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Hands of Peace — a nonprofit that empowers young Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans — announced this month that a former U.S. diplomat will lead as the organization’s new executive director.

Scott Rasmussen, who served with the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, took on the new role on International Peace Day — two years after he became motivated to support Hands of Peace following a peace project.

Rasmussen said he worked with Hands of Peace and EcoPeace on an environmental project in 2018.

“This project was particularly exciting because it serves as a model for what many in the peace-building field are working on — finding areas of cooperation where Palestinians and Israelis need to work together,” he said. “Water and environmental issues don’t recognize boundaries or conflict and the challenges associated with these issues present opportunities for relationship building and cooperation between the two sides.”

Utilizing his experience in working in Jerusalem, Rasmussen said he hopes to help create a future for the nonprofit.

“Working on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for those two years became a vehicle for transformational personal growth,” he said. “I learned to question my assumptions and to listen to and learn from another’s experience without being threatened by it.”

Rasmussen said, with the help of all stakeholders, he’ll build a vision for the nonprofit.

“I am thrilled to be joining Hands of Peace in the middle of its reimagining,” he said. “Not many organizations are willing to take a step back and ask the hard questions about ‘why?’ and ‘how’ they implement their missions. Everyone at Hands from the Board to the volunteers are offering their input for a future vision for what the organization will do. My job is to join this process, learn from it, and work with our team to communicate what the Reimagined Hands of Peace will look like and how everyone can continue to be involved and engaged.”

But, in order for Hands of Peace to reach its mission, more people will need to get involved to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The conflict isn’t made up of two large masses known as Israelis and Palestinians,” Rasmussen said. “It is made up of millions of individuals, each with their own stake in the issues and their own vision for a peaceful future. I had more than one Israeli friend tell me that their world changed when they realized that not all Palestinians were terrorists and more than one Palestinian friend tell me about the same change when they learned that Israel isn’t one big army camp. It made me stop and think about how often I speak in broad strokes.”

“Our mission is to enable and empower young Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans to become agents of change in their communities. Yes, that will contribute to creating a more peaceful reality in the Middle East, but it will also contribute to creating a more peaceful reality in San Diego and Chicago where we draw many American participants from.”