The Olive Tree Scholarship Programme for Israeli and Palestinian undergraduates at City, University of London, ran from 2004 to 2016. It was a unique initiative that enabled five successive cohorts of talented young Palestinians and Israelis to gain undergraduate degrees in a variety of disciplines, including Psychology, Engineering, International Politics, Law, Business, Sociology and Journalism. The Programme also enabled the students to better understand the drivers of the conflict that has shaped their lives and prospects in the Middle East, through cross-conflict dialogue, the study of their respective national narratives and narrative mediation.
The Programme’s activities included weekly meetings during term time, residential retreats, and field trips to Northern Ireland to learn from ex-combatants and activists involved in conflict mediation there. The Olive Tree scholars also attended public debates around London and discussions with visiting experts. Throughout they were encouraged to develop their leadership, decision-making and presentational skills.
Of the 58 Palestinians and Israelis who passed through the Programme, the majority achieved high marks in their degrees. Several have won further scholarships to undertake postgraduate study, including some at City, while others have attained graduate placements in business and finance, and yet others have become skilled professionals and prominent figures in their communities. A number of them have become successful journalists with media organisations broadcasting in Arabic, Hebrew and English.
Funding for the programme, which was needed to cover the international student fees and accommodation costs of all the students, was provided by the university and a wide range of supporters including individual donors, corporations, trusts and foundations committed to the ethos and goals of the endeavour. It was thanks to generous donations from the founding patrons Sheikh Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber, MBI Al Jaber Foundation and Mr Derek Tullet, that the programme was able to launch in the first place..
Sadly, however, by 2014 it was clear that the level of funding required to underwrite the considerable costs of the Programme could not be sustained, not least because of rising costs and increased calls on philanthropic giving. Consequently, in summer 2016, when the last cohort of students graduated, the Programme was wound up.
Former Director of the Olive Tree, Professor Rosemary Hollis, and her co-facilitator in recent years, the playwright and poet Damian Gorman have spoken at various gatherings and events to recount the lessons learned through this extraordinary and inspirational initiative. Rosemary recently published her account of the key lessons learned in a book entitled Surviving the Story: The Narrative Trap in Israel and Palestine (Red Hawk Books: 2019).
The Olive Tree Middle East Forum
The Olive Tree Middle East Forum ran in parallel with the scholarship programme over many years. It was designed to satisfy the appetite of many City students, in addition to the Olive Tree scholars, and others from around London, to learn about and discuss topical issues relating to the Middle East in a manner that reaches behind the media headlines and grapples with the complex philosophical and ethical issues involved.
Among the speakers who participated in the Forum over time were: Roger Cohen (The International Herald Tribune), Jeremy Bowen (BBC), Jon Snow (Channel 4), Afif Safiah (Palestinian diplomat), Aharon Bregman (King's College London), Dr Maha Azzam (then Chatham House), Lord Mark Malloch-Brown (FTI Consulting and former UN Deputy Secretary General) and Mina Toksoz (Standard Bank).