As the Syrian civil war continues to push refugees into Turkey, and the ISIS assault on Iraq goes unabated, relations between Israel and Palestine remain an important issue, especially to those who will help shape the future.
On Monday, Israeli and Palestinian students gathered in Washington, D.C., for a panel to discuss their generation’s hope for peace and stability in the region. The session was put together by New Story Leadership, a program that brought five Israeli students and five Palestinian students to the nation's capital for the summer for just such a purpose.
Several members of the House of Representatives were on hand to help.
“People said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most intractable conflict in the world,” Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, told the students during the opening remarks. ”The fact that you’re here proves that doesn’t have to be the case . . . How do we take what you are doing, and how do we broaden that out? How do we take that to the rest of the people, the rest of the countries, and the rest of the world? Keep at it, you are going to be the shining light you are going to show the way.”
Four of the students presented their stories to the audience.
Chen Bareket, a political science and sociology student from Hebrew University, shared his experience as an Israeli soldier called up for service during the conflicts that erupted in 2014 after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers.
“Wars are an ugly thing. They take you from wherever you are at, and shift you into a kingdom of unknown,” said Bareket. “Families are torn apart, people are lost forever, and realities change. It sticks with you as you go back to your daily life, bothering your thoughts . . . Is there another Palestinian on the other side that feels the same as I do? Did he also leave his loved ones because of the war?”
Muhanad Alkharaz, a civil engineer from Nablus, Palestine, said his determination derived more from witnessing poverty growing up in Palestine, rather than war. He shared a story of when his family once ran out of water.
“I remember one time my family invited friends over for dinner,” he said “And after the friends had left I went to the kitchen to help my mom wash dishes. There was no water. It was her fault that she invited her friends on the wrong day. You know what happened? Three days without water.”
Although the program featured an even representation of both Israelis and Palestinians, it wasn't necessarily representative of the two groups' standing in Washington, according to Palestinian Ehab Iwidat.
“How can our story be here, if no one is here in Congress to tell it?” said Iwidat. “We have to organize and not just complain to others. We have to build Palestine. We have to build Palestine pride. We have to stop telling the Israeli story, and decide it is time to tell our story.”
As many of the speakers discussed the relationship between war and poverty, Aviv Ayash from the University of Tel Aviv shared his hope for recognition of both Israeli and Palestinian dreams.
“I deeply believe that by coming to Washington, D.C., with the [New Story Leaders] team, and talking with you, we will be finally able to finish that dream of two states living side by side,” said Ayash. “When the summer ends we will be able to tell ourselves that we have heard the stories, [and] asked the questions.”
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