Remembering Nelson Mandela: CNN and BBC Interviews with The Elders

December 9, 2013 by

Nelson Mandela was the founder of The Elders, which Skoll Foundation Founder Jeff Skoll and CEO Sally Osberg sit on the Advisory Council of. Several of the Elders have been speaking about Mandela in the media since his passing. Here are two interviews we’d like to share today.

Mary Robinson remembers Mandela on CNN:

“I think it’s extraordinary that the thoughts on the world are on one man that most people who feel very acutely about haven’t met, and yet they know he was an extraordinary man. I hope we will think more about, ‘What is the compelling nature of our sense that this man was the best of us? Because he was.  He did represent those values. He also was great fun, had wonderful comic timing and was very humble.”

Watch the rest above.

Jimmy Carter interview with Justin Webb, who asks “Could the Mandela template properly be used elsewhere?” on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme:

“Nelson was very pleased with what we [as the Elders] tried to do. The last time he went out in public to meet with The Elders in Johannesburg and he came to our hotel so we would have a photograph together. Nelson carried to his grave his total commitment to resolve issues peacefully, forgive those who hurt him personally,  and try to look at the best side of people with whom he had differences.”

Listen to the rest at 1 hour and 16 minutes:


In Celebration of Nelson Mandela Day

July 18, 2013 by

“Mandela Day calls upon us all to care, to come together, to give of ourselves to one another. How we do so is up to each of us. But make no mistake: it is acts of compassion and good will, whether small or grand, that ‘bend that long arc of the moral universe toward justice.’” —Sally Osberg, CEO, Skoll Foundation

“We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference.” —Nelson Mandela

July 18th is Mandela Day, a day to help build a better world by giving back.

Nelson Mandela devoted 67 years of his life to combating injustice and fighting for human rights. In 2009 the United Nations honored his legacy by officially making his birthday ‘Nelson Mandela International Day’. Every year on July 18, people around the world mark the day by dedicating 67 minutes of time to volunteering and helping others.

The Elders, of which Sally Osberg and Jeff Skoll are advisory council members, celebrate Mandela Day each year and encourage others to do the same. “We want to inspire the conviction that we all can make a difference,” says The Elders Deputy Chair Gro Harlem Brundtland. “We can all take steps towards a better future.”

Last year, a group of Elders celebrated Mandela Day in London by visiting two local charities providing young people with support and training. Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson also co-hosted an event with grassroots organizations, encouraging people to pledge their time to a charitable cause.

Watch the video above and see the Elders live blog at


Inclusion of “End child marriage” as indicator in High-Level Panel report on post-2015 development agenda is bold and crucial effort to address global poverty

June 4, 2013 by

We are proud to share this great news from Girls Not Brides. The press release:

Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage welcomes the report by the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda to the United Nations Secretary-General. The Panel’s recommendation that the post-2015 development agenda include a goal to “Empower Girls and Women and Achieve Gender Equality” – and that progress on this goal is measured by achieving an end to child marriage – is a bold and crucial effort to address global poverty and improve the welfare of girls and women worldwide.

“Adolescent girls were largely absent from the Millennium Development Goals,” said Mabel van Oranje, Chair of the Advisory Committee of Girls Not Brides. “The recommendation that the new development agenda include a specific goal to empower girls and women is overdue recognition that if we’re to reduce global poverty, adolescent girls must be a focal point of our efforts. Ending child marriage is an essential part of this work.”

“The report recognises that child marriage undermines so many of our development efforts – to keep girls in school, to reduce maternal mortality, to ensure children survive infancy, and to reduce poverty,” said Lakshmi Sundaram, Global Coordinator of Girls Not Brides.“Measuring rates of child marriage, allows us to track progress on the health, well-being and education of girls as well as to assess whether they’re able to enjoy their fundamental rights.” read more


Sec. Clinton Supports “Girls Not Brides”

August 10, 2012 by

Sec. Hillary Clinton recently visited Africa, and while she was there, she visited The Elders, an organization that Skoll Foundation CEO Sally Osberg is on the advisory board of. Here is the Elders’ blog about the visit, and Sec. Clinton’s support:

“An estimated one in three girls in the developing world is married before the age of 18.”

As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concluded her 11-day visit to Africa, she met Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel at their home in South Africa. After discussing The Elders’ work to tackle child marriage, Secretary Clinton affirmed her commitment to ending this harmful traditional practice.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited The Elders’ founder Nelson Mandela in his home village of Qunu yesterday.

She took the opportunity to discuss the harmful practice of child marriage with Graça Machel, member of The Elders and wife of Nelson Mandela. They spoke about The Elders’ efforts to highlight this neglected issue, and particularly the work of the Elders-initiated Girls Not Brides partnership, which brings together over 170 grassroots, national and global organisations from 32 countries working to end child marriage around the world.

At a press conference later that day, Secretary Clinton affirmed the US’ commitment to addressing child marriage:

“I want to say a brief word about an issue that doesn’t get nearly enough attention in the world, and that’s child marriage. This is an issue that the Elders have taken on. And it’s good that they have, because an estimated one in three girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18. That means they are less likely to get an education, more likely to encounter life-threatening health problems, which shortchanges and shortcuts them and sometimes their lives, and robs their communities and their countries of their skills and talents.

“The United States will intensify our diplomacy and development work to end child marriage, and it’s a personal commitment of mine as well as a great value that South Africa, the United States, and so many people around the world share.”


Sally Osberg’s Thoughts After The Elders Meeting in Oslo

May 15, 2012 by

The idea was appealing from the start:  convene a group of older but far from doddering global leaders, women and men justly renowned for their integrity and achievement, and ask them to serve as tribal elders for a world in need of their moral clarity and sensible savvy.  In 2007, Nelson Mandela took up the charge. With the help of musician Peter Gabriel and entrepreneur Richard Branson, he persuaded 10 exemplary human beings to join the founding body that has become The Elders.

Grand visions like this get the blood flowing. They stoke our belief that peace is possible and a more equitable, sustainable world within reach. But for such visions to take root, they must be grounded in strategy and nourished by action. In 2008, The Elders found the partner they needed to do just that in CEO Mabel van Oranje.

Over the past four years, Jeff and I have seen, first-hand as members of The Elders’ Advisory Council, this bold and beautiful vision brought to life.  Elders’ missions to some of the most bitterly contested places on earth—Sudan, the DPRK and South Korea, Israel and the West Bank, Zimbabwe, Cyprus and others—have shown how to navigate mine-fields; by spurring dialogue, comforting the afflicted and speaking truth to power, Elders have proven again and again that peace has a fighting chance.  But missions like these don’t just happen; thanks to Mabel and her team, they were impeccably planned and superbly executed.  And even more critical, follow-up continues.

Elders have also taken positions and made statements on climate change and injustice, but on no issue have they been more outspoken and committed than that of women’s rights.  In December, 2008, at the organization’s meeting in Paris, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter inspired his fellow Elders to challenge head-on the role of religious and traditional practice in oppressing women.

The following year, when The Elders met in Johannesburg, Mabel and her team  invited tribal chiefs,  religious leaders, women’s rights champions, and experts in the field to join them.  During a special session, deftly chaired by Elders Graca Machel and Gro Brundtland, an opportunity emerged:  to use The Elders’ convening power to  form an alliance focused on child marriage,  all too commonly sanctioned by religion, reinforced by poverty, and sustained by tradition.  Today, thanks to Mabel’s and the Elders’  steadfast leadership, the  Girls Not Brides alliance has more than 120 members from 30 countries, and is on its way to ridding the world of a devastating wrong.

Heading to the spring 2012 meeting of The Elders in Oslo, I knew the organization would be hard-pressed to get through its heavy agenda. But next steps on Sudan and South Sudan, Israel and Palestine, the Korean peninsula, women’s rights, child marriage and the budget weren’t the only things on my mind. I also knew how tough this meeting would be for Mabel.

In February, Mabel’s husband, Prince Friso van Oranje,  was caught in an avalanche; he remains hospitalized, and  the timeframe and chances for his recovery are uncertain.  How on earth would she manage the meeting? How would the Elders? The rest of us. read more


The Elders congratulate Aung San Suu Kyi ahead of her appearance in parliament in Burma/Myanmar

April 19, 2012 by

A press release from our friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu: ‘We pray that Aung San Suu Kyi and her country are now on a path to freedom’ – Desmond Tutu

The Elders congratulate Aung San Suu Kyi ahead of her first appearance in parliament in Burma/Myanmar, following her election in the 1 April by-elections. They hope her access to political office will further boost political, economic and social reform, promote reconciliation, and help address the serious human rights issues which persist throughout the country. They also hope that the minority share of parliamentary seats obtained by opposition parties in these by-elections constitute a positive first step towards a robust democratic system.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Chair of The Elders, said: “I am absolutely delighted for my sister Aung San Suu Kyi. Her election to parliament could be that moment the world never forgets as: ‘That is when Burma/Myanmar embraced democracy’. “But for this to be true, Daw Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and all other political parties need to be given the space to play a meaningful role in the parliament. If not, it will be such a disappointment for citizens across the country, and indeed for us all.” read more


The Elders condemn deadly attacks in Norway

July 27, 2011 by

The Skoll Foundation honored Archbishop Emeritus Desmond M. Tutu with The Global Treasure Award on March 31, 2011, in a ceremony during the Skoll World Forum that also introduced the 2011 winners of the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship.Today, as Chair of The Elders, Archbishop Tutu remains a leading global voice for peace, justice and reconciliation. Here is The Elders’ latest press release:

The Elders condemn deadly attacks in Norway

Tutu appeals for tolerance and respect for open society; offers deepest condolences

27 July 2011

On behalf of The Elders, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has strongly condemned last Friday’s deadly attacks in Norway. He offered his deepest sympathy and condolences to all those who lost loved ones or suffered injuries and praised the Norwegian people and government for their determination to maintain an open and pluralistic society. read more


Mandela, Carter, Robinson, and Other Elders: “We stand with those crying out for freedom”

February 7, 2011 by


We are deeply concerned by the dramatic events unfolding across North Africa and many parts of the Middle East. As Elders, we stand with all those crying out for freedom and basic rights. The universal yearning of people to be free, to have their voices heard and to participate in the decisions that affect their lives and communities cannot be extinguished.

As we learned in our conversations with young people during our visit to the region late last year, there is understandable frustration at the persistent inequality and lack of jobs and opportunity in their societies. We commend those courageous youths and ordinary citizens from all walks of life who have demonstrated to the world their desire to better their societies and enlarge the space for popular participation.

We are, therefore, extremely dismayed by the tragic loss of life that has occurred in recent days, and the repressive tactics to which some authorities have resorted in suppressing the protests. We call upon all those concerned – governments, security services, political parties and concerned citizens – to avoid the use of violence and show the utmost respect for the sanctity of human life and for the right of people to campaign for change and reform in their own societies. read more


The Elders to Visit Middle East: Second Visit in 2 Years to Promote Peace

October 14, 2010 by

Mary Robinson will lead an Elders’ delegation of Lakhdar Brahimi, Ela Bhatt and Jimmy Carter on a visit to Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories in support of “a just and secure peace for all.” Jeff Skoll joined the Elders on their first, August 2009 Middle East tour — both he and The Skoll Foundation CEO Sally Osberg sit on The Elders advisory board. read more


The Elders Urge the World to Respond to Pakistan Floods More Quickly

September 1, 2010 by

The Elders released a statement today calling on governments and individuals to respond more quickly and generously to help the millions of people whose lives and livelihoods have been shattered by the floods. The United Nations has launched a $460 million emergency appeal but only half the money has been pledged. Aid flows are improving but much more is needed. read more


Skoll World Forum Gets Underway

April 15, 2010 by

The Skoll World Forum kicked off yesterday with music from Vusi Mahlasela, words from Jeff Skoll, Lakhdar Brahimi of The Elders, Ann Cotton of Camfed, Paul Farmer of Partners in Health, and more, and some great conversations between delegates at dinners sprinkled around various Oxford Colleges.  It’s a bit of a whirlwind, hard to keep up on the blogging front. So, on the theory that a picture is worth a thousand words, I figure a video is worth even more.  The short highlights piece below gives a nice sense of how Skoll World Forum 2010 got started.  Keep up with today’s action at the Virtual Forum. read more


Skoll Foundation Supports Innovative Approaches to Global Challenges

December 15, 2009 by

PALO ALTO, Calif. – December 15, 2009 – The Skoll Foundation announced today new investments in social entrepreneurs and other innovators driving large scale change on critical issues around the globe. Peace Dividend Trust, which makes peace and humanitarian operations more effective and equitable to promote durable peace, received the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, which includes a $765,000 grant. The Foundation also invested $500,000 to support the work of The Elders, a group of eminent global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela to support peace building, address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. The Foundation also approved a $2.5 million investment in the Middle East Venture Capital Fund, which will fund information and communications technology companies originating in the Palestinian Territories. Finally, the Foundation renewed its commitment to the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University with a $3.6 million grant, with a focus on developing talent and scholarship in social entrepreneurship, as well as building the Centre’s role as a global hub for social entrepreneurship. read more


Final Day in the Middle East

September 2, 2009 by

(This is a report from Friday, August 28)

Our departure day. We began with a 7 a.m. luggage call, then hopped on the bus to go to visit an Israeli settlement and a Palestinian village that are cooperating with each other, sharing common interests over water in particular. Unfortunately, after getting to my room circa 1 a.m. after a few drinks with the UN folks, I had gone on a chocolate rampage, eating all the chocolate in my room. The alcohol and chocolate, combined with the early hour and the windy bus ride, did not go well together. By the time we arrived at Wadi Fukin, the Palestinian village, I was quite woozy and had turned green. No one noticed, though… I guess that is a sad commentary when nobody can tell that you are off!

We visited both Wadi Fukin and the Israeli settlement of Tzur Hadassah, led by EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East. EcoPeace is a wonderful Jordanian-Palestinian-Israeli organization that received the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship earlier this year, so I was delighted to see social entrepreneurs Munqeth Mehyar, Nader Khateeb and Gidon Bromberg at the site. 

These villages are about 12km southwest of Bethlehem and share a unique spring system at Wadi Fukin. While there is still a checkpoint between the village and the settlement, it was clear that Palestinians and Israelis in these areas were working together well. Residents of Wadi Fukin and Tzur Hadassah came together to protest the path of the separation wall, which would have cut off Wadi Fukin from some of its agricultural lands and cut off recharge into Wadi Fukin’s springs from the nearby aquifer. Their combined action led successfully to delay—and perhaps ultimate stoppage—in construction of the wall. It was a most optimistic meeting to close out the trip.  At one point, I remember thinking how was encouraging it was to see a local rabbi and the Palestinian village council chief speaking with one voice, with obvious mutual respect, in sharp contrast to what we had seen throughout much of our trip. 

The Elders delegation then conducted a Q&A with the Palestinian and Israeli villagers. Munqeth of EcoPeace was pleased with the session and, as a special treat, he presented me with his tie (!) which he felt would go well with my suit. I shall wear it proudly and think of Munqeth whenever I wear it!

Finally, before departure, The Elders conducted a live interview, held at UNSCO, that was streamed live over The Elders website.

The trip now over, much of the group then headed to the airport…Archbishop Tutu, Gro Bruntland, Mary Robinson and Ela Bhatt…we all arrived together.

At the airport, we ended up being held for some time in the VIP lounge, while Israeli security asked a number of questions. I was surprised to find that no one there seemed to know even Archbishop Tutu, much less the rest of the group. 

Archbishop Tutu later commented on his fears, based on the things he had witnessed in the South Africa context, that a continuation of the situation on the ground risked dehumanization of both the Palestinians and the Israelis. “I am hurting because of what Israel is doing to the Palestinians and what they are doing to themselves.” For him, it was “not just a relief, it was exhilarating” to go to Tzur Hadassah and see Israelis and Palestinians working together, person to person.

In closing, we all left the region with a better understanding of the issues confronting all sides there.

The trip achieved its aims of meeting with a cross section of society from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and highlighting both the work of organizations striving towards peace, as well as concern about humanitarian conditions in Gaza. The meetings with youth, civil society, business and political leaders reinforced the notion that we are at a crossroads for peace in the region and that the U.S. must take a firm leadership role now to compel Israel to freeze settlements and end the blockade of Gaza. In addition, it is clear that there is a role for business and the international community to play to improve conditions in the region over time.

This region is the nexus of three of the world’s great religions and all the major powers of the world have an interest here. Peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians would go a long way towards creating stability in the Holy Land, in the Middle East, and in the world.


Day Four in the Middle East

September 1, 2009 by

(This is a report from Thursday, August 27)

Another long day! I have come to realize that these Elders did not come to be world figures by lolling about and getting massages at the hotel. One of the hallmarks of a great leader, it seems, is stamina…I can only imagine how daunting the schedule of these folks while they were in office. (Parenthetically, despite the 8am – 10pm schedules with virtually no breaks, I am convinced that we were all just slowing down President Carter).

Before the trip, we had decided that travel to Gaza would be a bit too difficult to navigate, so instead we conducted some videoconferences from the World Bank headquarters in Jerusalem. I’m pleased to say that the World Bank was not too opulent, quite frugal in fact…a good sign, as I had expected marble columns and lavish offices.

Our first videoconference was with five civil society leaders in Gaza.

In the meeting we learned that the humanitarian conditions in Gaza are bad and deteriorating:

  • - Sewage is a big problem; millions of litres of raw waste are being dumped into the sea daily.
  • - The quantity and quality of water is poor or salty.
  • - Medicine is not in short supply, but it is of poor quality, mostly expired, and doctors do not have proper training.
  • - There are few or no spare parts for machines.
  • - Food is barely ample, there’s insufficient variety of food to prevent malnutrition, and children’s growth is stunted.
  • - 10 percent of the population is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • - The borders are sealed; no import or export.
  • - They badly need seeds, spare parts for machines / factories / cars / computers / hospitals

One of the civil society leaders,a middle aged human rights activist, said the blockade was “only breeding more hatred of Israel and more suicide bombers.”

On that happy note, we moved on to a videoconference with three youth in Gaza. We heard that more than half of the people in Gaza are under the age of 18. The youth all expressed their disenchantment with the situation, both with Israel and with their own leaders, who they feel do not take them into account when making decisions.

One of the conference participants was a young man who digs tunnels from Gaza to Egypt. He said that he employs 24 laborers around the clock. They dig tunnels 20m below ground, with lengths from 100m up to 1km at a cost of $100 per 100m. They use a cutting machine they call “Congo,” a compass and Google Earth (!) to determine where to connect the tunnel on the Egyptian side. The tunnels are 120cm tall and 80cm wide. The tunnel builder said he has chosen this line of work as he has “no other alternative to make a living.”

The group then went to the controversial village of Bil’in. Bil’in is a small agricultural village in the West Bank where a large Israeli settlement has arisen and the separation barrier has claimed much of the prime land. The village has organized non-violent daily or weekly protests since 2005. In 2007, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the path of the wall was illegal and ordered it moved. Two years later, no progress has been made. Our group, led by a dynamic, young human rights lawyer, Emily Schaeffer, witnessed the scene of the protests. With barbed wire and gnarled concrete, an acrid smell hung in the air from “stink” bombs and the ground was littered with casings of tear gas and sound grenades launched by the Israeli Defense Force. Archbishop Tutu and President Carter spoke out harshly against the violent reactions of the IDF to the non-violent protests. A New York reporter accompanied the group and an article about the visit was printed in the paper the next day

After the site visit, the group met with the village protest leaders, including Mohammed Al-Khatib and Abdullah Abu Rahme. This village is clearly one of the flash points of the overall conflict and it bears monitoring to see how Israel ultimately deals with the protests here.

Richard and I were not present for a meeting that the Elders had with several Hamas officials that afternoon. We understand that The Elders found the conversation unnerving, as some of the harshness and inflexibility of Hamas was exposed during that meeting.

We then went on to visit one of the Palestinian families that had been evicted from their home (since 1948!) in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The Israeli court had ruled that the property had been owned by a Jewish family prior to 1948, but was seized during the war of 1948, and now had to be given back.  Of course, this really made us wonder how the court could pass such a ruling and at the same time discount Palestinian “right of return” claims. But that would be a whole other essay.

One of the coolest parts of the trip was when our delegation sat down to review a letter to President Obama, drafted by President Carter. I looked around at Archbishop Tutu, President Carter, President Fernando Cardoso (former President of Brazil), President Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland), Prime Minister Gro Bruntland (former Prime Minister of Norway), Ela Bhatt (whose SEWA initiative has two million members), Richard Branson and Mabel van Oranje (the wonderful CEO of The Elders) and wondered how I got a seat at that table… I have to admit that was a pretty awesome moment.

The day concluded with a dinner with a number of United Nations representatives. The Elders then went to Ramallah to meet with President Abbas while Richard and I stayed behind with the UN folks for dessert… I then got the UN folks (slightly) liquored up:  one must do what one can for peace!


Day Three in the Middle East

August 31, 2009 by

(This is a report from Wednesday, August 26.)

This was a most interesting day and in many ways provided an encapsulation of the issues confronting Israelis and Palestinians. Over the course of the day, we met with Shimon Peres, crossed into Palestine via the Qalandia checkpoint, met with Palestinian refugees, had a discussion with the wife of the imprisoned Palestinian political figure, Marwan Barghouti, visited with Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad (Elders only), met with six business leaders (Richard Branson and I only), had a roundtable with Palestinian experts, and finally had dinner with approximately 40 Palestinian civil society leaders. And that was all before lunch. ;)

In fact, it was a grueling day and only gave me more respect for how The Elders could maintain the stamina to be engaged and present and physically sound throughout the trip.

In the morning, there was some press about the trip. A somewhat critical piece in the Jerusalem Post about The Elders visit with a focus on President Carter. And a somewhat fluffy, but favorable, piece on Richard and me in Ha’Aretz.

The most surreal meeting of the day was with Shimon Peres. I’ve admired him as a formidable, intelligent, articulate person. He, in fact, is the most popular politician in Israel as he technically has a ceremonial office as President. The meeting, though, left me disheartened. Archbishop Tutu pressed President Peres about the humanitarian conditions in Gaza. Both Archbishop Tutu and President Carter were there recently and Mary Robinson was there just before the war. Many of the NGOs that I knew or met that were doing work in Gaza all told a very consistent story – food barely able to sustain needs, very unreliable electricity, and dire conditions with water, sewage and health. However, when asked about the siege of Gaza, President Peres brought out a color chart that he claimed represented the conditions on the ground in Gaza for food, water, power and health care. He said that there were no shortages of food, a few minor issues with water that would soon be fixed, few problems with power and adequate healthcare. He even referred to about 400 people per month who Israel allowed out of Gaza for health reasons, a figure that struck me as a rounding error given the population of 1.5M people in Gaza.

We then drove into the West Bank via the Qalandia checkpoint, the primary access road into the Ramallah area. The checkpoint had changed quite a lot since I last saw it in 2005, with more construction of the wall, towers and infrastructure than had been there before. We met a young student from Ramallah who recently graduated from school in Jerusalem and who passed through the crossing each day, encountering as much as a two hour wait in either direction. Much like the tour of Yad Vashem, the stop was a bit of a scrum, with the photographers, security people and Secret Service jockeying for position. I don’t think the Secret Service agents were too happy with this stop, as they more or less trampled other folks (including some of the other Elders!) in their quest to stay close to President Carter.

A quick reflection – sometimes I think The Elders group is a bit like how much of the world must work. The Americans (represented by President Carter) very quick and almost impatient to act and take a leadership position, the UN (represented by Kofi Annan) more bureaucratic and evaluating all long term possibilities, the middle-tier nations like Norway, Ireland and Brazil (represented by Gro Brundtland, Mary Robinson and Fernando Cardoso) willing to do their share in a peaceable manner, and moral leaders like Archbishop Tutu trying to make sense of it all and inspire courage in those who are seeking justice.

On the other side of the checkpoint, we met with Palestinian refugees from the region, who talked about their lives. One sobering moment occurred when the leader of the Qalandia refugee camp, a 73 year old grandmother, suggested that she would become a suicide bomber if her family had been forcibly evicted from their homes as had the families in East Jerusalem recently.

On a happier note, I had the chance to meet a young man from the Jalazon refugee camp, who had been directly affected by The Gandhi Project and now was a youth leader himself.

The rest of the day was a blur of meetings with Palestinian civil society, political and business leaders. One of the highlights for me was to see how rapidly information technology is growing in the region, as it is an industry that can get around the passage of people and goods…it seems that there might be some good opportunities to invest in this area. On the bus ride from one of meeting to the other, I was asked to describe the business meetings to the Elders, but it was a bit of a tough haul as every time I would start to talk, we would hit a bump, go around a curve, or a nearby Blackberry would buzz on the microphone.

The gist of all the meetings, though, was that the occupation of the West Bank is causing a lot of pain and anger, strangling the economy, and breeding long term animosity. The region badly needs the U.S. to step in as a mediator, compel Israel to freeze the settlements and quickly get momentum back behind the peace talks.



The Elders Visit Friends of the Earth Middle East

August 31, 2009 by

On their last day of their trip in the Middle East, The Elders delegation, including Jeff Skoll, visited EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East, led by 2009 Skoll social entrepreneurs Munqeth Mehyar, Nader Khateeb and Gidon Bromberg.  From the EcoPeace/FoEME newsletter:

The Elders, a group of eminent global leaders, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others, asked to see on-the-ground peacemaking efforts and chose to learn – amongst other grass roots initiatives – about our Good Water Neighbors project.  They toured the Palestinian GWN community of Wadi Fukin and then joined a discussion on the issue of ‘Why Cooperate?’ with the neighboring Israeli community of Tzur Hadassah.

Ten residents from each side participated in the 1½ hour discussion sharing their very personal reasons of why they have chosen to work together and how they believe that their achievement is a model that can encourage other Palestinian and Israeli communities to problem solve together.

The Elders learned about the concrete successes and benefits resulting from the 2 communities working together over the years, such as stopping the Separation Barrier from being built, the cross border marketing of agricultural produce and the advancement of sanitation solutions to Wadi Fukin.

The Elders visit is nice recognition of the innovative nature of the work of EcoPeace/FoEME.


Day Two in the Middle East

August 26, 2009 by

Whew, what a day!  Things started out at about 8 a.m. and it is now 1 a.m., although, in fairness, the last couple of hours were elective, but interesting.

The day was divided into several parts: meetings with youth, interviews, civil society, ambassadors and business leaders.  The Elders (minus me and Richard, sadly) also met with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in an historic meeting.

The delegation began the morning with a meeting with seven youth leaders at the Beit Yehudit cultural center in Jerusalem.  We probably could have spent an hour with each of the seven, but, unfortunately, only had an hour to spend in total.  Our delegation leader, President  Cardoso, commenced the visit by making some remarks and answering questions from the press.  Even though English is President Cardoso’s fourth language, he deftly responded to questions about The Elders’ visit, the position on settlement freezes, and opinions of Israel and its policies.

The youth leaders ranged in age from 16 to 27 and the most animated was the youngest of the lot, a young lady named Maayan.  Despite dealing with cerebral palsy, Maayan had turned her disability on its head and dedicated her time to striving for rights for the disabled in Israel.  Clearly endowed with a dry wit, Maayan described her frustrations with members of the Israeli establishment, who in some cases “disappeared” on their election promises to her once the election was over.  She also commented that “people who don’t respect those who are different than them in their society will also not respect other nations or other peoples.”  Archbishop Tutu agreed and said that “the world would be boring if we were all the same” and regaled us with his story of spending time with Stephen Hawking at the White House the week before when both received their Presidential Medals of Freedom.  Also attending were a young settler, a former army officer/commander, a youth organizer and two Palestinians living in Israel.  One could not help but feel that these bright, engaged young people were the ones who would provide the backbone of any future agreement to bring peace to the region.

Richard and I headed over to do some business interviews while The Elders met with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former chief Rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, which holds 11 seats in the Knesset and is part of the ruling coalition of Netanyahu.  Oh, to have been a fly on the wall for that one!

Apparently, the Rabbi was a bit anxious to meet with our illustrious group as he doesn’t often take meetings of this type.  And being 89 years old, this surely was not an easy occasion for him.  But I am told that the meeting went swimmingly, with the Rabbi warmly greeting his guests and even calling the group “messengers of God.”

Our next meeting was with a group of 27 Israeli NGOs at the King David Hotel.  The various NGOs reinforced a few key points:

– the status quo in Israel is relatively good for most Israelis, but it isn’t sustainable long term.

– progress on peace has been slow in coming, and this has been dispiriting.

– it will take a third-party to force Israel and Palestine out of their current deadlock and move to a better, more viable equilibrium.

– the U.S. peace plan elicits fear and uncertainty in Israel.

– the mainstream individual in Israel does not think deeply about these issues.

After the lunch meeting, the Elders delegation adjourned into a private room with five individuals/groups who had been affected by violence in the region.

ZAKA, represented by Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, volunteers, among other things, to collect the remains of victims of terrorism.

Parents Circle, represented by Robi Damelin, consists of several hundred Israeli and Palestinian families that have lost immediate family members to violence.  Roni gave an impressive presentation and a small gift, a book of human rights cartoons.

Combatants for Peace, represented by Roni Segoli, a former soldier, policeman and secret agent, who uses non-violence as a lever for change.

– Former combat soldier Raanan Paz.:  Once out of army, he escaped to Scotland, reflecting a common practice of ex-soldiers leaving Israel after their army duty is complete.  He has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s now acting in a play in Tel Aviv about the impact of the conflict on young Israelis.

NATAL, represented by Dr Rony Berger.  Dr Rony is a clinical psychologist and quite impressive with his experience and work with those going through post-traumatic stress disorder.

We also met with a native of Sderot who had been hit three times by kassam missiles launched from Gaza…a very unlucky circumstance.

After meeting with folks who had lost loved ones to war, our next destination, Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum, was appropriate.  The Elders laid a wreath and rekindled the eternal flame.

Finally, we met with a number of Israeli business leaders over dinner.

The evening concluded with drinks with the Israeli business crowd.  One young woman had flown from New York to Israel for the meeting, then was flying to Brazil that night for a few hours, then back to Israel.

Gotta go!


Day One in the Middle East

August 24, 2009 by

The Elders delegation arrived in the region today.

I had a pleasant walk to the Old City of Jerusalem this afternoon with Richard Branson, who had not been to Israel before.  I offered to show Richard around, but any credibility I had as a tour guide was promptly diminished when I got us lost en route to the Damascus Gate.  Once inside the Old City, Richard slipped on a marble walkway in the old market (Suq Khan Ez-Zeit) and was about to tumble before he righted himself.  For a moment, I feared that I had maimed/injured/killed the intrepid Richard, something that he had managed to avoid on all of his fearless and daring explorations in the past.  Later on, Richard returned the favor by preventing a large parasol from falling on me when it got upturned by a sudden gust of wind.  A real gentleman, Richard paused to speak and take pictures with numerous well-wishers along the way.

Perhaps the most poignant conversation of the day was one that Richard and I had with two young Palestinian men in a cafe in the old market.  Articulate and passionate, these young men fervently believed that peace was unattainable and that Israel truly did not desire peace.  Further, they felt that Israel would be at war within a few years, with Gaza, Hezbollah (Lebanon) or Iran and that Israel would lose.  Admonished by us to “give peace a chance,” the men agreed that, should the Obama administration truly change course from the last several U.S. administrations, that positive change was perhaps possible.  Changing hearts and minds, one latte at a time…

This evening, The Elders delegation met internally to discuss the trip and to go over recent developments.  At this meeting were Archbishop Tutu, President Carter, Fernando Cardoso, Mary Robinson, Ela Bhatt, Gro Brundtand and Richard Branson.  Plus me.  Quite an honor to be privy to such a crowd.  I thought, what the heck am I doing here? The conversation ran the gamut from Gaza to evictions in East Jerusalem to the progress (or hindrance) of NGOs working towards peace.  A discussion ensued about how and what to say to the media, and whether to be blunt or diplomatic in those conversations.  In the end, Archbishop Tutu summed it up best by saying “We are who we are because of our integrity and track record.”  (I suspect that means that the Elders will say what is on their minds).

Finally, we had dinner with the respective Middle East representatives of the UN, World Bank and the Quartet.  We heard a lot about the hopes for renewed peace talks, the challenges of freezing Israeli settlements, improvements in the economic conditions in the West Bank and the difficulty of translating improvements on the ground to new optimism for peace.

Over dinner, President Carter told a wonderful story of Camp David and the peace agreement reached by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin.  After two weeks of fruitless negotiations, Camp David was about to adjourn with no agreement.  Prime Minister Begin, on his way out, asked President Carter to sign a picture for his granddaughters and President Carter complied by inscribing personalized, signed pictures for all of Begin’s granddaughters.  This broke a barrier between the two men – the friction that had built up from the grueling negotiations – and both men started weeping.  The Israeli Prime Minister asked to try one more round of negotiation.  Soon after, the Egyptian/Israeli peace agreement was brokered, a deal that has never been breached.

Off to bed, these Elders wear me out.


© 2014 Skoll Foundation.