A Palestine that may have a chance for peace
Grace Ezzell says she’s always been interested in current events and politics, and her grandparents, Turks from the island of Cyprus, have kept her interested in the Middle East.
After reading the book The Israel Lobby a few years ago, she decided she wanted to see Palestine for herself so that she could “speak with authority about what is actually going on there and correct misconceptions” that feed what she calls a “false discourse” in the U.S.
Last fall, through a University of Minnesota independent study course with Dennis Donovan at the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Grace began researching the history and players in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and studying community organizing. She also attended Public Achievement (PA) organizing training, met local groups of middle and high school students using PA, and read about PA groups in Gaza and the West Bank. By the end of fall semester, she’d developed what she says was a “20-point plan with many tiers” trying to answer the question “Is there a citizen solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?”
With guidance, she was able to narrow the focus of her project. And she credits practice using organizing skills with helping her build relationships and eventually write three successful grants to support what she really wants to do. “I had the confidence to know what I want to find out and who would be interested in helping me,” Grace says. “I was much more confident e-mailing people I didn’t know.”
This summer, the 19-year-old economics major will spend three months in the Palestinian Territories meeting with young people and doing an internship with Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. By “speaking with youth trained to be powerful public actors and who are passionate about working to change Palestine,” she says, “I’ll be able to provide a window into what a future Palestine will look like.”
Getting the perspective of the underrepresented majority population
After reading reports prepared by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Grace said she thought “PA [in Gaza and the West Bank] can sound really idealistic. But if you look at what young people said, like ‘it changed my life,’ it looks like PA has made a HUGE difference. It’s astounding, really.”
One of Grace’s goals is to come away with an understanding of “what it means to be a young person in Palestine,” where more than half the population is under age 18. She wants to know “what things they’re going to do in the future, because that’s what PA is about.” She also wants her visit to be useful to Palestinians by bringing their perspective to Minnesota through public forums and meetings with members of the Minnesota Congressional delegation.
Going to the Palestinian Territories
Grace has already tapped into the international PA network through an online Facebook-style group. Thuqan Qishawi, AFSC Middle East Regional Coordinator for Youth Programs in Jordan and the West Bank, has offered assistance setting up site visits and interviews with PA coaches, young people and other community members, and NGOs in East Jerusalem and Ramallah. Visiting Gaza could be difficult, as it requires a hard-to-obtain entry permit, but both Qishawi and Gaza PA coordinator Amal Sabawi say it’s worth trying, in part because it is so difficult for young people in Gaza to have contact with the outside world.
“I’d like to create dialogue about the conflict on the University of Minnesota campus,” says Grace, “and raise awareness of what Palestine and Israel could be if we harness the potential for future U.S. leaders to partner with Palestinian youth. A future project might involve a similar process with youth in Israel, which also has PA sites.”