This is commonplace: Two lawyers meet at a conference, establish a friendship, refer work to each other and share a meal when one is in the other’s neighborhood.
But when one lawyer is a Jewish American from Atlanta active in pro-Israel causes and the other is a Muslim Palestinian from the West Bank, well, that’s unusual, isn’t it?
At the least, their business together highlights legal practice in an area known only for strife. At the most, their recent lunch in the Palestinian city of Ramallah sounds like a recipe for peaceful co-existence.
If only it were that simple. Yet, to hear Abe Schear of Atlanta tell the story, his friendship with Rasem Kamal of Ramallah is like any other relationship he’s made in 42 years of real estate and international business practice.
“One of things that we’re all victims of,” says Schear, “is the news oftentimes is very conflict driven—personal conflict, country conflict, cultural conflict. The truth is Rasem and I have a great deal in common. We have personal things in common; we share family issues; we have similar aspirations for our careers.”
Kamal says, “Obviously we share different perspectives of the [Palestinian-Israeli] conflict and have different perceptions.”
But at their lunch last month, Kamal invited some of his colleagues in the Palestinian bar (which includes about 11,500 lawyers, he says) to meet Schear. “It was fascinating,” says Kamal, speaking on a conference call with Schear and a reporter. “We had a beautiful exchange, about everything—about law, local investment, politics” and personal matters.
Schear chimes in that Kamal’s wife, Ala, recently gave birth to their third child.
Kamal, 41, received an undergraduate degree from the University of Jordan in Amman, an MBA from Northwestern University and Tel Aviv University and an LL.M. from the University of San Francisco, where he was a Fulbright Scholar.
He started Kamal & Associates in 2007, and it has grown to nine lawyers—one of the biggest in the Palestinian bar, he estimates—offering a host of business law practices. Kamal says he hopes his firm will outlive him, a practice he says is “unheard of” in his part of the world.
Schear, 67, is a partner at 165-lawyer Arnall Golden Gregory. Along with representing retail and office landlords and tenants throughout the United States, he introduces investors to investment opportunities internationally. Among many community efforts, he co-chairs the Israeli Consulate’s Lawyers’ Committee and is active in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Jewish National Fund.
Schear also co-chairs the law firm management committee of the International Bar Association, the group that facilitated his meeting Kamal.
At a conference in Tokyo in 2014, Schear was sitting on a panel when, at the end, Kamal asked a question, starting by saying he was from Palestine. Heads turned, says Schear, because “there are not many members from that area.”
After the event, Schear introduced himself to Kamal, saying he did work in Israel. A friendship began. On subsequent business trips to Tel Aviv, Schear met Amal for dinner there, and the second time each brought his wife.
When Schear went back to Israel last month, he accepted Kamal’s invitation for lunch in Ramallah, which houses the Palestinian Authority’s government in the West Bank.
Taxis don’t cross borders, he says, so, “You have to figure out a way to access from point to point.” Kamal arranged to pick Schear up personally in Jerusalem, which is a half-hour drive from Ramallah.
Although Schear and Kamal were able to meet personally, the borders and restrictions keep lawyers busy.
Driving to and from Israel varies in difficulty “depending on the situation,” Kamal says, presumably referring to shifting political and military situations. He has legal work in Gaza, but he says it is ”almost impossible” for him to go there physically, so he has to rely on other lawyers in that territory.
Schear and Kamal are working on an intellectual property matter concerning a franchise, and Schear has introduced Kamal to some attorneys in Israel. ”They need Rasem and his firm to help facilitate business in the West Bank,” where laws and courts are different than in Israel.
“You need attorneys on both sides of the border,” he adds, to deal with property disputes and sales of property.”
“These are very complicated,” he adds.
Schear says he has been pleasantly surprised that “the people I know in the Israeli bar are incredibly willing to work with Rasem, and they know that that’s important both for the business and for the region.”