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Debate for Peace celebrated another year of remarkable achievements with a moving celebration, held via Zoom of course, with participants joining from dozens of cities. Ten students and one teacher offered powerful reflections on their experiences.


The annual Debate for Peace end of year celebration marks the transition from one academic year to the next, and provides a platform for students to share their unique experiences. This year’s program, held on Thursday August 27, included representatives from the delegations to Sweden, Oxford, Yale and Johns Hopkins, as well as the members of the Empathy Storytelling project.


The program opened with a welcome from Carolina Frimer, on behalf of the Interfaith Encounter Association. Joe Wierichs, the Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy Branch Office in Tel Aviv, offered introductory remarks. Mr. Wierichs spoke from his experience as a diplomat in more than half a dozen countries, and encouraged students to keep trying to learn different perspectives. 


Debate for Peace Director Steven Aiello provided an overview of the programming over the last year, including more than an event a week, from in person meetings to Zoom debates and discussions. The five international delegations included meeting with the foreign ministries of Sweden and the Netherlands, the Embassies of Ecuador and Kosovo in the UK, the US embassy in Sweden, the US, EU, and Cypriot missions to the UN, UNICEF, UN Alliance of Civilizations, the Swiss embassy, US state department and the US Institute of Peace in Washington, DC, along with over a dozen different Jewish and Muslim communities. Debate for Peace presented in synagogues, mosques, and at the UN itself, through the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development-NY.  



Yara Katish spoke as a representative of one of those delegations. Yara talked about experiencing shabbat as a Druze student, together with her Jewish, Muslim and Christian friends. Shahav Navon explained how much he had gained from a meeting with an imam in Oxford, where they discussed feminism and acceptance from a Muslim perspective. Hassan Hassan, a teacher and MUN coordinator originally from the Golan, joined the delegation to Yale this year, and he spoke about that experience. As an educator, he said that he was very impressed to see the students competing against top MUN delegates from all around the world. Maayan Dahan shared how much she learned from the delegation to Johns Hopkins MUN, not just from the MUN conference and the meetings, but especially from traveling with peers from different cities and communities.


Shady Mansour and Oren Jian provided a musical interlude, playing Mawtini and haTiqva respectively. Then the Empathy Storytelling project participants shared their stories. The Empathy Storytelling project, supported by a US Embassy grant, pairs Jewish and Arab students, who then learn one another’s stories, and share them with different audiences. Along the way they also study and discuss empathy, and different aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and peacebuilding. The storytellers shared their powerful stories one after another, each with its own rich details.


After the storytellers, Sarah Shalabi played a classical Arabic song on keyboard, and Luna Abu Yunus then performed The Star Spangled Banner on violin.


To conclude the afternoon, Ambassador Adel Atieh, Deputy Head of the Palestinian Mission to the European Union, offered his reflections. Ambassador Atieh noted that in challenging times when top-level diplomatic avenues are struggling to advance peace, we must put extra effort into building understanding and reconciliation via education and grassroots efforts, and congratulated the students and Debate for Peace for taking on this important mission. 


Finally, the Young Diplomat of the Year award was presented to Luna Abu Yunus from Sakhnin, for her efforts to build bridges, learn, and inspire, over the last year. 


Congratulations to Luna and all of the participants, and to Debate for Peace! The full ceremony can be seen on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWc4fI7j6HM


Photo credit: Debate for Peace


Steven Aiello