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Mideast youth take peace push to cyberspace

As the Israeli-Gaza conflict intensifies, voices calling for peace are being drowned out by the growing roar of weaponry, but a Facebook-based movement is making waves in a pool of hatred.

JAFFA: As the Israeli-Gaza conflict intensifies, voices calling for peace are being drowned out by the growing roar of weaponry.

"People are exhausted, people are tired, people have no faith in any better future,” said Professor Eyal Ziser, dean of the Faculty of Humanities at Tel Aviv University.

However, a Facebook-based movement, Yala Young Leaders, is making waves in a pool of growing hatred. Dedicated to empowering youth in the Middle East to push for peace, it has nearly half a million members and counting. Yala attracts people from across the region, making it the largest and fastest growing online Middle East peace movement today.

"What I love about Yala is that it’s regional,” said Sarah Ben-Ezra, project coordinator of Yala. “It’s not only Israel, Palestine. We are looking at the entire region. We realise that we are all Middle Easterners.” The movement, which has been around for three years, was founded through a partnership between Tel Aviv and Ramallah-based peace centres and is supported by both the Palestinian and Israeli presidents.

Henriette Shacar, an Israeli Arab living in Jaffa, signed up because she feels let down by current leaders and believes it's up to the young generation to achieve what their predecessors couldn't. "I think the biggest obstacle is our understanding of peace,” she said. “I think we've been failed so many times by our leaders that we started even worrying about using the word 'peace' or describing the nature of our relations as peaceful".

Yala members have created their own peace plans. One idea is a campaign for 'no more excuses'. Users submit videos of why peace is important to them and put pressure on politicians to find solutions.

But as the casualty count of the Israeli-Gaza conflict climbs, Yala’s vision of a world were Jews and Arabs can live together in peace looks to be an increasingly uphill task to achieve.

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