Young peace activists from across the Middle East – who until now have only
interacted virtually via a Facebook group – finally met each other face-to-face
in Berlin this past weekend, vowing to bring normalcy to the region and stand up
to all critics of peace.
Part of the Yala Young Leadership initiative,
which was set up just over a year ago by Israelis and Palestinians, the
conference brought together 18 of the most active of the 162,000 Facebook
members in the group. Participants came from Israel, the Palestinian
territories, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Iraq and
“It was our first chance to bring people from across the region
to meet each other in person,” Israeli Nimrod Ben- Zeev, who helped to found the
group online, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday.
He said that the goal was
to take the movement forward from the virtual world to a physical reality in
order to develop a serious agenda for creating peace. As well as holding
practical discussions, those present signed a petition calling on world leaders
to immediately address the continuing conflict between Israelis and
In addition to committing to finding peace together, those
attending the meeting also vowed to fight back against critics who condemn any
kind of interaction – physical or virtual – between Israelis and
“We decided to address this issue head-on,” said Ben-Zeev,
highlighting that while the pressure of the anti-normalization with Israel lobby
is fierce in the Arab world, there are also Israelis who are very critical of
“We face many obstacles to what we want to achieve here,
but anti-normalization is definitely a huge one,” observed Tunisian-born
activist Samia Hathroubi, who attended the two-day conference.
described how some of those who are active in Yala have faced difficulties and
been attacked for just talking to Israelis in the group.
“The campaign of
boycotting means holding Israeli citizens responsible for what Netanyahu and the
government is doing,” said Hathroubi, who became wellknown in her country during
the recent revolution there.
“We believe that if we really want to put an
end to the occupation then we must not stop talking to Israelis because then the
Israeli government will be able to do whatever it wants,” she
Hathroubi, who said she plans to move to Tel Aviv in the near
future to continue her work with Yala, emphasized that it is very important for
Israelis and Arabs to speak out with one voice against violence, Israeli
settlements or the occupation.
“If we do not talk to our enemies then we
will not be able to bring about peace and make change,” she said, adding, “We
are not pro- Israeli or pro-Palestinian we are pro-peace and
Both Hathroubi, who is currently living in Paris, and Ben-Zeev,
who was still in Berlin Tuesday, said that the power and impact of this first
Yala meeting was extremely important.
“There was a high level of trust
and willingness among the young people to work together to restore the region
back to normalcy,” said Ben- Zeev, adding that the movement also wants to
empower Middle East youths to work together to improve their communities and
that it plans to open an online university next year.
Even though Yala,
which was established in May 2011 by the Peres Center for Peace in Israel, and
the Ramallahbased Yala Palestine, have held two virtual conferences so far on
Facebook, Hathroubi pointed out that this was the first time young leaders from
the region have come together in such a way.
“It is really important for
us join together to break the current silence and let the leaders in our
countries know that we want change and peace.”