Estephan Salameh can best be described as the unknown soldier of the Palestinian Authority. Since 2007, he has worked with three Palestinian prime ministers, drafted key strategies for the Palestinian government, most notably the National Policy Agenda 2017–2022, “Putting Citizens First,” been responsible for implementing key structural reforms in Palestinian public institutions, and is behind channeling hundreds of millions of dollars to benefit the Palestinian people through development agreements with international donors. When asked about what keeps him motivated working for the Palestinian government, Estephan replied: “Though the PA is sometimes seen in a negative light, the Palestinian government has good and decent people who strive to do the right thing every single day. Working with individuals who want to serve our country and our people despite the hardship of the occupation has been both an honor and a source of my motivation.” In a fast-changing world and as head of the EU-Palestine Joint Committee, Estephan believes that the EU has the power to change the dark reality in Palestine, not only by contributing financial resources but by protecting Palestinian legitimate rights for freedom and independence.
For many years, as the head of aid management and coordination for the Palestinian Authority, Estephan and his team met regularly with over 50 donor countries and agencies, particularly EU development partners, with the aim of negotiating development agreements that meet the needs and interests of the Palestinian people. “Over the years, I have met with hundreds, maybe thousands of public officials, including UN officials, who come to serve in Palestine and leave at the speed of light. This is one of the most charged and politically complex posts. However, I have found that the majority of them genuinely feel the pain of the Palestinian people and are working hard to bring peace and justice to Palestine. My hope is that when they go on to higher postings, they will use their experience and influence to continue to bring justice and dignity to our people.”
Immediately after finishing his PhD in 2006 at the University of Illinois in Chicago, Estephan returned to Palestine with his wife Laurie. They returned with a dream to open public libraries in Palestinian villages and refugee camps. They founded Seraj Library Project, and so far, as volunteers, Estephan and Laurie, along with the help of many friends in Palestine and the United States, have established 10 libraries that serve over 70,000 people who otherwise would have no access to education outside school hours.
In 1975, Estephan was born to a refugee family in Jerusalem. Like all Palestinian children, he grew up hearing his family’s narrative. And sadly, also like many Palestinian families, Estephan’s family was forced from their seaside home in Jaffa in 1948. After losing everything, his family rebuilt themselves with two principles in mind: to educate their children and to serve the public good. Estephan embodies these principles in both his personal and professional life.
“I’m hopeful for the future of Palestine because I believe in the power and capacity of the new generation. I see it in my three children – Luca, Sabrina, and Elena – and in the faces of all Palestinian children, who are bright and capable but lack fair opportunities, free from the restrictions and the hardship of the occupation. We have a national and moral responsibility to support the young generation to reach their potential and bring freedom, independence, and prosperity to our people.”