New York, February 25, 2011—OneVoice’s Israeli and Palestinian youth leaders spoke to civil society leaders and dignitaries on Tuesday about the uses of technology in their activism at a round-table discussion hosted by the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations.
Roza Helou, 28, and Dana Sender, 27, spoke of the numerous OneVoice campaigns that have involved technology or social media, from the capturing of video visions on the streets of Palestine to the wildly successful Facebook competition to write future headlines for a mock Israeli newspaper. The event was co-sponsored by U.N. Women and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), with Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson delivering the opening remarks.
“We were really thrilled to partner with OneVoice,” said Joanne Sandler, Deputy Director of U.N. Women. “We wanted to understand how technology was being used to build popular constituencies in ways that will be visible to Dana and Roza’s leaders.”
Given the centrality of gender to the event, Deputy Director Sandler brought up the point that technology is woman-friendly, enabling people who may otherwise be disenfranchised or intimidated to voice their opinions freely in a virtual world.
This was a sentiment echoed by the youth leaders, but also by Susanna Ferguson, an intern at the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. “It gives women another way to access conversations,” she said, “Although the fact that less than 20 percent of the Palestinian population has regular access to the Internet is a caveat to that and an area for improvement.”
Ferguson added that the youth leaders projected a sense of “determined optimism” that she found refreshing, while Christina Shaheen, another of the event’s organizers, was impressed by their resolve to reject desperation.
The enthusiasm of the event seized the youth leaders themselves, in particular Dana, who had misgivings about speaking at a United Nations function days after 14 of 15 members of the Security Council had backed a draft resolution condemning Israeli settlements.
“Being there at a time when Israel is criticized so strongly by the U.N. was challenging, but I think that the event was a successful one and very respectful,” said Dana.
WILPF PeaceWomen Project Director Maria Butler affirmed the importance of connecting local initiative with global advocacy – especially in the work of advancing the role of women as peacemakers and peace builders. She added the critical importance of creating space for women participation and voice at all levels of decision-making.
Later that evening, Dana and Roza were joined by a diverse crowd of around 50 for a networking event hosted by Young Professionals in Foreign Policy at the OneVoice offices in New York. The industries represented in the room ranged from business to social entrepreneurship, from the media to the arts.
Some attendees had experience with the Israeli-Palestinian issue, such as Christophe Jospe, who works to educate Arab American youth in the U.S. about the various narratives associated with the conflict. Others described their prior knowledge as minimal, but both the well-informed and uninformed highlighted Dana and Roza’s work in potentially hostile sections of society as the most important to building consensus and eventually peace.
After witnessing despair at some U.S. college campuses and the continued inflexibility of top-level political figures, Roza told young professionals unequivocally: “We cannot afford to be depressed.” A different but vital community concurred.