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From October 19-21, Debate for Peace led a special Arab-Jewish student delegation from Israel to the European Parliament. The trip was centered around a conference organized by the European Platform for Middle East Dialogue (EPMED) and the Peace Action, Training and Research Institute of Romania (PATRIR). In addition to the European Parliament, the delegation visited the Atlantic Treaty Association, the Brussels Parliament, and the European Institute of Peace, and met with local students and Jewish community groups.

 

 

At the European Parliament, a video featuring Debate for Peace students debating and negotiating was shown. Debate for Peace founder Steven Aiello then spoke opened a panel titled "Local perspectives on the peace process: Identifying needs–based solutions." Steven’s remarks outlined how Debate for Peace was founded and has grown, and highlighted the need to create a model for youth to engage in civil debate, and the importance of empowering the Arab community in Israel. Steven’s fellow panelists included other Israeli and Palestinian activists: Sara Linder ("Political is Personal"), Mohammad Asideh (“One Voice”), Phil Saunders and Ziad Sabateen (“Path of Hope and Peace”), and Sheik Abdallah Tamimi.

A second panel: "Beyond the Paris Peace Conference – what role for the EU in the peace process" included Kai Brand-Jacobse (Director of the Department of Peace Operations at PATRIR), H.E. Mr. Nicolas Suran, Ambassador of France to the EU, and Dr. Tony Klug (special advisor on the Middle East to Oxford Research Group, consultant to the Palestine Strategy group and Israel Strategic Forum).

Following the two panels, the students in the delegation attended a reception, where they got to meet with the members of the audience and share their personal insights and experiences. The delegation included Hala Majadley (graduate of Al-Qasemi High School, from Baqa); Zohar Yaron (Wizo Hadasim, Even Yehuda), Aviv Hanuka (Sharet Netanya, Netanya); Omri Weinstock (Brenner High School, Petah Tiqva); Omar Yaseen (Nahda Ateed, Kufr Qara) Marsel Bader (Al Qasemi, Kufr Qasem); Yafa Nassar (Bashaer, Arraba).

The trip was also a learning experience. Before visiting the European Parliament the delegation met with Jason Wiseman, Secretary General of the Atlantic Treaty Association (ATA) to learn about the ATA and NATO. The next morning the group participated in a six hour peace and conflict solving strategic workshop at the European Institute of Peace and run by Kai Brand-Jacobsen. During the workshop the students grappled with important questions like why creating a strategy is especially important in peace building and how to create pathways for peace.

Later that day the delegation met with Brussels Parliament member Simone Susskind, and Belgian high school students who participate in a special program to learn about Israel/Palestine. The two groups of students exchanged thoughts, ideas, and experiences, and one Belgian student, Ali, later acted as the local guide, taking the Debate for Peace delegation around.

On Friday evening the delegation attended services at a liberal synagogue in Brussels, Beth Hillel. In addition to the prayers, the students got to present themselves and answer questions, and then shared a potluck dinner with members of the Jewish community, and some interfaith activists and friends who had been invited in honor of the occasion. On Saturday the group met with Avi Goldstein, the Director of the Pathways Institute for Negotiation Education, and Adam Amir from the Moishie House, in addition to visiting the Jewish Museum.

 

 

After returning to Israel, Debate for Peace met with Minister-Counsellor Pascal Buffin at the Embassy of Belgium in Tel Aviv to discuss ways that Belgium can provide a helpful model for reconciliation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Throughout the trip, the delegation made a great impression and provided people with optimism about future leadership in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. Avi Goldstein from Pathways said "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."  

Claire Payne, 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”.

Photos Credit : Marsel Bader / Debate for Peace

Aviv Hanuka is a member of Debate for Peace / Sharet Netanya