By Aviv Hanuka, Sharet Netanya
This month (October 2017) a group of six participants in the “Debate for Peace” MUN network, accompanied by Steven Aiello- the “Debate for Peace” founder and a “Debate for Peace” alumna- Hala Majadley, traveled to Brussels, Belgium. The highlight of the trip was participating in a special session at the European Parliament that tackled the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with an emphasis on civilized cooperation between the two nations.
On the first day that followed the group’s landing in Brussels the group attended the European Parliament, where they have heard two different panels of speakers talk about their perspectives and personal experiences with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first panel was named “Local perspectives on the peace process – Identifying needs – based solutions.” Steven Aiello was the first panelist, and he spoke about his experience with MUN in Israel and the founding and development of “Debate for Peace”. Steven was followed by Sara Linder, the founder of the “Political is Personal” organization that emphasizes the “feminine” side of the conflict, bringing both Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian women together in order to create and spread the value of peace. After Sara, Mohammad Asideh – A Palestinian non-violent activist had the floor and spoke about the importance of civilized, non-governmental cooperation between the civilians of Israel and Palestine. The founders of the “Path of Hope and Peace”, Phil Saunders and Ziad Sabateen, had the floor after Mohammad. Phil Saunders spoke mainly about his move from the Israeli metropolis Tel-Aviv to a small town called “Tzur Hadassah”, located just inside the so called “Green Line” and about his cooperation and experience with the Palestinians. Ziad expressed his dissatisfaction with the political efforts on both sides. Yafa Nassar a “Debate for Peace” student and participant, helped translate Ziad’s speech from Arabic to English for the audience.
The second panel was titled “Beyond the Paris Peace Conference – what role for the EU in the peace process” and consisted of three panelists who gave different perspectives about the way the EU should\shouldn’t intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The first panelist who had the floor was Kai Brand-Jacobsen, the director of PATRIR. Kai spoke about the somewhat decreasing belief in the “peace process” on both sides and about how peace is better built through talks and projects than weapons. The second speaker was Nicolas Suran, the ambassador of France to the EU, who mentioned the French support to the conflict and also spoke about the importance of taking advantage of the peace opportunities that we have today because they may not be there in the future. The last panelist Dr Tony Klug – special advisor on the Middle East to Oxford Research Group, consultant to the Palestine Strategy group and Israel Strategic Forum, talked about his hope for peace and how we should not trust slogans but take actual acts, to achieve peace.
After the second panel came to an end the floor was open for questions from the audience. One of the Israeli students Aviv Hanuka got the opportunity to ask the panel a question about what future peace efforts by the EU could do to perform better than previous efforts that have failed to achieve peace between the two nations.
Right after the panel the students also got the opportunity to attend a reception with the audience, and the other panelists, which was a great chance to talk with the many interesting people who attended the conference.
Another enriching experience that the students enjoyed in this delegation occurred the next morning, when the group participated in a peace and conflict solving strategic workshop run by PATRIR’s Director of Peace Operations -Kai Brand-Jacobsen. The students discussed a lot of important questions such as: Why creating a strategy is especially important in peace building and how to create the pathways for peace.
As Claire Payne, Founder, EPMED, & PATRIR IPDTC Global Coordinator said: “It was wonderful to have the students of Debate for Peace among us for the EPMED PATRIR Conference ‘Palestinians and Israelis: Moving Towards Needs-Based Solutions’. They brought a whole new level of energy, passion, determination, and most importantly, hope. They showed the European Parliament an initiative which most in the room had never heard of, and rather than the typical negative dynamics we so often hear and experience in an event on this contentious conflict, we instead felt uplifted and reassured that the youth may be able to take us in a new direction. Rather than focusing on the past, they focused on the future. Each of them used the opportunity to the full, networking and questioning senior officials on their career paths, how they themselves could get there, and what they should study. In a politically-charged environment, with discourse stuck in tit-for-tat retributions, Debate for Peace was a breath of fresh air, and I have no doubt that they will go on to do great things for their country and the world”.
On Friday evening the Arab-Jewish delegation attended services at a liberal synagogue in Brussels. In addition to the prayers, the students got to present themselves and answer questions, and then shared a potluck dinner with the synagogue and its members and friends.
On Saturday, the last day of the delegation to Brussels the students started off with a breakfast and introduction with Avi Goldstein- the director of PATHWAYS institution for negotiation education. As Avi said later: “It was a pleasure to meet the participants from Debate for Peace during their recent visit to the European Parliament in Brussels. Composed, focused and motivated, they formed an inspiring inter-communal delegation with a timely message of the importance of joint problem-solving, two-way communication, and honest – even if sometimes difficult – discourse about tough, systematic issues. We can all learn much from these young leaders.”
The group also had the chance to visit and learn about the Atlantic Treaty Association, and the Brussels Parliament. After three intensive days of learning, presenting, and eating waffles, it was finally time to return home to Tel Aviv.