A Letter to Our Leaders

By Liel Maghen and Mariam Ashour

Dear President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary of State Clinton:

We are two voices out of a generation of more than 3 million young Palestinians and Israelis, and are writing to you with a sense of urgency. We, Liel Maghen, an Israeli from Tel Aviv, and Mariam Ashour, a Palestinian from Gaza, believe our future rests in your hands as you renew direct peace talks.

We have recently graduated, along with other young Israelis and Palestinians, from a programme called New Story Leadership, which aims to find new ways to build trust, understanding, and approach conflict resolution through a shared internship experience. Having spent the summer of 2010 living and working together in Washington DC, we believe there is a better way to solve the ongoing crises in our part of the world.

As part of our programme we participated in many panels, conferences and roundtable discussions about the Middle East and we found that people who lacked our experience and perspective were trying to tell our story. They emphasised only the points of disagreement and none of the opportunities for compromise. Thus we felt compelled to speak up, to ask to be heard, to attempt to educate listeners about how desperate our generation is, on both sides, for a peaceful and lasting resolution.

Liel’s life changed forever when a close friend and fellow Israeli soldier was killed in Lebanon. This friend was a war hero. But the loss motivated Liel to begin a quest for different kinds of heroes, heroes of peace: those who confront the conflict through an attempt to achieve reconciliation and forge personal connections and cooperation with the other side. Mariam’s perspective changed this summer after meeting Israelis for the first time, living and working with them side by side. Coming from Gaza, she had seen family members and friends killed in the conflict and had, therefore, many reasons not to trust Israelis. However, against all her expectations, she left the programme with a hope that a better future is indeed possible. The other programme participants have even more compelling stories but we all arrived at the same conclusion: political agreements depend on trust and understanding that can only come from people-to-people connections.

We urge you to understand that you cannot, and need not, achieve a peace agreement alone – you need the input from young people. Youth have traditionally been on the frontline of political movements, including the Civil Rights movement in the US, the global Environmental movement, and the reconciliation efforts in South Africa and Northern Ireland. They can shape the course of history with fresh ideas, new energy, commitment, and most of all, hope. Our generation brings new messages of compromise, reconciliation, and a willingness to work together, which are essential for implementing any political solution in the negotiations. We cannot sit idly on the sidelines while others, even our own leaders, meet and discuss our future without including our voice.

Now that direct peace talks have resumed, we feel it is crucial that these negotiations do not fail because of the old lack of trust and despair. This is the time for you to engage us – arguably the most optimistic sector of the population – in developing a new, and more inclusive process aimed at achieving a resolution. We request the negotiation team to meet with a representative body of young people in order to develop a process aimed at forging peace on the grassroots people-to-people level.

We call on you to take all reasonable efforts to bring peace to our region. You would become the heroes we would tell our children about – those who by making difficult decisions will have secured them a better future. History will show that when the critical moment came, you listened to the young generation and found a way to protect our shared future.

As we approach a time of reflection and reconciliation in Jewish and Muslim traditions, our prayers go with you as you embrace this historic quest of bringing a final and lasting peace.

Liel Maghen is a student of Political Sciences and Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University. Mariam Fadel Ashour is a student of Business Administration and Marketing at Columbia College in South Carolina through the Hope Fund scholarship.

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