To Qatar and back

Students who flew to Qatar for a three-day Model UN conference were pleasantly surprised at how warm their welcome was.

qatar students 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
qatar students 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Late last month, 12 students, six from the Walworth Barbour American International School and six from other schools around the country, flew to Qatar, which has no formal diplomatic relations with Israel, for a three-day Model UN conference with local schools from Doha as well as international ones. The Post caught up with some members of the delegation as they participated in the more recent IMUN and TIMEMUN. Perhaps unsurprisingly for young men and women who devote their spare time to playing the roles of international diplomats, they exhibited no apprehension at talking to the press and evinced a poise and clarity far beyond their years. The predominant feeling was great satisfaction with the trip. For all of them, it was both an opportunity to meet people they would not meet here and an opportunity to represent the country and explain its actions. They were all pleasantly surprised at how warm their welcome was. "We prepared as if we were going out to war. We expected questions like, 'Why did you kill my uncle?' Instead, they were very polite. We started by talking about our schools and then moved to politics. People had opinions and definitely wanted to express them, but there was only one group who, after finding out we were from Israel, turned around and walked away," Yarden Stern said. Stern is a senior at Leyad Ha'universita High school in Jerusalem, and is majoring in theater. He has been involved in MUN since the 10th grade and is a veteran of five conferences. He was undersecretary general at IMUN and one of the chairs of the Trade and Development Commission at TIMEMUN. "I sat next to an Egyptian guy and we discovered that we had a lot in common. We talked about TV, cellphones, things that teenagers talk about," he said with a self-deprecating smile. "At the beginning, the Egyptian guy was not familiar with Israel at all. By the end, he wanted to know how hard it was to learn Hebrew and he wanted to come to the conference here next year." When not articulating their country's positions, the delegates were taken around Doha, to the mall and to a traditional market, Stern said. "There was someone from Bahrain, someone from Israel and someone from Europe - the three of them just hit it off and hung out together all the time," he recalled. Daniele De Bernardin, a senior at WBAIS and president of the GA at TIMEMUN, was also part of the delegation. The son of the Italian ambassador to Israel, he won honorable mention at the Qatar event. "This was my second time going to Qatar. It was a really nice experience to go and debate, and meet people and to feel like a real diplomat," he said by phone. He said there was a marked difference between how the Israeli delegation was treated this year as opposed to last. "Last year, people would walk away after hearing we were from Israel. Now, people wanted to dialogue, they used the opportunity to talk to us. People took pictures of us just because we were from Israel," he said with a slightly mystified note in his voice. He thought the difference in attitude derived from the surprise that each side felt upon discovering that they were not so different. "They were expecting something and it didn't happen," he said. WBAIS's Sara Jane Shapira, the history teacher who organized the delegation, also noticed a change from previous years. "The first and second years, I was shocked. I think there were maps there without Israel on them," she said. "This year, the third year, there was a big difference. We were treated very very well. Kids from all over the Middle East were there. Even Lebanon spoke to us even though they weren't supposed to. There was a lot of mixing." Shapira was also quite proud of her squad, which took home five of the 30 or so awards given out at Doha.