Nearly three years ago, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security to give youth around the world a stronger voice in peace building. For the first time in history, UN Member States encouraged strategies that recognize the positive role of young people in addressing the roots of conflict and countering the violent extremist narrative that perpetuate societies today.
The youth agenda was inspired by more than a decade of the women’s movement advancing into peace processes. Eight UN Security Council resolutions currently make up the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. As there is strong evidence suggesting that women’s participation contributes to sustaining peace, YPS also seeks to reinforce the positive agency of young people in their own communities. Youth, like women, are creating ripples of peace movements all around the world, and yet they remain largely excluded from peace processes - especially young women, of color and low socio-economic backgrounds.
Education is a crucial tool for the youth, to not only discover themselves but to learn how and why they need to coexist with each other. In Israel, where living conditions and school systems are racially segregated, Universities and colleges serve as the first and primary platform for Jewish and Palestinian youth to interact with one another. According to Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, Chairman of the CHE’s Planning and Budgeting Committee: “If there is a single place where the fragmented Israeli society can become a shared society, I think this place is a university campus."
Unfortunately, while 20% of the country’s citizens are Arabs, they only complete eleven years of study - three years short of their Jewish counterparts, on average. The trend is also to go into pharmacy, nursing, and engineering, which are courses that are thought of as more ‘financially-rewarding’ than the humanities and social sciences. In addition, Arab women experience another level of social exclusion, often described as ‘the weakest sector in Israeli society.’ According to a study by The Abraham Fund Initiatives: “Women make up only 2% of the 576 Arab municipality leaders, and only one woman has ever served as the head of a local municipality.”
In order to address this, TAFI ‘s pilot program, “Academia as a Shared Space for Learning,” supports Arab Israelis with more opportunities to education. Due to its advocacy for diversity and inclusion policies, one of its key partners, the Hebrew University, has been home to a 12% Arab student population - a marginal increase from the time of its founding. Arab students also undergo the same application process, and are supported with summer language classes and a pre-enrollment social orientation. Arab holidays and signage have become more visible around campus over the years.
Although Hebrew University’s post-conflict dynamics are unique to its own, it shares a comparable historical narrative with another Jewish-inspired academic community in Boston, Brandeis University. Founded by American Jews at a time when public universities limited the enrollment of Jewish students, the university is now home to students from 62 different countries. Today, Brandeis has taken on wider social justice challenges that confront other American university – be it race, or gender, or class, disability, etc. To quote its website, “Our Jewish roots and values not only ground us, but also help expand our view on diversity and social justice.”
Brandeis’ newly-instated Diversity and Inclusion Committee has taken upon policies that provide scholarships, with student and faculty quotas in terms of race and gender, as well as an annual Community Day where students openly discuss their experiences of privilege with fellow students, faculty members and staff. Oudaye Jawad, a Palestinian gay activist afforded a Fulbright scholarship at Brandeis (the first from Gaza City), spoke about the role that education plays in peace building, to quote: “Education broadens our world of thinking that there is a lot of things we can do not only for ourselves, and our families, but also for our people in a more productive way than the promises of extremism.” He goes on to saying that in patriarchal communities, the dominant male narrative often leads the war discourse, as well as the peace discourse, which only disrupt social cohesion and spark different forms of conflict in the long run.
Freedom and occupation, terrorism and liberation mean different things for different people. To what extent colleges and Universities simply integrate the minority voice to the majority, rather than truly empowering communities that are often in the peripheries i.e. youth, women, minorities, etc. - is the next task at hand. But all this does not happen in a day or two of special workshops and holidays. Re-engaging mainstream pedagogy to develop classroom discussions, research papers and academic exercises, is pivotal to see how diverse the historical, political and socio-cultural narratives that each student brings are all interwoven together.
Sustaining peace only goes as far as how the next generation can meaningfully participate in "the real world," where the ideal needs to meet the real, where future (and current) scholars, scientists, leaders acknowledge the privileges they inherited and share a peaceful society that leaves no man or woman, old or young, and everything in between, behind.
Regine Guevara is a peace activist from the Philippines. Raised Christian, with Jewish ancestry, and a student of Islam, she is currently a fellow for the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network's Local Pathways Fellowship Program and the Volunteers Head of the Committee for ASEAN Youth Cooperation. She completed an MA in Conflict Resolution from Brandeis University, and the Program on Negotiation of Harvard Law School.