As talent professionals, we get to see the best and worst in people. And through it all, it is always our job to protect people. That’s why with the horrific events happening in the Middle East, I want to tell you about an experience I had while I was the head of HR for the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem from 2009 to 2011.
The Consulate served as the voice of the American people to the Palestinian people — meaning we were there for American interests, including economic interests in Gaza. This entailed our need to hire an economic specialist in Gaza.
It was no small task. The trick was to find someone knowledgeable about the Gazan economy without ties to Hamas, which essentially was and still is the government of Gaza. After several weeks of my staff working diligently, they found just the person.
The next step was to figure out if we could hire him and whether Israeli officials would object if we hired him. So we decided to see if we could get him out of Gaza. This would necessitate that Israeli officials would be OK with him being released under an American escort (me) through the Erez Crossing, the largest checkpoint into Israel.
Additionally, his name would have to be checked with the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Defense Forces. He would need to receive a permit that would allow him to be escorted by an American diplomat the entire time. If we could get him out, he would not be a major security risk in the eyes of the Israeli government, and he could get us the information we needed. (By the way, trying to pay him for his work was an entirely different conundrum.)
With an Israeli driver and an Israeli security guard — both had to be Israeli because a Palestinian could not go to the Erez Crossing — we set out on the hour-and-forty-five-minute drive from Jerusalem to Erez. We then waited at the elaborate, beautiful, and extremely quiet Erez Crossing building, which looked like a European airport. I watched an Israeli soap opera on TV (barely understanding what the show was about) and waited.
And waited. And waited.
Sirens went off, at which point Micha, the guard, asked me to take cover once during the wait. I thought Micha was being silly (he wasn’t), but I crouched down in a room behind an information desk anyway. It ultimately took approximately three hours for the candidate to get through protocols at the Crossing.
We then drove back to the Consulate for his in-person interview, even though he had just passed the biggest test of his candidacy. I spoke with him (thankfully, he spoke English) about life in Gaza and his family during the entire drive. He explained what it was like to get groceries, what playgrounds are like, and how living with his entire family shaped his world view.
When we eventually got to the Consulate, he was interviewed, and then we got back into the car to bring him back to Erez and Gaza.
On the way back, he asked me incredibly politely and with trepidation in his eyes if we could stop at a shopping mall. He had explained that toys were not readily accessible in Gaza, so he wanted to bring his children new toys. He explained that he would not likely be able to get back into green-line Israel anytime soon, so if we could make a quick stop, he’d be forever grateful. (His job would be located in Gaza.) Given Israel’s blockade of Gaza, it was (and remains) difficult for Gazans to access many items.
I turned to the guard and driver and asked if we could stop. Because I was an American and the hierarchy would require them to follow my directions, they agreed as long as Micha would escort him. “Of course,” I said. So we stopped. Micha and I escorted him through a store. He bought so many toys, it was a bit laughable. But he was so happy.
We then dropped him back off at Erez Crossing, he had a huge smile on his face as he walked back through the glass doors, back to his family, and back into the 141 square-mile strip of land heavily guarded with huge concrete walls and several Israeli guard posts.
I don’t know if he was ever able to leave Gaza again. Even though this was 12 years ago, things have not changed significantly, so it’s unlikely.
While I can’t remember his name, I remember his face and the love he had for his family. Because we were able to get him out of Gaza, I know he was not a security threat. That he and his family and millions of other souls in the area are in danger breaks my heart.