Hailee Meacham is Young Peacebuilder’s newest Communications team member. She is a junior at American University studying International Relations and Communications. Her interests include foreign policy, peace studies, and the environment.
I recently had the opportunity to listen to a talk given by Iyad Burnat, a Palestinian man leading a nonviolent movement for peace in Bil’in, in the West Bank. He told stories of how Israeli soldiers continue to raid his home in the middle of the night, arresting members of his family as young as his teenage children while their much younger siblings bore witness.
Palestinian children – including Burnat’s own – have been shot and sometimes killed by soldiers. Others may suffer from things like curable diseases or malnutrition because they are unable to access the resources they need to be healthy. Like their Palestinian counterparts, Israeli children are also experiencing heightened levels of stress, leading to the development of various psychological problems across borders.1
Born into Conflict
Burnat’s story is not uncommon in Bil’in, and the negative impacts on children living in conflict zones are far more wide-reaching than a single arrest. As of December 2016, about one in four children worldwide live in conflict or disaster zones.2 As a result, many children have lost their homes, their access to education or heath care have been disrupted, and they can suffer from negatively impacted psychological development. Perhaps most importantly, children who grow up in conflict zones never learn other ways to live. Atar Oman, a clinical psychologist who has worked with Israeli children for many years, said, “In Israel, war and conflict are seen as inherent to our very existence.”3 Although some children participate in nonviolent peace movements, like the one in Bil’in, many children born into conflict zones grow up believing that violence is a fact of life.
This cycle of violence reaches much further back than many people realize, to several years prior to the onset of the Arab-Israeli War in 1948. A compelling argument has been made claiming that Israeli government officials, and the Jewish-Israeli public in general, are suffering from a condition similar to post-traumatic stress disorder that has resulted in a ‘siege mentality’ which is influencing their behavior towards Palestinians.4 Although Palestinians were not responsible for the violence that Jewish-Israelis suffered in World War II, they are nonetheless still victims of a conflict that “ended” decades ago.
How can we help Palestinian and Israeli children break this cycle of violence?
It is important to encourage engagement between youth on both sides of the conflict. Just as understanding the motivations behind Israeli and Palestinian politicians is important to understand the underlying causes of the conflict, so too is it important to engage Israeli and Palestinian youths to prevent caricatured understandings of the other. There are a number of organizations working towards peacebuilding. For example, Kids4Peace runs international summer camps, leadership programs, and other mediums for cooperation directed towards Palestinian, Israeli, and North American youths. Modern technology also enables amazing opportunities for engagement. YaLa-Young Leaders is a movement for peace based in social media as a means for cross-border youth engagement in the Middle East. Youths are making great strides towards a peaceful future across the region, and across the world, but they need help.
Kids are kids no matter what side of a border they may fall on, and they all deserve an equal chance at a peaceful and happy life. Young people are increasingly taking up the mantle to create peace in their communities, but it should not be only their responsibility to solve the problems of generations before them. It is everyone’s responsibility to help them achieve their peacebuilding goals, and that is exactly what Young Peacebuilders aims to do.
Young Peacebuilders is devoted to working with young people to help them become more effective peacebuilders in their communities. The intention is to remove roadblocks that may limit a young person’s peacebuilding capacity and support their efforts to help increase their impact. Whether it is through Young Peacebuilders Clubs or Youth Volunteer Opportunities, Young Peacebuilders is helping youth #wagepeace around the world.