There is a cave on a farm in the hills just outside of Bethlehem that is among the most transformational locations for me in the world. It’s a cave that has been hand dug by a family of Palestinian Christians because they were denied permission and permits by the Israeli government to build structures on their land. The cave is illuminated by lights that are connected to a solar system that was necessary because the family was disallowed to pull from the energy sources that light up the surrounding Israeli settlements. The cave, a space of hospitality, always features freshwater drawn from cisterns because water tanks above ground were banned for this family by the Israeli government.
Whenever I’m inside that cave, I meet with a mentor whose name is Daoud. After we catch up on one another’s lives, he tells me the stories of what has occurred on his land since we met last. He shares of the olive trees that were pulled up by their roots and burnt by neighbors. He tells of the military vehicles that plowed through his fences and threatened his family. He speaks of the new boulders that have been placed on the road in front of his farm, making it impossible to drive to his home.
But he doesn’t dwell there. Before I know it, he’s pointing to the settlement across the valley and is speaking of a burgeoning friendship with an Israeli settler. Soon, he hopes to host his neighbor in this very cave for tea. Then he points at the newly planted olive grove that will take years to become fruitful and celebrates the community from Sweden who purchased and planted the trees to replace those that were destroyed. Following the valley, he points to the Palestinian village and speaks of the mentoring project his wife is working on that is focused on job creation and economic development. He then shares of the many children from that same village who were just up at the farm for a five-day day camp that focused on creative non-violence.
I marvel at the ability of this man to practice his faith so courageously and to lead so humbly. Coming from the place of privilege that I do, I could not imagine responding to the violence and injustice that he faces on a daily basis with such generosity and deep commitment to practice non-violence. This man, this leader, this peacemaker is made of a different substance.
The first time I asked him to reflect on his approach to leadership, he put his hand on his heart and responded: “If I have no peace here, I have no peace to give.”
In The Undefended Leader, Simon Walker reflects on how true leaders are formed rather than appointed. He speaks of the environments that are created that test our character and invite us to wrestle with our inner selves. He points to the circumstances that are beyond our control that cause our inner demons of power and control to the surface and identifies those moments as the most formational for leaders.
My friend Daoud is a dragon-slayer. He has fought his inner demons. As a result, while he is physically occupied and oppressed, he lives as one who is free. He is free from the need to conquer, dominate, and acquire. He is liberated to farm his land, fight injustice, and love his Israeli and Palestinian neighbors.
 Simon Walker, The Undefended Leader, 13.