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Online movement tackles barriers to Mideast peace (JERUSALEM POST) By RUTH EGLASH 05/25/12)Source: http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=271389 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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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