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Middle East:
Teens Seek to End Conflict


Lauren Gelfond

Regional and world disputes took on a new tone this week, as more than 300 Israeli and Palestinian teenagers stepped into each other's shoes for a simulated United Nations conference that began Saturday night in Kfar Shmaryahu.

Though most joint programs between Arab and Israeli schools have come to a standstill during the last three years of violence, students from 19 diverse high schools are joining forces until Tuesday to mimic the real UN commissions, debating such regional and international issues as human rights, disarmament, the environment, and territorial disputes. A mock Security Council will also debate possible resolutions on reconstruction of Iraq, terrorism, threats to global security, and expanding its membership. On Tuesday, the General Assembly will read and vote on resolutions.

Organizers assigned each school or program a different UN or Security Council member state, removed from its own interests. An international high school with a primarily Arabic-speaking student body will represent Israel.

Jewish Israeli schools will represent Arab states, including Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. Role-playing is emphasized to help students see issues from the perspectives of others.

India's Ambassador Raminder Singh Jassal and Ambassador Patrick Hennessy of Ireland helped open the ceremonies, addressing the student delegates, who also include teenagers from the Jerusalem Debate Team and Seeds of Peace, students from Israel, Bethlehem, Ramallah and east Jerusalem, and an international Bahai school from Prague.

While Arabic-speaking students from Israeli and Palestinian villages join up with Jewish Israelis and foreign nationals on all committees, a special closed committee was launched last year and is continuing this year, focusing exclusively on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Though there are hundreds of model UN programs in countries around the world, Israel is among only a handful of nations in the Middle East to host one, including Turkey and Jordan.

Israel is the only nation to hold a simulated conference that includes a committee to mediate Israeli-Palestinian issues. Called The Eighth Committee and focusing on conflict resolution, students represent their own points of view, instead of role-playing. With funding from UNESCO and guidance from the Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace, students debate issues surrounding security, roadblocks, curfews, military presence, democratic policy, and Jerusalem's sovereignty. The committee is the brainchild of the Walworth Barbour American International School in Kfar Shmaryahu, which hosts the Israel Middle East Model UN annually.

"I was always interested in politics and debate, but I learned a lot about problem solving and conflict resolution, that writing, simplifying, and presenting your point of view gives you a clearer perspective," said Jihan Abdalla, 17 of the Jerusalem School in Shuafat.

"I also learned that there is not just one Israeli point of view, that there are many, many points of view - so I can't generalize."

Between sessions, she said of the Israelis and Palestinians, "Surprisingly, there's been a lot of agreement."

In the year leading up to the conference, students learn listening, negotiating, diplomacy, and conflict resolution skills, while studying the regional and international disputes they will be debating.

Surprise crises were also introduced to almost every committee, such as an American satellite placing weapons of mass destruction that accidentally crashed in Libya, said organizer Sara Jane Shapira. "The students had to find solutions. It is bigger and better than any previous year and the students have maintained their enthusiasm since the opening session. The biggest success was probably on the Eighth Committee."

"I've been involved with the model UN for two years, but I decided to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this year because I believe - like all the people on the Eighth Committee - that this is the most important issue that affects our lives here," Tamar Lahav, 17, a student at the Hayovel School in Herzliya told The Jerusalem Post.

"We believe we can solve at least some of the problems. For now the government has a problem doing this, and as people are dying on both sides, we're sitting and talking while the government can't do that."

Lauren Gelfond is the winner in the Israeli press category of the 2003 Eliav-Sartawi Awards for Middle Eastern Journalism, founded by the Zel Lurie Journalism Fund.
Source: Jerusalem Post, February 17, 2004,

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From the Common Ground News Service
hagalil.com 18-02-2004



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