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
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."