Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayer rights in Jerusalem; the 1947 Partition Plan; incitement in social media, and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. While each of these topics can be politically divisive for even seasoned diplomats, on Wednesday January 18th some of Israel’s youngest future diplomats tackled these issues and more with poise and grace at QASMUN. QASMUN is the latest Debate for Peace (DfP) Model UN Conference, and was the first conference to be hosted by the prestigious Al-Qasemi High School and the first of its kind to be held in Baqa al-Gharabiya.
Over 150 Arab and Jewish 8th-12th grade students from more than a dozen schools and cities around Israel participated in the conference. There were six committees, discussing Education; Holy Sites and Religious Freedom; Incitement vs. Freedom of Speech; and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Two historical committees went back to 1947 and 1973, to look at an alternative Partition Plan and deal with the 1973 Yom Kippur War respectively.
The students made opening speeches, debated and negotiated on their way to passing resolutions on their different topics (aside from the Security Council negotiations committee, which ran into a veto from the US delegate). The conference afforded an opportunity for young Arab and Jewish leaders to debate some of the most critical issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to build bridges and make new friends in the process.
Mr. JonChessoni, Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of Kenya, joined the students during the conference. In addition to listening to each of the sessions, Mr. Chessoni met with each of the students who were representing Kenya in the different committees.
At the end of the evening the delegates enjoyed a gala dinner at the College of Engineering, before attending the closing ceremony. At the ceremony, Mr. Morsi Abu Mokh greeted all of the guests on behalf of the Baqa al-Gharabiya municipality. Dr. Dalia Fadila, principal of Al-Qassemi High School and dean of the Engineering College, thanked everyone for coming and promised that this was only the first of what will be an annual conference. Students heard from Dr. Yehuda Stolov of the Interfaith Encounters Association (IEA) and Dr. Omer Salem, visiting from Cairo, who spoke about religion as a force for peace and reconciliation. Reham Abu Asba, the Al-Qassemi staff member who oversaw the conference preparation, spoke about her pride and hope in the important steps that had been taken during the conference by students learning to represent different viewpoints. A statement was also read on behalf of Mr. Yoni Eshpar, political adviser to the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO).
The keynote speaker was Mr. Drew Peterson, Vice Consul and Assistant to the U.S. Ambassador in Israel. Mr. Peterson recalled his own MUN and career experiences, and talked about the life and diplomatic skills that students can acquire through MUN.
Following the speeches were the awards—top delegates from each committee receiving certificates for their performances: Lebanon (Jamal Majadly) and Turkey (Muhammad Samara) in UNESCO; Egypt (Zuhra Issa) and Israel (Shimi Katavi) in ECOSOC; Italy (Naseem Zahalka) and Spain (Hila Krakowski) in the HRC; Belgium (Omri Harpaz) and Greece (Tasneem Abu Hussien) in the UNGA 1947; the US (Omar Masalha) and France (Rula Abo Mokh) in the Security Council and the USSR (Omri Weinstock) and Israel (Adan Masri) in the UNSC Crisis committee.
Jack Karn announced the students who had been chosen for Jerusalem Peacebuilders (JPB) programs in the US this summer on the basis of their participation: Amit Lipperman; Muhammad Samara; Omri Weinstock; Naseem Zahalka; Omer Sharir; Marsel Badir; Amit Ner Gaon and Ben Chelsky.
Sana Zahalka, the QASMUN Secretary-General, explained that “our goal was to bring together students from all over the country and teach them how to present a perspective while having respect and understanding of others.” Hala Majadley, the Under-Secretary-General reiterated that “it was a very successful, fruitful, fun first QASMUN conference, and now we’ll just have to wait for the next one!”Omer Sharir, a Jewish student from Gedera who represented Palestine in the negotiations committee, said that “it was very challenging to represent the Palestinian Authority in the Security Council…because the PA represents the opposite of what I believe in, but the more I got into it, the more I learned and the more I researched about the topic, the more I enjoyed the actual day.”
QASMUN was part of the Debate for Peace (DfP) MUN program run in coordination with the IEA and JPB.
The next DfP conference will be YachadMUN, on February 26th in Modi’in, focusing on Women’s Rights and Empowerment.
For more information, please visit debateforpeace.wordpress.com.
Photos Credit Al-Qasemi Press Team