Youth building peace?

In Israel, International Youth Day is a time to appreciate Israeli youth who play an important role in ensuring the peace of our country.

IDF soldiers in training  (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
IDF soldiers in training
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
August 12 marked International Youth Day as decided by the United Nations. The theme chosen for this year’s Youth Day is “Youth Building Peace.” The choice of theme reflects, according to the UN, “the growing recognition that agents of change, young people, are critical actors in conflict prevention and sustaining peace.
International Youth Day 2017 is dedicated to recognizing young people’s contributions to the building of peace.”
Is this the case? Are youth playing a significant role in advancing peace? When one looks around at the many conflicts all over the world, it is difficult to reach this conclusion. In fact, what we see is that youth are among the first victims of conflict. This is true in Syria, where thousands of youngsters have been killed and others became refugees.
This is the case also in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa and Latin America.
Among the tens of thousands of youth victims in the past years, one cannot forget those captured and brutally murdered by two terrorist organizations: Islamic State and Boko Haram.
In Israel, International Youth Day is a time to appreciate Israeli youth who play an important role in ensuring the peace of our country. They perform this role as soldiers in the IDF, having been raised and educated in the spirit of peace and co-existence. Contrary to their neighbors in non-democratic states, Israeli youth can have an impact on peace and war since they are eligible to vote at age 18. For young Israelis to continue to want peace is not such an easy task; Israeli youth live in an extremely violent atmosphere that includes daily threats against the very existence of their state, daily terrorist attacks by Palestinians, and constant waves of hatred against Jews.
In spite of this hostile environment, many Israeli youth continue to believe in peace and are active in looking for ways to create dialogue with their young Arab neighbors. This is not easy since Egypt and Jordan prevent normalization of the relations with Israel.
There are no real contacts between the people, only between the governments, and even those are delicate.
The situation is even worse with the Palestinians. Many attempts have been made by Israelis and third parties to bring together young Israeli and young Palestinians, either in the region or abroad, to plant the seeds for future peace and reconciliation. These meetings, while important for those who participate in them, have not made a difference. Very few Palestinians were, or are, involved in such encounters and the majority of Palestinian youth reject Israel and its very existence. The “knives intifada” and Second Intifada show that Palestinian youth are at the forefront of the jihad against the Jewish state.
Generations of Palestinian youth are educated to hate Jews and deny them the right to live in their land.
This upcoming International Youth Day is an occasion to renew Israeli youth’s faith in peace, in spite of the above. It is also an occasion to appeal to Palestinian youth with a clear message: “No more war, no more bloodshed.”
We, the youth, are the future and we must be engaged now and talk if we want peace for the next generations.
The author is the head of Israel’s Young Ambassadors School.