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

WhatsApp Image 2019-11-21 at 7.15.12 AM

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!

WhatsApp Image 2019-11-15 at 2.11.06 PM

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.

WhatsApp Image 2019-11-15 at 12.31.07 PM

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

rawan 3

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.               

rawan 1

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.
rawan 4

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! 

rawan 2

 

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.

eyas 1

 

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.

eyas 2.jpg

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.”

eyas 3.jpg

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.

eyas 4.jpg

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

WhatsApp Image 2019-06-23 at 12.10.43 PM

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.

WhatsApp Image 2019-06-23 at 12.10.43 PM (1)
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.

WhatsApp Image 2019-06-23 at 12.10.43 PM (2)
Called up to receive an award

Yonit: We All Face Challenges

WhatsApp Image 2019-06-11 at 5.17.10 PM
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.

WhatsApp Image 2019-06-11 at 9.39.33 PM
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.

Hanna: 2019 Debate for Peace delegation to YMUN

Debate for Peace delegation to YMUN 2019

By Hanna Zohn

hanna 1

Hey, I’m Hanna from Mexico City. I came here to live in Israel and study high school here. This post is about our delegation to the conference in Yale (YMUN 2019) last winter.

This was our first delegation to this conference, we are the first and only delegation coming from Israel and this was their 45th conference.

We were a delegation with 9 students from 8 different cities in Israel. The two students from the same city in Israel were born in two different countries from South America. I’m one of them and Mihal is the other one. We have been studying in Israel since two years ago. Mihal is our direct student ambassador for Yale MUN, and she got us the opportunity to attend this incredible conference and make our dreams come true.

We took two flights and after long hours of preparing for the conference, we arrived in the airport of New York.

hanna 4

We took the local metro (an entire adventure for all of us) and arrived at our hotel, where we stayed for a few days. Each day we visited different places that our eyes will never forget, like the memorial to 9/11, the public library of NYC, buildings of the Jewish community in NY, the United Nations, we had a talk with a Rabbi and an Imam in the embassy of Kosovo, we also had the opportunity to meet with diplomats from the Swiss Mission to the USA, we visited Times Square, we met with the Imam who founded the first Muslim school in the Bronx, we took a ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, a few of us also had the opportunity to met with our relatives… A lot of things, I can’t list them all.

After that we took a train to New Haven to the conference. We had the opportunity to met with a professor from Yale University from Germany who studies Arabic and Arabic old texts. We also met with a law fellow at the university who helps to protect human rights in Gaza. After that we had a little class on Islam with our advisor. During that day we also ate the best pizza of New Haven.

hanna 2

The day of the conference, the was snow everywhere, we were nervous and then it started. We met people from all over the world in that conference. It was a four-day conference. For me it was complex and I learned a lot. 

Mihal won the prize for the best photograph sent, and Aviv, a student from Netanya, won Outstanding delegate in an advanced committee with just 10 delegates.

After the conference we had a layover in Italy. We spent 12 hours there and had the opportunity to go the most classic places in Rome. We had dinner at a Jewish Italian restaurant in the Rome Ghetto, and we saw the biggest synagogue that I’ve ever seen.

When we arrived back in Israel we were sad because it was all over too fast. We were also exhausted, we gave our 100% and we made new friends from all over Israel and all over the world.

hanna 3

My Arab Family – Mihal Mizrahi

How Debate for Peace gave me a family when I was alone in Israel

Hey everyone! My name is Mihal Mizrahi and I’m a 16 year old Venezuelan student. Last year I made aliyah by myself in a program called Naale, which brings Jewish teenagers from all around the globe to live in Israel. The program’s name means “Noar Ole Lifnei Orim” which basically translates to “Young people make Aliyah (move to Israel) before their parents”.

So yeah! I live here by myself, don’t worry it’s not as crazy as it sounds: we live in a boarding school and we get to go out on weekends to visit friends or family.

When I got here I felt so lonely, I didn’t want to be here in the first place, even though I knew that was the best decision that my parents could have taken considering Venezuela’s current condition. Life here is pretty hard by itself, and it gets even harder when you don’t have a family, or friends or even the same language and culture.

But then I joined Debate for Peace. It all started when my english teacher proposed to me and another group of girls to join the club of “Model United Nations.” In one of the meetings we had in the club the teacher mentioned that some of us would be selected to join a meeting at the embassy of the Philippines. I still remember that day, I sat alone in the front and I was really nervous, getting there had been such a challenge since I had been learning how to use Israeli transportation (and Moovit was just making everything worse). Everyone there seemed to know each other, but then this really nice girl who sat next to me, her name was Nancy. Nancy and I started talking about a lot of things and somehow the topic of how she was a Muslim came to the surface. I was absolutely shocked, How come I didn’t notice?! I was talking with the “enemy” as if they were my best friends! How come I hadn’t learned anything from all the terrorist attacks against the Jews and everything that i got taught at school?! But Nancy didn’t seem dangerous or anything, she seemed…well… pretty normal.

Then a boy sat next to us, his name was Nico. He, Nancy and I kept speaking about random teenager stuff and Nico mentioned he was from Brazil, Brazil! I couldn’t believe it I was not the only Latino here, I remember screaming at him in Portuguese, Brazil?! I know Portuguese!, he looked at me and asked me where I was from, and I screamed: Venezuela!; Nico told me about how he was Brazilian but he lived all his life in Uruguay, and in that moment it hit me, I had to keep coming to the group, it was the closest thing I had to my home and my friends back in Venezuela, though the idea of being with the enemy didn’t seem very appetizing.

Everything escalated from there, the second meeting was a discussion about the current conflict with Palestine, it was crazy! How could we even be discussing something that was so obvious for me! This was Israel not Palestine, a country built by Jews only for Jews, built up on our stories and only our stories, How could they dare to give their opinion about their issue, Right? WRONG, ABSOLUTELY WRONG. I had lived 15 years in my ignorance, in my own bubble created by the media, by the opinion of the extremists, by what I had learned from school, and then suddenly, BOOM!! that bubble exploded, suddenly, I was not the only one whose family had been expelled from their homeland (in my case the expulsion of Castilla by the Catholic royal family of Spain), suddenly there were others who had lost everything in the Nakba. I was not the only one who had been a minority in the country that they lived in, and I was not the only one with an opinion about this topic. I listened to the stories of the Arab students, who now I called my friends,they listened to mine, and we both realized that we are more than those  stories, than those prejudices, that there is more behind our roots or our culture and even our religion, behind all that we were teenagers, human beings, with only one wish, peace.

WhatsApp Image 2019-05-01 at 9.54.18 AM.jpeg
YMUN delegation

Those kids, those Arab kids, whom I had misjudged, whom I had been afraid of, became my family (guys if you all see this I love you all), but I’d like to talk specifically about my best friend, Shada Drawshi:

Shada and I met at a delegation that was going to fly to New York City to Yale’s Model United Nations conference. At first I was being distant from everyone, I didn’t know them, yet I had to live with them for 12 days! So I decided to stay with Hanna, a girl from my school whom I had known since 3 years ago when we got to New York. We all ended up sitting together in the train and started sharing stories and many many laughs. Shada and I suddenly ended up talking about our obsession with sunglasses and we became pretty close friends, both of us really clumsy, obsessed with fashion, obsessed with people taking pictures of us, obsessed with Instagram and always happy and in a great mood.

We decided that instead of both Arab girls sharing one bed and both latinas sharing the other bed we would split, so I ended up getting the same bed as Shada, and our friendship resulted from there. We went together side by side all the days, we shopped together, we shared the same money, the same food, we taught each other our respective language. Tt was as if we were twins, we bought the same clothing, we took too many pictures (Sorry Steven for driving you crazy that whole week), we laughed, we cried together and then the trip finally came to an end, but not our friendship.

Shada and I remained in contact, we met many times after that. About two weeks ago her family invited me to spend a weekend at her house. I accepted with pleasure, I was still afraid though, I had never been into an Arab Village, not to mention stayed there for a night, but then I decided it was time for me to get out of my comfort zone, I took a train to Afula and she and her mother received me there, we talked the whole way about the Palestinian and Israeli conflict, and then we got to Iksal, everything was so weird to me, no more signs in Hebrew, everything was in Arabic.

I got down of the car and I got to her house, we talked for a little more while we waited for our phones to charge so we could go out to Nazareth for a little tour. Shada introduced me to her amazing brother and sister, and she showed me many books and pictures in Arabic. To be honest I’m embarrassed to admit how shocked I was when I saw her family was as normal as mine.

 

And then we took off. Shada took me on a tour through Nazareth, we saw the beautiful churches in there, we saw the city. My favorite part was the International Center Marie de Nazareth, It was a beautiful chapel which is normally full of people, but when we got there it was empty, there was no one there. You could breathe in the peace there, who would believe that a Jewish and a Muslim girl were visiting a Christian place together? We went up on the roof, where we could see the whole city.

Probably the most amazing part was when we went to the Al-Noor Mosque. I got to wear a hijab, and we entered the Mosque with a couple of French families. The Imam received us there with such a warm smile, he was so happy to see that Shada was from Iksal, we told him how I was Jewish and she was Arab, and about Debate for Peace, he was so happy to hear it. He told us how hard his Mosque works in creating the peace between Muslims, Jews and Christians and how close those communities are back there in Nazareth and that “Inshallah” we will have peace in a few years.

After that we went to an Arab cemetery. Shada read some of the gravestones for me (my arabic has to improve) there was one that was dedicated to a “Shahid”, a Martyr. It was impressive for me to learn that not all Shahids are Shahids because they commit a suicide attack. Shada recited a prayer and I explored the place a little bit more. It was impressive how many similarities Judaism has with Islam, we both have simple gravestones, no flowers are allowed, we don’t use coffins and the dead have to be buried as fast as possible, they also have something similar to what we called “Shiva”.

We went for some Arab food which was pretty good and we went to a few more churches in the center of Nazareth, I remember how Shada looked at me and I could see the happiness in her face. She looked at me and told me “Mihal!, Mihal! I’m loving this, please, please let’s go to a synagogue, I want to meet your culture and your religion too.” This lit up my face, my best friend, a muslim! no less, wanted to visit a synagogue! We tried looking for a synagogue close to us but we couldn’t find one sadly. After that we walked for a little more and we saw a mural speaking about the Nakba, Shada translated it for me, and then we met with one of her friends to go to a small coffee shop in the heart of Nazareth, there we tried an amazing chocolate cake arab-style and we read some more about the story of Palestine.

WhatsApp Image 2019-05-01 at 9.04.20 AM.jpeg
Visiting a mosque with Shada

Before we knew it it became dark and we had to go home, we were walking to a bus station when we saw some beautiful arab wedding dresses. Of course as the fashionistas that we are we had to try them on! We went inside the store, and Shada helped me ask in Arabic if I could try on the dress, I did, we laughed with the sales woman some more and then we went back.

In her house we told our adventures to her mother, and we facetimed with my father, turns out he knows perfect Arabic! he was able to speak for a while with Shada, then her father got home and I spoke with him about many things, such an amazing man! We spoke about Venezuela and then he said the most beautiful words someone could say in the spanish language “Mi casa es tu casa, mi familia es tu familia” “My home is your home, my family is your family” and he smiled at me, in that moment my heart felt the fullest that it had felt since I got here, I had a family! An Arab family! and I loved every single one of them.

We sat down to eat some arab pastries that were delicious, my favorite? the Knafee,while we shared our adventures of the day. I never felt so safe and so happy in such a long time. Next day I woke up to a breakfast that consisted of bread with Zaatar, a traditional meal of Pita, cheese and some sort of sauce, kind of like a pizza, chocolates and coffee. The best breakfast that I’ve ever had. Her mother then took us to the train station, I was so sad to leave, I hugged her and I hugged her mother while she whispered to me “You are welcome whenever you want at our house, please come back soon child”, then I left.

 

I couldn’t have been more thankful, because none of this could have been possible without Debate for Peace, and when I said that I was alone in Israel, I lied. I have this amazing family called “Debate for Peace”, I think the Mihal of the past would have never imagined how far I’d get just for being tolerant and respectful and open to listen to other people and cultures, and I can’t imagine how our country would be if everyone did that! Look at how that changed one person, Imagine a whole nation! Peace is the only road that we will walk by.

This organization inspired me, it inspired my family, it inspired many people, and it will keep inspiring our future generations and orient them towards peace.

To my friend Shada: I love you so much! thanks for changing my life

To Steven: Thanks for creating this amazing organization and for taking me and this whole generation on a road to peace, you are such an inspiration

-Mihal

 

Our Delegation to Oxford MUN

eliran 1Debate for Peace delegation to Oxford MUN  

By Eliran Ben Yair

Hey, my name is Eliran and I an 16 year old from Petah Tikva in Israel. This post is about our delegation to Oxford Global MUN last fall.

On November 15th we arrived in the UK after a nice flight.

We went to our hostel in the middle of the night, so all of us fell asleep during the walking. The weather was cold(very cold!) but even at night the view was amazing.

We woke up very early and we started the day with a very busy schedule: we went to the amazing US embassy building and we met the staff who work on youth engagement and CVE (countering violent extremism), then we went to meet a middle east specialist at the embassy and after that we had a beautiful tour in the embassy building.

After that we went to the Kosovo embassy and we had a great discussion with the Charge  d’Affaires (Heronia Telaku) and we ate a good lunch.

We took the train to our Airbnb in Oxford and at this moment we felt the stress… We knew that one of the biggest MUN conferences we have ever done is starting tomorrow and we will do our best in order to achieve an award!

 

We started the next day with a Juma’a prayer in the Muslim Center of Oxford and from there we went to the conference.

Students from all over the world came! From India, Canada, France and many more countries!

Me and my friends from DFP were very excited! We went to our committees and then the magic started.

The conference was very hard but eventually we all had a lot of fun.

I won’t tell about each one of the days because it was too long but all I can say is that at the end we brought a lot of pride to Debate for Peace because our group got the biggest number of awards!

W E    G O T  7 A W A R D S ! ! ! !

Everyone smiled and we were so happy!

eliran 2

After the conference we were hosted in the Jewish community. We visited the most amazing school I have ever seen in my life, “JCOSS“ school and we had some great discussions there with the students.

We toured a lot, we visited the Parliament, we went to the “Conciliation Resources” NGO, to meet the Behavioral insights team, we went back to the synagogue and then we came back home a day after.

eliran 3
Visiting the Parliament

This delegation to the UK was the best delegation I’ve ever had in my life.

I loved the UK and the people! I loved the amazing tours and the people we met!

I love the way we had a lot of cultural experiences with my friends and the most important things for me is the I am very happy that I won second place in my committee because it gave me the best excuse to go back next year!

Thank you for reading.