Educate for Peace; not Politics

By: David V

 

On Tuesday, February 25th, a week before the Israeli Elections to the 23rd Knesset, my high-school, Tichon Maccabim-Reut “Mor” in Modi’in hosted a meeting between The Parents Circle Families Forum and our 12th-grade students. It was met with heavy criticism from local residents and local politicians (one of two schools that were hit by heavy criticism – the other being a high-school in the coastal city of Holon).

I’ll start by talking about who, or what is the Parents-Circle Families Forum (PCFF): It is a grassroots organization of Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost immediate family members due to the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was founded by Yitzhak Frankenthal alongside other bereaved families after the death of his son, 19-year-old soldier Arik Frankenthal, who was kidnapped and killed by Hamas.

The PCFF is famous for its joint Israeli-Palestinian memorial day ceremony, which occurs annually around Israel’s memorial day, “Yom HaZikaron”. However, the PCFF has also organized “dialogue meetings” as part of its initiative, which according to them seeks: “To convey its [PCFF] message, in dialogue meetings for youth and adults, in schools, community centers and other frameworks.” According to PCFF, it has arranged almost 7,000 dialogue meetings since the program inception. Each meeting lasts 90 minutes, and includes both facilitators: a Palestinian and an Israeli – sharing their personal story and journey towards reconciliation.

Many people I’ve talked to about this situation abroad ask naively: “David, why is this controversial?”, and the truth is: I don’t even understand why.

This dialogue meeting occurs every year in my school. It has never garnered much attention from local residents and politicians before, why has it now gained the wrath of many? One theory is because of its proximity to the elections, however, I don’t think that’s solely why.

The biggest spin was articulated by my city’s Deputy Mayor, who I think It’s important to state, his position is a salaried one unlike other deputies of the mayor and members of the local council. Deputy Mayor Ilan Yair Ben-Saadon is the head of the municipal-list “Ilan For Modi’in”, a list supported by the Israeli Labor Party, and whose support has waned since its inception.

Mr Ben-Saadon is a famous/infamous figure depending on who you ask. He’s been seen as an unreliable politician for many residents following his failure to properly tackle the issue of public transportation in the municipality while holding the portfolio for it between the years of 2013-18. It is also important to mention that Mr Ben-Saadon is also on the far right of the Labor Party, putting himself closer to the Likud in all but economic policy, and in fact following the merger of the Israeli Labor Party & Meretz in the last elections, announced that he would resign his membership of the party, a statement that seems to be left in ambiguity ever since the elections.

But back to our case: Deputy Mayor Ilan wrote an infuriating public statement on Facebook concerning the situation, in which he attacked the Parents-Circle Families Forum as being no less than dangerous than another peace-NGO, “Breaking the Silence”.  Ben-Saadon paints the Bereaved Families Forum as some sort of dangerous pro-terror entryist organization, who is attempting to “brainwash” the youth, and whose dialogue-meeting is unacceptable, especially if they include a Palestinian facilitator, who inherently and automatically earns the title of “terrorists” from Mr. Ben-Saadon.

Ilan’s post on Facebook featured multiple lies regarding the event that was held in my school and fell quickly into common anti-peace rhetoric. I will list a few below:

  1. All students were forced to attend the dialogue-meeting
    1. No, only 12th-graders were required to attend, and even then, they were allowed to leave if they felt uneasy.
  2. Phones were taken from students who attended
    1. Phones were not deliberately taken; rather students were asked to turn them off as they would normally during school activities or any lecture.
  3. There was a legitimization of a terrorist act
    1. There was not. PCFF does not give legitimacy to violence in any form. Due to the nature of the dialogue-meeting we are asked to understand the journey of reconciliation for the speakers, and that may include perspectives that students aren’t used to, and which may be uncomfortable.
  4. It was a politically-connected event by the school
    1. The Parents-Circle Families Forum is not a partisan, or for-profit organization, and the event was not political, unless you consider “peace” a contested political issue. It should be noted however that the school regularly invites many speakers and organizations who represent various points of view, for example. a notable figure from this years program was Miriam Peretz, a religious-zionist leader.
  5. These meetings are a gradual and dangerous security threat to the nation
    1. Are they really? I believe these meetings are more of a way to share differing perspectives regarding key issues in our public life, and as a liberal society, we must expose students to the pluralistic environment of diverse opinions surrounding the many conflicts in our lives. I cannot fathom someone being radicalized to terror because of one of these meetings.
  6. There are 28 Christian nations, 18 Muslim nations, and 1 Jewish nation.
    1. There are 15 nations who deem Christianity as the state religion and 27 nations who deem Islam as the state religion. Israel does not have a state religion, and its “Jewishness” is not defined by a religious belonging but rather an ethnic one, which makes this all-too-obvious that Ben-Saadon thinks that “Christian” is synonymous with European, and “Muslim” with Arab; a rather discriminatory idea.

In my view, it is all too saddening to see how easily influenced by populist rhetoric my city’s politicians are. How fast they will be quick to sully the reputation of one of the best secondary schools in Israel. How eager they will be to cash in a few more points for their next political campaign. However, don’t be fooled: This isn’t an isolated case, and the aforementioned school in Holon also suffered a similar fate – painting a bad light overall on most local & regional politicians in the country.

Deputy Mayor Ben-Saadon’s recent inquisition into our municipal school-system has done nothing but burn bridges, disenfranchise peace activists and organizations, and promote an echo-chamber mentality in the educational system of the city. He takes pride in making sure our system is free and safe from “infiltration” by organizations like PCFF, Breaking the Silence, and Bt’selem, and honestly as a student, I don’t feel safe with his rhetoric and crusade around.

My school did nothing wrong, they had the full support of its Parent-Association, and yet, the flammable rhetoric of a vocal few combined with the platform of the city politicians, has done nothing but put it and it’s excellent administration under heavy scrutiny, for nothing.

The start of a new decade ought to bring us forward, not backwards, and I hope it pushes us and everyone around us forward, to learn different views and perspectives, and towards greater understanding.

Travel Tips by Maya: Oxford MUN Reflections

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By Maya Qawasmi

We had a full week of amazing meetings about different subjects with different people, in which each one of them gave us much information and values to leave with. I liked the museums that we went to and the Harry potter place. I met many people from different places, and they become my friends, especially my group members.
Finally, we had three unusual and fantastic days at the oxford conference, a wonderful opportunity and the tiny oxford bear we got is nice!

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Tips and notes
1 – when you leave the plane your bag is going to shake with you so dress well
2 – take photos for your group members while they are sleeping in the plane
3 having the higher bed choice = bumping your head on the roof
4 Take videos for the spontaneous moves that one of your group members is going to make
5 two hours in the supermarket = strawberry + spaghetti (trust me you gonna throw it)
6 chocolate is not food
7 sleep a lot on the train and run fast so you could be behind “speed”
8 Try to not get sick on Saturday especially if the one responsible for you keeps shabbat
9 Make new friendships and have fun
10 The KFC in London is the best and it’s halal
11 Don’t fall asleep when they play piano
12 Hug someone in the street wearing strange alien costome but don’t take his ads
13 Listen carefully in the meetings and discuss a lot
14 Stomach medicine, Stomach medicine, Stomach medicine
15 When you see something moving in the museum that doesn’t mean that you are crazy
16 Hit the Harry potter wall, make strange shapes in the museum and don’t care about people.

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A Good Plan – IF We Cooperate: Peace to Prosperity Analysis

Debate for Peace be featuring responses of DfP students to the recently released Peace to Prosperity plan. The following analysis written by Yaari Cohen of Kadima high school focuses on the economic portion of the plan (released first, but currently found in the second portion of the plan). The full text of the Peace to Prosperity plan can be found here.

 

Peace to Prosperity (Economic): a Critical Review Part 1

 

Written by Yaari Cohen

The peace to prosperity plan is another attempt by the United States government to establish a more safe and stable Middle East. Whether the US is ultimately motivated by a goal to further American interests, or simply to stabilize a chaotic region,or both, is moot to the point of this review. Thus I will attempt to focus on the different aspects of the plans and how these might be implemented, rather than on any political point of view.

The entire Peace to Prosperity economic plan is a massive 40-page document that entails 3 different initiatives, which include 10 programs, each of which addresses a different aspect of the issue of the economic state of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza. This will be a 3 part article, with each part focusing on a separate initiative. This is part one, taking a closer look at the first initiative.

The first initiative: Unleashing economic potential by opening the West Bank and Gaza, is a detailed 4 part plan which explains how via the opening of the West Bank and Gaza not only physically but also economically, the economy would be capable of sustainable rapid growth.

The first program of this initiative is primarily focused on the reducing of constraints on the Palestinian economy by opening the West Bank and Gaza to “Regional and global markets.” Doing this by first investing largely in transportation and infrastructure, this will largely help increase the level of competitiveness of Palestinian products while also allowing those who live inside the West Bank or Gaza to travel to neighboring countries such as Israel, Jordan, or Egypt. 

This idea, in my opinion, is a very clear winner.  

It has been shown in many cases how investment in transportation and public infrastructure can improve an economy. It helps with the process of exporting goods abroad, as well as helping with importing goods from different countries. This is without mentioning how much tourism can help an economy to thrive, and without adequate infrastructure, that is simply not possible. Up until this point, transportation in the West Bank and Gaza is extremely lacking, with only very limited harbors in Gaza, and few and non-effective ground routes.

The second program of this initiative is less focused on transportation and more on essential infrastructure, a life aspect that is severely lacking in the West Bank and Gaza. An article written by Matthew C. Ives (A senior researcher from the University of Oxford), examines this issue deeply, by assessing the growing issue with essential infrastructure systems in the West Bank and Gaza. one of the biggest issues is that the almost non-existent infrastructure development cannot match the rate of population growth.

The second program explains how billions of dollars would be invested in essential infrastructure, including water, electricity and more, with the immediate goal of within 1 year having every house connected to electricity for at least 16 hours a day. This program also claims that the different relevant authorities will receive “training and assistance to manage this infrastructure and to increase competition to keep costs low for consumers.”

While this is most definitely a worthwhile goal, the different methods and means specified in the plan are simply in my honest opinion insufficient. They do not address one of the largest issues: the rapidly growing population and its limited space.

So far we have looked at two different parts of the first initiative, now I am moving on to the third program, and likely one of the most flashy parts of this entire economic plan, promising more than a million new jobs for Palestinians, a jobs program nearly unrivaled in its size. This program’s main goal is “Promoting private sector growth”. This program focuses on investments in small to medium-size businesses, as they are “the heart of the Palestinian people”

The early-stage goals include the removal of constraints to growth in order to increase GDP (gross domestic product) and create many new jobs. With the Palestinian economy sitting currently at around $10 billion dollars with a GDP per capita of just $1924 in the West Bank and $876 in Gaza, this plan is needed without a doubt. The real question is, what are the odds of this ambitious plan working?

Well, surprisingly, with cooperation from the Palestinian authorities, the odds look quite good. While reform to core laws and regulations is needed in order for incentives to be given to small to medium-size businesses, the core principle of this program is correct. Through investment into Palestinian Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSME), more high-quality jobs for the working class will become available, a factor which is almost certain to incentivize larger international companies and organizations to invest in this area. However, it should be noted that full cooperation from the Palestinian authority is not just an option, it is very clearly a necessity in this case. With all that aside there is another restricting factor on this program, which is how reliant it is on the first and second programs, and how without them it has nearly 0 chance of succeeding.

And finally, let’s take a look at the fourth program of the first initiative:

This might be the most controversial part of the first initiative, in this section, the proposal addresses the issue of “Strengthening regional development and integration.”

What does this mean? Basically, improve commerce and implement trade with neighboring countries, such as Jordan, Egypt, and of course, Israel. This program talks about how the West Bank and Gaza’s economy should “capitalize on growth opportunities by improving access to strong, neighboring economies”, but in practice what does this mean?

Basically, it suggests different methods and ways in which the Palestinian authorities can learn from stronger neighboring countries by having an increased amount of regional investment (especially given the fact that currently, regional development in the West Bank and Gaza is minimal). This also addresses other key factors, such as cross border services, and other joint country operations. An example given in the plan is “the development of a major wastewater treatment plant.”

Additionally, this program encourages regional tourism, and mentions (correctly in my opinion) how much the Palestinian economy would benefit from cross tourism with neighboring countries such as Jordan and Egypt. This project also offers support to “private companies or public-private partnerships to develop tourism sites, transportation options, and hotel and restaurant accommodations across Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon”.

In conclusion, while there are many flaws to the first initiative, my early conclusion is that the benefits outweigh the flaws, with the glaring issues being the clear and blatant need for complete cooperation from both sides in order for this plan to follow through, especially in regards to the implementation of new infrastructure. I will give a more in-depth analysis on the cooperation needed in part two.

My First International MUN: Oxford 2019

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Hey everyone! My name is Rawan Wajeeh, I’m 15 years old- a Palestinian girl who lives in Iksal (small Arabic village in Israel). 

It all started when my teacher brought Steven to my school to explain about the Model United Nations (MUN) program. During the first meeting we debated about the democratic regime and the dictatorial regime. After this meeting Steven chose me to attend a conference at Oxford university.

I was confused, scared and happy at the same time when I knew that I was chosen, because I always thought that the students there will be very good and I`m not like them. But Steven was always behind me if I needed any help.

On 11.13.19 we arrived London, UK and then we went to a hostel. On our way to the hostel I got to know a nice Jewish girl (she was with me in the same group), her name was Amit. We talked about issues and girls stuff and she was very nice to me.  

The next day we woke up early and we had a busy day full of meetings. At first we went to meet Prof. Kimberley Trapp (a professor of public international law) and we had a conversation full of questions about her job. It was amazing, I enjoyed it a lot. Then we continued our day with other meetings and museums like the Chatham house, Europe house and Behavioural Insights Team.               

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Later we took a train to Oxford. Our first day in Oxford was amazing because in the same day we went in the morning to a mosque to the Juma’a prayer and discussion (we discussed Islamic issues with Jews) and from there we went to the conference, and in the end of the day we had a great Shabbat dinner in the Jewish Center of Oxford. I really enjoyed the dinner because I met new Jewish friends and we had conversations together (and the food was delicious), and also I got to read prayers from their bible (Torah).  

 

The conference was challenging, but it was amazing and enjoyable. I met people from different countries and made new friends. I was very glad to represent Nepal in the CSTD committee.

After finishing the conference, we continued our journey with meetings. We went to the embassy of Kosovo and the embassy of Ecuador, and I had a lot of fun with my DFP group.
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In addition, we had a very important meeting to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This meeting was great, we all shared our opinions and we respected each other despite all the differences.

I loved UK and my DFP group, it was an amazing experience. Thank you Steven for being a nice person and for creating programs like this and for giving us these chances. You are an inspiration. We all love you.

The delegation to Oxford was literally amazing! 

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Eyas: Family, Friends, and Fun in Jerusalem

Hi, I’m Eyas, I was born in Israel as a Palestinian, and I am a DFP fellow from Arraba ,north Israel.

On the 15-16th of July we had an overnight Israeli-Palestinian summit held at the Finnish house. So what can we do in a one-night program in Jerusalem?

I had to be in Jerusalem at 11 am therefore I had to wake up at 5 in the morning and travel for 3 hours to get there.

The first order of business we did was the introduction, followed by a discussion about identity, especially the “Israeli Palestinians“ (or whatever you want to call us).

“ I identify myself as a Palestinian who was born in Israel  and it is so important to point out that the term Israeli Arabs is not accurate because I don’t think that the government is representing  us in any way especially after passing the nation-state law. Calling us Israeli Arab  is a way to give up the Palestinian narrative and the fact that we are Palestinians will never change..”
Eyas Asli

After that, we shared many casual conversations over pizza and fuze-tea (it tastes good with pizza😊) sponsored by the Hartman Institute. We kept debating about our connection to the land, memorial days and religion.
For the record, our group consisted of 12 students with very diverse outlooks on the conflict.

One of the most critical elements was our dialogue sessions. We were split into 2 groups with one professional facilitator assigned to each.

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Afterward, my favorite part came; where we walked to the old city, exploring the different quarters. First we went to the Muslim Quarter, and we tried to enter Al-Aqsa mosque but we couldn’t (in that day only Muslims were allowed to enter), then we continued to the Christian Quarter, and we entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and saw where Jesus was crucified, it was so peaceful in there, and then it was the time to visit the western wall (the Jewish Quarter). It felt weird to be there but it was a great adventure. After that Steven took us to an authentic Mexican restaurant where we all got to eat some delicious tacos.

Steven is the kind of person everyone respects he doesn’t mince words; he loves every kid who ever joined the program. Steven helped us to get our heads on straight and to realize what a significant opportunity we had at Debate For Peace.

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After we got the chance to visit the holy sites. We met a unique author and Storyteller- Yossi Klein Halevi, who wrote,” Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor “and many other awe-inspiring books. He told us about his experience living in Jerusalem. It was very heartwarming to hear him talking about his story and how he feels toward the Palestinians. And after that, we had a Q & A session about his excellent book “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor ” I recommend it especially for his “neighbors.”

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Hockey was the best way to finish the day (yeah right hockey in the middle of Jerusalem)! It was an fun, and it was my first time playing hockey, and I think I killed it. And I am going to go on record and say congratulations to Finland for winning the ice hockey world championship.

At the end of every workshop session, the friendship between us grew stronger and richer.

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The next day we had hummus and knafeh for breakfast and then it was time for more complex debates and they were basically about the occupation, the Independence Day and “Jewish and Democratic- Paradox,” and after that we were flattered to meet a Palestinian teacher who shared his story with us and told us what is it like to live in a refugee camp.

Towards the end of the workshop, we had the chance to discuss different resolutions for the conflict and how to make peace, followed by a concluding circle.

I am very grateful for the Finnish center and for their hospitality and companionship, and to Yossi, Michal and the Hartman Institute for supporting us. It would not be an exaggeration to say that what we did in one overnight program would’ve been done in a week in other programs.
Thank you, Steven, I am so thankful for what you did for us, Cheers to these long lasting bonds and cheers to this prestigious DFP program.

Competing with University Students at JLMUN

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Hi, my name is Michael Backlund

I’m in the Debate For Peace fellowship program and I represented Debate For peace in JLMUN, which was an International university level MUN in Jerusalem.

For me the most meaningful and insightful part of this experience was to see the difference in level, compared to the professionalism of the high school conferences in Israel. Although they are excellent as well, but it is hard to even be compared to the university conferences.

As a high school student I was overwhelmed by the quality of the debate and the resolutions, I learned more than I ever could have from a high school conference. I’d highly recommend every advanced High school MUN participant to try to be a delegate in a university conference in order to raise the level of their skills in negotiation,debating and resolution writing.

Other than the MUN itself I had a tremendous time with our Debate for Peace delegates during the socials of the JLMUN that we weren’t allowed to enter due to them having alcohol. During that time we (the high school delegation) went to eat in a restaurant together and then to our AIRBNB near the jerusalem central station and we played all sorts of board games.

This time together helped me deepen my relationship with the people In my delegation in this trip and get to know them inside out. I see them in my free time now.

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JLMUN delegation

We started our first day off with the opening ceremony around the topic of diversity and also participated in some workshops.

On the second day the debate started and from the start we all had to put our best on the table and start strong. An opening statement proceeding to caucuses, felt like we were playing Ping Pong with the motions between the delegates.

This continued for days, raising and lowering the placard and then raising it again to rebattle the argument made by the other side of the house. During these days, I learned the power of alliances, voting blocs. I mastered the art of lobbying and persuasion. I learned to detect hidden intentions behind certain acts and to use known rules of procedures to promote personal agendas.

The last day arrived and the final push occurred and then the closing ceremony came up.

The closing ceremony kicked off with a most authentic inspiring speech made by the deputy ambassador of the UK to Israel- Mr. Tony Kay and then continued to the award ceremony. Committee after committee passed and two of my friends won shoutouts, until my committee, the GA6 arrived.

The best position paper came up, which the person representing the UK won. Then the best diplomat award came up and my heart was beating.I have quite frankly never been this nervous about an award. They started to describe the winner and then when they stated that the winner of this award is 16 years old I knew it was me and I started smiling instantly. After they said my name and I ran to the stage to receive it. Till this day this is probably one of the highlights of this year and possibly also of my life so far. This as well like a lot of more things I have been fortunate enough in participating  would have been impossible, without Debate for Peace.

Definitely the most cherished MUN memory and conference that I have participated. My utmost thank you’s to the JLMUN secretariat, IMUNA, the secretary general and once again Debate For Peace.

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Called up to receive an award

Yonit: We All Face Challenges

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Visiting UNMIK mission in Kosovo

Hello, my name is Yonit Vareika, I live in Haifa, and now I’m finishing high school.

A lot of incredible things can happen in a year, but in this blog post I’m about to describe the most important one that happened to me – all the friends I gained.

Last year, I joined Debate for Peace. Immediately upon arrival I was introduced to new and diverse people, who were from all over the country – Jews, Muslims, Christians, and those who do not affiliate themselves with any of the above.

But meeting them was just the tip of the iceberg. I had the opportunity to fly with two delegations abroad, one to England and the other to Kosovo, and this is when I had the best time to know people better.

In England, we traveled together: to London, to Oxford and then back to London, and had a chance to debate with one another on our views of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We spoke on our personal beliefs yet still joked with one another, and made connections which I hope will last even after we finish high-school.

And even though England was super fun and enriching in terms of the people, I believe that the Kosovo delegation was one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had.

The shabbat in Kosovo was something I won’t forget. Steven brought with him a game called Empathy in a Box, in which you discuss issues, concepts and ideas without judging each other.

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Empathy Box cards

It allowed for the people in the delegation to open up and speak about themselves and the world in a different way than they usually would. I feel very connected to them now, and in the perspective of Debate for Peace, it came to my realisation that everyone faces difficulties, regardless of religion.

All in all, I can’t stress enough how powerful was the experience of meeting all those different people and simply talking to them and getting to know them. I hope that now, as I leave high school, I would still be able to continue doing so in the future.