By Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad
I was born in Jerusalem in the 1980s into the reality of occupation. My father had been politically active in the 1970s and my uncle is a former cabinet minister. As for myself, during my teenage years I became head of my high school union, which joined other Palestinian movements struggling against occupation. I lost close friends to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is unfortunately still ongoing.
With time, I felt that my activism wasn’t enough. We were not reaching the other side, or getting our message out to the rest of the world. I felt the need to do something that could contribute more substantially to ending the suffering of my people and reaching peace with our neighbours. I also felt that we needed to bring about change within the Palestinian community that would deepen our commitment to democratic values and cultivate effective tools in our efforts to bring about an end to the occupation of our lands.
Four years ago I began writing emails to friends and acquaintances that seemed interested in my views about what was happening in Israel and Palestine. I analysed the political and social events that were unfolding around me and also articulated ideas for a long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has been so costly for both sides.
As a result of these emails and the attention they garnered, in 2007 I founded the Middle East Post (MEP) Blog to give young people from across the Middle East the chance to share their perspectives on political and social issues.
I believe that everyone in this region has the right to be heard about the conflict provided that they aim to bring about a better understanding of our reality and promote a fair solution. I found that mainstream media outlets, whether Palestinian or Israeli, did not offer an opportunity for young Israelis or Palestinians to express their feelings or invest in a process of change. It was a difficult decision, but I decided that the blog would be open to anyone regardless of who they were and what kind of political background they came from.
I felt strongly about the need to communicate the Palestinian cause to Israelis and the rest of world so they could gain a more vivid picture of the reality that Palestinians live in. At the same time, I also wanted to offer the opportunity for Israelis to publish on the website, regardless of their views, in the belief that Palestinians need to hear from “ordinary” young Israelis, not just media pundits or politicians.
MEP went through some challenging times. During the war in Gaza in 2008, for example, the discussions on MEP between Israelis, Palestinians and internationals were very heated.
One commentator wrote with outrage about the civilian victims in Gaza, while another talked about the Israelis of Sderot who were subject to missile attacks. Some of the comments on these articles were harsh, but what mattered to me most was the fact that communication was taking place between Israelis and Palestinians at a time when mainstream media outlets were not giving voice to people from the other side.
My writings in MEP helped me forge many important relationships. Through it I developed a network of writers and friends from all around the world. It also became a source of opinion and news for people who are interested in reading a variety of different perspectives about the conflict and other events in the region.
Beyond the virtual world, I also use social media to generate participation in real world events. Last year I was elected as head of the Watan Student Movement that worked to create a union among Palestinian students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, encouraging them to stay away from political extremism. Using social media we succeeded in bringing more than 1,200 Arab students to a conference which called for greater unity in our socially and politically fragmented society.
I believe that writing and talking can bring real change to the political and social conditions of the Palestinian community. It seems difficult or even futile sometimes but we learn from history that only through determination and real passion can we succeed in achieving change.
Our leaders may have failed so far in reaching a solution, and maybe we will too, but I feel that every word we write is a step forward towards achieving freedom for ourselves and peace with our neighbours.
Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad is founder of the Middle East Post and president of the Watan Student Movement.