Sep 1 Young Leaders from Middle East ask for a say in peace

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

We are Liel Maghen, an Israeli from Tel Aviv, and Mariam Ashour, a Palestinian from Gaza, two voices from a generation of over 3 million young Israelis and Palestinians. We write to you with a sense of urgency, because we believe our future rests in your hands as you renew the peace talks this week.

We have just graduated, along with four other Palestinians and four other Israelis, from a new program called New Story Leadership. The Washington Post, Fox News, and National Public Radio have all recently carried stories of our summer in Washington, where we lived and worked together.

As part of our program 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 emphasized 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 hero of war.  But this loss motivated Liel into a quest to look for different kinds of heroes, heroes of peace. He found them in co existence meetings, where people faced their fear and tried to overcome their hatred by creating personal connection with the other side. Mariam’s perspective changed this summer when, having never met an Israeli before, she lived and worked with them for the first time. Coming from Gaza, she had seen  family members and friends killed in the conflict. She herself had even been blocked at check points for over a year from taking up a Hope Fund scholarship in the USA. So  she had ample reason to feel the way she did. But this summer, living and working with Israelis, against all expectations, she developed a deep trust and hope that a better future is indeed possible.  The other program participants have even more compelling stories, but we all arrived at the same conclusion: good faith political negotiations depend on trust and understanding that can only come from personal connection and friendships.

We urge you to understand that you cannot, and need not, achieve a peace agreement alone. Young people are those who are most able to bridge the conflict. Thus, we must be a part of the peace process as well. We, as a generation, have the capacity to change the course of history with fresh ideas, new energy, and most of all, hope. Our generation brings new messages of compromise, reconciliation, and willingness to work together. We cannot sit idly by while others, even our own leaders, meet and discuss our future without including our voice. Now that peace talks are about to resume, this is the time for you to engage us in developing a new, and more inclusive, process for finding a resolution. We ask the negotiation team to meet, as soon as possible, with a representative body of young people in order to develop a process, which will include us.

Although the peace negotiations will inevitably meet great challenges, we want to assure you that we are gathering a chorus of young voices from around the world who expect you to be the heroes of change. We expect you to make all reasonable efforts to finally bring peace to our region. You would become the heroes we would tell our children about, those who by making difficult decisions ensured a better future for them. History will show that when the critical moment came, you listened to the young generation and you found a way to protect our shared future.

Our prayers go with you as you embrace this historic quest.

Liel Maghen   NSL Graduate 2010 The Arava Institute
Mariam Ashour NSL Graduate 2010 Columbia College


  • Marvin H. Shaub, Ph.D. Said on September 2nd, 2010 at 10:23 am:

    I am a college professor and will teach international negotiation in the coming school year. I would be interested in following your activities relating to the Middle Eastern Peace Process.

    Best regards.


  • Marjorie Roberts, Ph.D Said on September 3rd, 2010 at 9:04 pm:

    I am a psychologist and a co-founder of a training center for psychotherapists. Much of my work is in creating new dialogues and giving voice to those who have not been included in the dialogues previously. You and your colleagues have contributed to this process. Please continue your efforts. Your work is encouraging.