Online movement tackles barriers to Mideast peace (JERUSALEM POST) By RUTH EGLASH 05/25/12)
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Talking peace was only one of the activities Thursday at a one-year
anniversary event celebrating the achievements of online peace
movement YaLa Young Leaders, which over the past 12 months has
utilized social media platforms to overcome some of the barriers to
peace in the Middle East.
At the Yala-Versary – which took place in the virtual world of
Shaker, a unique platform on social networking site Facebook –
cartoon-like avatars of thousands of participants from across the
region spent “real” time dancing, drinking and schmoozing together.
“We are frustrated by the political games and we are here to make a
new reality,” Haifa resident Ranya Fadel, told The Jerusalem Post in
one of the virtual chats.
Her words were echoed by other participants Thursday who said they
were determined to use social media platforms to make peace a reality
from the grassroots up and not from the top down.
According to event’s organizers, throughout the day more than 30,000
individuals clicked into the group’s Facebook page, which over the
past year has garnered more than 85,000 “likes.” And those who
actually attended the virtual conference came from all across the
region, including Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Algeria, Iraq and even
Iran, Sudan and Syria. Of course many of the participants were
Israeli and Palestinian.
At the event, the atmosphere was light with the virtual
participants “buying” each other “drinks” and dancing to light music,
but the discussions were serious as people shared their dreams for a
future without violence.
Asked whether they were deterred by sentiments across the region that
are critical of any normal interactions between Israelis and
Palestinians, one participant said those voices were “dangerous”
and “radical” and that it was time for the media to focus more
attention on those striving for peace.
Founded by the Tel Aviv-based Peres Center for Peace and YaLa
Palestine in Ramallah, the movement’s stated goals are to promote
dialogue and engagement in order find peace in the region.
Since its founding last May, YaLa has launched a variety of
initiatives with the most significant being its Young Leadership
Academy. The on-line academy, which was conceived during a similar
virtual peace conference last January, aims to prepare future leaders
from across the region. At Thursday’s YaLa-Versary, 30 people signed
up for courses at the academy.
Since its founding, YaLa has received endorsements from far and wide,
with congratulation messages pouring in Thursday from celebrities and
dignitaries such as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli
President Shimon Peres, actress Sharon Stone, Director General of
UNESCO Irina Bokova, Vice President of Facebook David Fischer and
former US Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross.
Thursday’s event also drew some high-profile participants, including
Marcello Scalisi, Director of Unimed, the largest network of
universities of the Mediterranean, as well as Shai Tsur, Business
Development Manager at Microsoft Israel´s R&D Center, who answered
questions about the Microsoft Accelerator incubator, which will allow
YaLa members the opportunity to participate in testing and evaluating
products from Microsoft accelerator start-ups and to offer ideas for
development. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 05/25/12)
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