Much has been said, over the last twenty-seven years, about the Oslo Accords, the set of agreements – brokered in complete secrecy in Scandinavia – that were meant to pave the way to a permanent peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Countless books and articles have been written, TV specials and movies have been produced, and even a Tony Award-winning play, Oslo, was staged. Yet none of these accounts mentioned David Ben Shabat, a man whose story is, in surprising ways, completely intertwined with those accords that put the Middle East on an entirely new trajectory.
Born in 1963 into what was only half-jokingly known as a “mixed marriage,” David was – almost – the right man at the right time. Long before the term “impact investment” was ever coined, David dreamed up a revolutionary idea to collect private and public investments and provide seed funding for businesses jointly run by Arabs and Jews. Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin was on board. So was Palestinian leader Faisel Husseini. And they were not alone: François Mitterrand, Henry Kissinger, Abdullah Nimar Darwish and many other public intellectuals, diplomats, politicians and business tycoons were all enthusiastic supporters of David’s innovative “Shem Fund.”
David was on his way to become a household name, the father of the world’s first peace fund, a conflict resolution guru.
But none of that happened.
Nowadays, David and his wife Tali live in Har Amasa, at the edge of the desert and just south of the West Bank. But he isn’t bitter, nor does his story end in defeat. After all, what kind of a prophet would he be if he just gave up?
If governments didn’t believe that peace would come through grassroots business partnerships, David would turn his own life into a proof-of-concept of his now defunct multi-billion dollar dream.
Skyler Inman has been interviewing David for over a year. She has heard him talk about a joint Semitic identity, about linguistic affinities, about the distant past and the far-away future. But most of all, she has heard why this veteran visionary is still unwaveringly hopeful.
And, if you want to check out David’s various products and projects (including a dreamer’s sublime tchina, or tahini), go to the Shem Rivers website.
Joel Shupack scored and sound-designed the episode, with original music and additional music by Blue Dot Sessions. Sela Waisblum created the mix.
Thanks to Avner Goren, Yoav Orot, Esther Werdiger, Wayne Hoffman, Sheila Lambert, Erica Frederick, Jeff Feig and Joy Levitt.
Project Kesher is a non-profit organization that empowers and invests in women. They develop Jewish women leaders – and interfaith coalitions – in Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Israel, deliver Torahs to women who’ve never held one before, broadcast women’s health information on Ukrainian Public Radio, and help Russian-speaking immigrants to Israel advocate for equal rights.