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07 August 2019
Voices of Middle Eastern Youth and the Call to Action
By Sadia Saba and Alexis Wright, UNA-NCA Program Assistants

       On July 24, 2019, UNA-NCA in partnership with New Story Leadership (NSL) and the Stimson Center presented a moderated discussion that brought the diverse perspectives of Israeli and Palestinian youth who have first-hand experiences with the UN’s work on the ground. The audience was joined by eight delegates, half from Israel and the other half from Palestine, from the New Story Leadership program. These individuals spoke about their experiences of living within a historically unbalanced region that is filled with religious and ethnic conflict, but yet these problems have not stopped them from maintaining such success within their native lands and abroad. Outside of being members of the New Story Leadership program, the delegates were all spending their summers on Capitol Hill working for various US Representatives as well as leading their own “Projects for Change” in order to work towards internal peace building between Israel and Palestine.

       Gilad Sevitt, a social entrepreneur from Jerusalem and Hiba Yazebek, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who is an aspiring-journalist, opened the event by delivering keynote speeches about their upbringing within the region. They told personal stories of maneuvering life in Israel and there were clear differences in the journeys from the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. Some of these differences included the exposure to gender based violence, public health concerns and inadequate access to education. However, a thread that weaved both stories together was the necessity of communication. 

       There are 1.8 million Arab Palestinians living in Israel, which consists of 20 percent of Israel’s population, yet many Jewish Israelis only speak Hebrew. As Gilad noted, miscommunication between the two groups are leading causes of fear and hatred. Deepening these divides, Palestinians and Israelis rarely have interactions with one another. One of the Israeli NSL delegates noted that she met a Palestinian for the first time when she was 24 years old in the United States. Moreover, a Palestinian delegate stated that the only times she had interactions with Israelis were at checkpoints, where Israelis were uniformed and militarized. 

       This led to a theme and the biggest takeaway for the rest of the night: the importance of communication in areas of conflict like this one. UNA-NCA’s Executive Director Paula Boland and Dr. Richard Ponzio, Senior Fellow of the Stimson Center led a discussion that emphasized this, along with the imperative of global leadership through institutions like the UN and storytelling to share perspectives. Gilad founded an organization called Madrasa, which teaches Jewish Israelis Arabic for free. Hiba spoke about her Model UN experience at a Hebrew university, and how the experience allowed her to find her voice and articulate arguments for complex issues. Since all of the delegates are interning on the Hill this year, they noticed that there are many perspectives missing in the chief legislative body, such as the personal anecdotes from people living in the region. Advocacy and legislation needs to be led by these stories. One of the Israeli delegates said that you don’t have to be “pro- any side”, you have to be “pro-conversation”. Stories can be spread across networks to maximize impact, which helps foster mutual understanding across the world. Global citizens need to build empathetic connections with those facing these injustices. The speakers emphasized the importance of international cooperation in this conflict and how the United Nations is the best equipped vehicle to do so. But on a deeper and personal level we must educate ourselves on the narratives of our neighbors in order to develop a true understanding for change.