Governance and growth in a society grows along with age and time, their impact is shaped more by the climate of the era than the weather of the day. For tomorrow’s world to be better than today’s, we need the youth of today to become stronger citizens seeking a better tomorrow.

Conventional societies and their deeply rooted culture, beliefs, and perspectives of governing individuals heavily influence decision-making, especially in the case of an extended conflict such as the Palestine-Israel issue. Youth have a particularly important role to play in factors such as platforms for communication, advocacy, global development, liberal thinking, education, and awareness-raising.

Signs such as “Israel nationals cannot enter Palestinian occupied territory” and many other similar restrictions prevent mutual understanding of the situation, needs and cooperation between neighbors. People are driven by political interests, narrow ideology and a lack of perspective and community beliefs. This can be overcome with the solidarity of youth in peacebuilding and their creative approach to building bridges for peace and communication between neighbors. Youth need to be treated not as a mere “decoration at the table” but rather as “equal stakeholders in decision making.” However, this requires youth empowerment and the support of organizations, governments, and various other powerful entities for efforts to meet the needs of youth and their ability to learn and work toward this goal. In this article I seek to highlight the various important issues which require youth empowerment.

Political Engagement

Governance and leadership are built with the aid of strong and healthy political participation and engagement in one’s society. During the past decades, the region of Palestine and Israel has faced issues such as a lack of multilateral engagement, equal representation, access to authority, and participation; improper mechanisms in establishing pure democracy; ethnic discrimination; and extremism, radicalization, etc. These issues that lie at the foundation of the region’s current political climate make it very vulnerable to further complicated and conflicting situations. To de-escalate the conflict and promote liberal and peaceful governance in the region, there is a great need to maximize the political participation of the region’s majority population: youth.

Israel’s mandatory military service for youth, beginning at the very young age of 18, precludes the political engagement and contribution of young people during their most active years. Youth entering mandatory military service spend their blossoming stages of understanding society and the conflict inside a restrictive framework of limited opinion, which has been very harmful and obstructive for youth engagement for peace. This situation prevents Israeli youth from gaining perspective into all sides of the conflict, and it also takes away their right to live a life of their own choosing, a right that most other youth around the world their age have. The international community should insist that “mandatory” military service must be “optional,” carried out on the basis of universal human rights and freedom of choice only for individuals who choose to join the military. This would reduce the militarization of one prominent actor in the Israeli-Palestinian arena — a positive step toward peacebuilding.

The Palestinian elections in May will be a landmark election after more than a decade of no democratic leadership. This is an important opportunity to sensitize youth and ensure their participation and representation at all levels from the legislative to the other governing bodies. International models of reserving seats for youth in the legislative body and other offices, mandatory youth representation in policy-making and decisionmaking should be practiced to ensure liberal, peaceful, and future-oriented 

Advocacy and Civil Society

Youth have been the pillars of modern-day advocacy and civil society in the region. However, they face a huge number of obstacles in expressing their freedom of opinion, of speech, and of association. This slows down the process of awareness-raising among the youth in their communities and their ability to communicate, to experiment, to learn, and to advocate for change and peace. Governments and offices with authority in both Palestine and Israel must ensure support and non-discriminatory behavior toward youth advocates for peace and cooperation in civil society spaces. International organizations that have been trying very hard to provide support for peacebuilding and the empowerment of youth often face a plethora of obstacles to their ability to provide their services due to heavy internal restrictions based on territorial jurisdiction, political motives, etc.

These operational challenges have to be met by civil society with the support of UN bodies, international governments, and associations. We in the international community should provide support for peace-making in the region based upon principles of neutrality, equal treatment, mutual advancement, and fairness, which will enable us to bypass the political, cultural, and military restrictions. However, accessing these high-level partnerships and support is difficult for youth, who do not in most cases possess the necessary high-level educational qualifications or experience. This gap should be overcome by support from local authorities and civil society organizations, giving priority to involving youth in high-level collaborations and partnerships. International advocacy networks must significantly increase local youth participation from Israel and Palestine, making it feasible for local youth groups to gain support despite internal hurdles and restrictions.

Education and Global Relations

Education plays a major role in shaping the nature of a society’s thought processes, particularly in the case of a conflict heavily influenced by cultural and historical disputes. Here in Palestine and Israel, educating youth about the society, its structure, its nature, and the conflict itself — in other words, prioritizing peace education — is more important than other sciences and studies. Education oriented toward a one-sided history and cultural perspective can lead to further radicalization and "extremization" of youth attitudes toward the conflict. Educating the region’s future citizens requires a neutral approach and a collaborative effort. A joint effort to agree on one single approach of history and cultural values is very difficult for the respective societies in Israel and Palestine. However, an effort to influence the understanding of history, culture, humanity, peace, and coexistence can be taken by neutral international actors, organizations such as the United Nations, to directly influence the understanding among youth about their conflict. This can be tricky, when concerns such as the fear of neo-imperialism and self-interest in influencing the youth of Palestine and Israel may lead to further complications. Therefore, education and awareness both organized internally and supported by external resources should make the utmost efforts to stay neutral, without self-interest, and in compliance with international humanitarian laws, peace processes, etc.

In educating their societies about the conflict, both Israel and Palestine should include acknowledgement of the destruction they have caused in the past as well as in the present, and a taking responsibility for their own actions. This owning up to their mistakes and taking responsibility for their actions will provide the youth with an open approach to learn, accept, unlearn, and relearn to build a better cooperative peaceful society. The current education system in Germany is a strong example which explicitly talks about its history of Holocaust, showing a sense of responsibility and promoting the need for peaceful and nondiscriminatory societies to their growing youth population. This can be seen as difficult to implement in reality, due to political motives. However, if implemented, it will stand as the most efficient form of empowering youth for peacebuilding.

Women, Peace, and Security

Women make up more than half of the world population today. Their influence and perspectives, with the strength of motherhood and sisterhood, are needed in all fields and especially in all peace processes. While men are romanticized for their masculinity in fighting wars, women try to maintain their families in peace and safety.

The same need is evident in running a state. Women tend to be left in high-risk zones without protection and defense. This makes them more vulnerable and victimized in the situation, highlighting the clear necessity for young women to speak up, be heard, and stand up for the rights and safety of women and ultimately to achieving peace.

In recent years, women have suffered more through discrimination, violence, and marginalization than men globally, and during conflicts specifically. Young women who lose their families or the breadwinner of their families to the conflict are vulnerable to more violence and abuse due to lack of protection and support, both physically and mentally. Therefore, just to make a living, these young women migrate or start working in fields not directly related to their interests or needs. As a result, they are prevented from reaching their maximum potential to contribute to youth political engagement. In these cases, women must first be given protection against discrimination and violence, followed by state support and international support in the case of Palestinians to ensure a livelihood. Following this aid, these young women must be empowered to contribute to peace advocacy through education, and political engagement. These measures will help address the disadvantaged situation of women who are at greater risk of being subjected to violence and abuse in public spaces in the region. Empowering one young woman is equal to empowering generations of her family in support of peace and prosperity.

In conclusion, let me quote former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan:

          Young people — with their dynamism, their energy and their inherent understanding of our interconnected world — have much to teach 
          us. Increased educational attainment, advances in technology and the spread of information have made this generation the best educated, 
          most connected and most informed in history.

As world peace activists, we face many challenges, from creating safer environments and opportunities for political engagement to connecting youth around the globe. Marginalized youth look to us to support their ability to confidently voice their views without the fear of putting their lives at risk. Young women wait to be freed from constraints and stereotypes as women to lead communities. Educated youth and yet-to-be educated individuals are in need of greater opportunities. What are we waiting for? We must act in the name of humanity for humanity.