Uri Pomerantz is the first to admit that bringing peace to the Middle East sounds a bit audacious for a guy one month out of college. But not so much if one imagines the peace process beginning with a pickle vendor in a Palestinian village.
Pomerantz left for Israel shortly after graduating in June to set in place the pilot project for Jozoor Microfinance, a company he co-founded with two others. They aim to provide small business loans to young Palestinians whose prospects for work have virtually disappeared since the intifada began three years ago. Pomerantz hopes their program will find clients like Khalil, a 23-year-old farmer unable to get his cucumbers to market because long waits at security checkpoints result in most of his product spoiling. With a $300 loan from Jozoor, he might purchase a supply of glass jars, salt, preservatives and shipping crates to start a new business—making pickles.
Pomerantz, an Israeli-born American, developed the company with Hisham Jabi, a Palestinian student at Claremont Graduate University, and Bryan Berkett, a recent Columbia grad. Both Pomerantz and Jabi, who met through a mutual friend, have had family members killed in Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Pomerantz was nearing the end of his study-abroad term in Tel Aviv last year when his 79-year-old great aunt was shot by a Palestinian terrorist while waiting for a bus in downtown Jerusalem. Jabi’s 24-year-old cousin was standing on her balcony breastfeeding her baby in 1991 when she was shot during an Israeli incursion into Nablus.
Jozoor, “roots” in Arabic, sprouted from the founders’ conviction that usefulness promotes peacefulness. “Unemployment in Palestine is 50 percent—more in some places—and thousands of people who have skills and experience are sitting around doing nothing,” says Pomerantz. “The frustration and anger just keep building.”
The company’s business model won the top prize in Stanford’s Social E-Challenge this spring, earning $7,500 in seed money. Pomerantz hopes he and his partners can raise $50,000 to fund their pilot.
“We’re not naive—we don’t expect Israelis and Palestinians will suddenly start hugging each other. But it’s a start.”