On Thursday, June 22, the Cultural Attaché at the U.S Embassy Jonathan Berger hosted an end-of-year reception to recognize the achievements of the Debate for Peace (DfP) Model United Nations program supported by the Public Diplomacy office. Nearly 100 Jewish and Arab students, parents, educators and representatives from various Embassies attended the reception at the Cultural Attaché’s residence to honor and be inspired by the students and their achievements.
Cultural Attaché Jonathan Berger opened the evening by welcoming the guests and expressing his own admiration for the dedication for peace that he has witnessed from among the students in Debate for Peace. Following his remarks, Risa Levi, Cultural Program Specialist at the US Embassy moderated a panel titled “The MUN Impact from an Educational Perspective. Hassan Hassan, a teacher and MUN coordinator in the Negev and among the Bedouin sector, and Salah Fokra, a teacher and MUN coordinator at Bashaer high school, shared their experiences using Model UN to supplement learning in the classroom, and answered questions about the impact they have witnessed in their own students through participation in Debate for Peace programming.
In the second panel, Jewish and Arab students from six different cities discussed the Debate for Peace impact from the perspective of students. The panel, which was moderated by Yoni Eshpar, Political Affairs Officer at UNSCO, included Amalia Cedar Kellner, Avi Scharlat Baraa Massalha, Sharehan Alwakily, Yafa Nassar, and Yuval Zonensein. In addition to introducing the impact each has felt personally, the students answered questions from the moderator and the audience.
Dr. Yehuda Stolov, Director of the Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA), spoke in conclusion of the evening. Debate for Peace is one of the most active, and youngest, of the IEA’s dozens of interfaith groups. Following Dr. Stolov’s remarks, a number of students were called up to be recognized for outstanding participation in Debate for Peace: Omar Yaseen; Lea Sarsour; Yafa Nassar, Sharehan Alwakily, and Yuval Zonensein. Amalia Kellner was called up to receive the Best of Delegation award for the DfP delegation to the MEDIMUN conference in Cyprus.
Throughout the evening the guests enjoyed the musical performances of pianist Omri Weinstock, accompanied by singer Yonit Vareika, and a lavish reception provided by the US embassy. Distinguished guests included Ambassador Jean-Daniel Ruch (Embassy of Switzerland); Ambassador Esteban Penrod (Embassy of Costa Rica); DCM Ramunas Davidonis (Embassy of Lithuania); Jesse Shaw from the US Consular office; Dr. Rachel Tal, head of English Studies at the Amal network; Phil Saunders (European Platform for Middle East Dialogue); Steve Ganot (Israel Hayom); Karen Stiller (JCRC); Alona Timofeyeva (NYU Alumni club), and Mor Beer and Eyal Tur (IMUNA).
Debate for Peace is a youth empowerment and program that teaches leadership, conflict resolution, critical reasoning, debate, and other key skills using Model United Nations as a platform. Over the last two years, Debate for Peace has engaged nearly 1,000 Israeli and Palestinian students from about 60 different cities, towns, and schools; met with more than a dozen embassies; led Israel’s first three Jewish-Arab youth MUN delegations abroad; been hosted at the European Parliament, and helped nearly 100 students get into international youth camps in the US, Europe, and Asia. In the coming academic year Debate for Peace already has MUN conferences planned for October and November, and delegations to London (November); Kosovo (December), Cyprus (February), and Belgium.
Mr. Yoni Eshpar, Political Affairs Officer at UNSCO, told Diplomacy:
“Over the past few years, I have seen Debate for Peace evolve into a very special and impressive Model UN programme. It brings together Jewish and Arab high school students, who otherwise have limited opportunities to get to know each other, and provides them with the knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for becoming active participants in shaping the future of Israel, the region, and the world. It is inspiring to see how through learning and debating some of the toughest issues, they become more optimistic about advancing peace, and more eager to take part in that work. By empowering these youth and putting them on a path of peacebuilding based on education and dialogue, this programme truly embodies the vision of the UN”
Photos by Silvia G. Golan