Nisreen Zaqout is from Gaza. She’s been following the news coverage in Washington of the rocket attacks at home.
“They frame what’s going on back home as if it is Hamas vs. Israel,” Zaqout said. “My house is not Hamas and my house got bombed.”
Zaqout, 21, is spending the summer in Washington as part of New Story Leadership for the Middle East, a seven-week program designed to bring Israeli and Palestinian college students together to talk about change for their embattled homeland. New Story Leadership is a 501(c)(3) charity founded by educator Paul Costello.
Her partner for the summer is Asi Garbarz, 27, an Israeli who grew up on Kibbutz Pelekh in northern Israel. Zaqout and Garbarz get along, sometimes.
“We would come back from meetings and keep arguing in the hallway outside Congressman [Jared] Polis’s office,” Garbarz said. “His aides would come out to stop us.”
But they’re talking, and that’s new.
“I have seen wars,” said Garbarz. “I have stood in checkpoints. And I have served in the West Bank. But never in my life have I experienced the war in the way that I did this summer: through the eyes of Nisreen and her family.”
There are eight other students in the program, and while working together in congressional offices and attending events in D.C., they’ve come to agree that the two-state solution is what must be realized if there is any chance for peace. That’s a big step for someone like Hamze Awawde, 24, a Palestinian who said he used to be against the peace talks altogether because it meant conversing with the enemy.
“Both sides need to talk,” Awawde said. “I am now for something I was once against. Trying to understand that both nations want peace and a better future for their children takes hard work. It’s hard to find a common place where Israelis and Palestinians can meet to discuss these issues.”
Awawde, Garbarz, and Noa Shusterman, a 26-year-old Israeli student in the program, are planning Rethink Middle East, a social movement they want to start to encourage moderate Israelis and Palestinians to speak as loudly as the extremists, and begin to influence which leaders get elected and sent to the negotiating table.
Awawde already serves as the Palestinian co-coordinator of YaLa Young Leaders Facebook Movement, a project cosponsored by the U.S. State Department. Inspired by movements brought to life during the Arab Spring, Awawde says social media is a place where young people living in the Middle East can go to overcome the barriers that separate people.
“We have gathered in Washington, D.C., to talk about peace, embodying the future we want to have,” Awawde said. “If this is possible now despite the bloodshed back home, I truly believe that our people can find a way to work together.”
But his Israeli partner for the summer, 28-year-old Yehonatan Toker, said watching the news from home has left him disheartened about the prospects for peace.
“We crossed the ocean to meet with one another because we couldn’t cross the street back home to meet,” Toker said. “Now here we are, carrying our books of history on our back. I want my children to write their own history, and I want them to do it with Hamze’s children, without needing to cross an ocean to do so.”
Zaqout still carries her history with her. She recalled the words of her grandfather before she came to Washington: “Do not forget that you are a Palestinian. Do not forget my right of return.”
She said she knows the two-state solution is the right thing for peace. But it’s hard, she said, when it feels like you lose.
“To be honest, as a Palestinian, I’m done. I don’t want to compromise. It’s depressing,” Zaqout said. “My grandfather was from a village in Jerusalem, and in 1948 he moved to Gaza because his village was demolished. He wants to see his yard back, his house back. And I carry that vision and I want for my grandfather to have that. But I understand that there’s a pragmatic solution and that dream is not really going to happen.”
What We're Following See More »
In a release Tuesday afternoon, the White House announced that President Obama has commuted and/or reduced the sentences of another 111 convicted criminals, mostly convicted of drug possession or trafficking. About 35 were serving life sentences.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said Monday he'd now be willing to hold a hearing on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in a lame-duck session of Congress. While he said he wouldn't push for it, he said if "Hillary Clinton wins the White House, and a majority of senators convinced him to do so," he would soften his previous opposition.
In a new Monmouth University poll, 46% of likely voters support Clinton and 39% back Trump, with 7% supporting Libertarian Gary Johnson, and 2% backing Jill Stein of the Green Party. That's down from a poll taken right after the Democratic convention, in which Clinton led by 13 points.
“Hillary Clinton’s advisers are talking to Donald J. Trump’s ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal, seeking insights about Mr. Trump’s deepest insecurities as they devise strategies to needle and undermine him in four weeks at the first presidential debate, the most anticipated in a generation. ... Her team is also getting advice from psychology experts to help create a personality profile of Mr. Trump to gauge how he may respond to attacks and deal with a woman as his sole adversary on the debate stage.”
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has requested documents from the CEO of Mylan, "the pharmaceutical company under fire after raising the price of EpiPens more than 400 percent since 2007." Meanwhile, top members of the Energy and Commerce Committee are pressing the FDA on the lack of generic competition for EpiPens.