Talking peace was only one of the activities on Thursday at a one-year
anniversary event celebrating the achievements of online peace movement YaLa
Young Leaders, which has used social media platforms over the past 12 months to
overcome some of the barriers to peace in the Middle East.
YaLa-Versary – which took place in the virtual world of Shaker, a platform on
social networking site Facebook – cartoon-like avatars of thousands of
participants from across the region spent “real” time dancing, drinking and
“We are frustrated by the political games, and we
are here to make a new reality,” Haifa resident Ranya Fadel told The Jerusalem
Post in one of the virtual chats.
Other participants echoed these words
Thursday, saying they were determined to use social media platforms to make
peace a reality from the grassroots up, and not from the top
According to event’s organizers, throughout the day more than
30,000 individuals clicked into the group’s Facebook page, which has garnered
more than 85,000 “likes” over the past year. And those who actually attended the
virtual conference came from everywhere in the region, including Egypt, Morocco,
Jordan, Algeria, Iraq and even Iran, Sudan and Syria.
Of course, many of
the participants were Israeli and Palestinian.
The atmosphere at the
event was light, with the virtual participants “buying” each other “drinks” and
dancing to light music, but the discussions were serious as people shared their
dreams for a future without violence.
Asked whether they were deterred by
regional sentiments that are critical of any normal interactions between
Israelis and Palestinians, one participant said those voices were “dangerous”
and “radical” and that it was time for the media to focus more attention on
those striving for peace.
The stated goal of the movement – founded by
the Tel Aviv-based Peres Center for Peace and YaLa Palestine in Ramallah – is to
promote dialogue and engagement in order find peace in the region.
its founding last May, YaLa has launched a variety of initiatives, the most
significant being its Young Leadership Academy.
The online academy,
conceived during a similar virtual peace conference last January, aims to
prepare future leaders from across the region. At Thursday’s YaLa-Versary, 30
people signed up for courses at the academy.
YaLa has received
endorsements from far and wide, with congratulation messages pouring in Thursday
from celebrities and dignitaries such as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
Abbas, President Shimon Peres, actress Sharon Stone, UNESCO Director-General
Irina Bokova, Facebook Vice President David Fischer and former US special Middle
East coordinator Dennis Ross.
Thursday’s event also drew some high-profile
participants, including Marcello Scalisi, director of Unimed, the largest
network of universities of the Mediterranean. Another was Shai Tsur, business
development manager at Microsoft Israel’s R&D Center, who answered questions
about the Microsoft Accelerator incubator, a project that will allow YaLa
members the opportunity to participate in testing and evaluating products from
Microsoft accelerator start-ups and to offer ideas for development.
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