One of these people is Sarah Perle Benazera, team member of YaLa Young Leaders organization. Once she understood that change only happens when people take action, confront conformity, and not only hope for a better future, but also work on achieving one. Imagine a place where people from countries that consider themselves “enemies” find themselves together working on the same goal: Coexistence! This is where possibilities are grown, opportunities are expanded and dreams become a reality.
With help of YaLa young leaders from the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) communicate on a free online platform where they can learn skills that would help them make a change in their communities, share stories and experiences, improve their writing skills, do assignments and exchange feedback.
Sarah dedicated one hour from her busy schedule to Youth Time to share with us her experience.
Can you give us a brief introduction about yourself, your job, and your professional background?
I studied political philosophy and environmental studies in France and in Israel. I did my environmental studies from a cross-border point of you, and that’s how I started working in cooperation and peace-building. I volunteered for an organization called Kids for Peace which organizes meeting and activities for kids and teenagers in Israel and Palestine.
How did you first join YaLa Young Leaders?
I have always been interested in peace-building and cross-border cooperation. I have noticed that the most obvious problem was that we don’t know each other, and not knowing each other leads to fear. While I was doing my masters, I realized that each time I would go to Jordan or to Palestine, people would be very surprised that I was Israeli and that I wasn’t afraid to go there. Each time I go there my Israeli friends would worry as much as Palestinians or Jordanians would worry when they see me, and that is just a consequence of not knowing each other. YaLa Young Leaders gave me the opportunity not only to work on peace-building between Israel and Palestine but also in the wider MENA region. European youth have a strong identity being European, they do have a lot in common. Here, as youth, we also have a lot in common that we could actually change things if we act as a group, and that’s what attracted me.
Do you think you are able to describe personally the effect of the conflict on Israelis, Palestinians and anyone in the region physically, psychologically and economically?
The conflict has an effect on every part of our lives. Economically of course, because so much of the money of the government goes to the army and to the Ministry of Defense, it doesn’t go to education and to resolving social issues. The Palestinian economy is disastrous in a terrible place, with a lot of corruption and people are lacking basic needs, not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank. What affects people more on a daily basis is the fear which they find themselves obliged to get used to. People also get used to not be able to travel freely and to politicians who only discuss safety and war and not social issues. Israelis got used to join the army for 3 years and risk their lives, which is a horrible thing to do when you’re 18. The conflict is also causing a lot of racism which is not natural and shouldn’t be acceptable.
To help fix that and try to find a solution, which I think is the dream of any Israeli and any Palestinian.
If it’s not peace, it’s a war, and war is not sustainable, fear is not sustainable. Everyday we get in touch with Palestinians, we collaborate and we talk together and at times we even start to joke about the conflict because there is so much stress in us that at some point we need to let go. We are never going to agree on everything, we are never going to remake history, we just want to talk about the future. The media often mentions the conflict when they talk about us, but we are much more than that and we have a lot more to offer.
As you have been working on the Citizen Journalism Program, I would like to know your opinion about the media coverage of the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
What I was disappointed about in the media coverage is that people were asking others’ opinions as jews or as Arabs, and not as human beings. In this case people have to take positions as representatives of their religions and that was the only thing media was interested about. I would like to see people united and delivering one voice of humanity. I loved the solidarity that came out from this event, but I don’t think it was deep enough. I would have loved to see people speak up as communities of young people.
I am sure you met many influential people and heard many amazing stories since you started working for YaLa. Are there any of these experiences that you’d like to share with the readers of Youth Time Magazine?
In October we had an annual conference in Jordan and we invited our most active members from all the MENA region, men and women, Jews and Muslims, religious and atheists, and all we wanted to do was to hug each other. We put music and we started to dance, and suddenly a Palestinian boy played an Israeli song, and then an Iraqi guy started to breakdance on it, and that’s what we think the Middle East should look like every day. At the end of day we were celebrating our differences as well as our similarities.
What would you like to say to youth around the MENA region who have no idea that initiative like yours is?
First of all, I would say stop being afraid. Go talk to someone from the other side, talk to someone who you think is different. And if you want to believe that peace is possible, go to the Peace Institute Program where you develop practical hope for practical peace and meet friends who have so much in common.
Finally I would like to ask you about your ultimate dream.
I dream of a day when I can just plan a road trip in the Middle East where all the borders will be open, where I won’t be afraid of the war and where I can take my friends and drive from Jordan to Iraq to Syria to Lebanon to Israel and Palestine all the way to Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia. The day when we won’t be afraid anymore and when the governments will allow us to live together. I would love to have a Palestinian Visa on my Israeli passport and go visit my friends. That’s the dream.