January 28, 2010

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter – these are the tools that can help us resolve conflict.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” said one great informal educator. Modern technology empowers us to be that change – for peace.

By enabling self-expression and interaction, new media tools are helping our efforts for conflict resolution in the Middle East. Horizontal transfers of knowledge on social networks like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter empower us to build understanding through lateral learning. While teaching tends to be top-down, lateral learning lets us learn from one another. We decide what we learn, as well as where, when and how.

Traditional media no longer dictates our news, we do. Take Facebook for example. Status updates keep us up-to-date with our friends; news feeds tell us what is new and comment walls let us post and receive feedback. Like my status? Give me a thumbs-up or just leave a comment. Through video sharing on YouTube, we produce and distribute video content. On Twitter, we tweet our news in 140 characters or less. With new media, we are the media.

Social networks are empowering us as peacemakers. By making it possible for Israelis and Palestinians to interact, they let us see and humanize the “other”. In a conflict where Israelis and Palestinians are physically separate, new media allows us to see and hear each other beyond the stereotypes and the physical barriers.

In 2007, I created mepeace.org – a social network and platform for peacemakers. The name communicates the goal: Middle East peace, and the method: combining “me” and “peace”- it begins with each of us. Ha’aretz nicknamed it the “Facebook of peace” because it works like Facebook and is based on a shared commitment to Middle East peace. All are welcome to join.

The web platform has become home to thousands of “peacemakers” in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and more than 100 other countries. These peacemakers are communicating through text, photo and video and supporting one another with personal profiles, blogs, real-time chats and more than a thousand active discussions.

Some claim such a peace is virtual. But through mepeace.org, peacemakers meet online and on the ground -overcoming many barriers to meet at the organization’s Peace Cafes, “Peace Talks” and other events. The organization is now offering joint leadership training for young Israelis and Palestinians. Young people are most in touch with networking tools which enable youth (often stereotyped as potential radicalizers) to actively contribute. A new generation of activists is in creation.

Next for mepeace.org is building an online resource center for conflict resolution. Knowledge for communication and conflict resolution exists to support people’s hopes, but information must be organized and shared. Community and knowledge sharing can nurture peacemakers from the bottom up.

True, the Middle East consists of different viewpoints from moderate to extreme. At the core, each of us wants peace. We may seek peace differently, but let us not be indifferent.

We can use technology to reach out and overcome our differences. We can connect, convince and create coalitions. Today with WIFI and smart phones, the Internet is portable and so are our networks. We carry with us the power to effect mass change. Can we utilize this power for peace?

Yes, we can. Social networks are empowering individuals and organizations in significant ways. With this power comes responsibility. While our political leaders fail to forge peace, let us network for peace. Let us not wait for our leaders – we are the leaders we have been waiting for. Networked and empowered, we have the tools we need to learn, to teach and to inspire one another. Together, we are the change we want to see in the world.

Eyal-Raviv Eyal Raviv is the founder of mepeace.org – a network for peace. He is studying conflict resolution at Ben Gurion University.

This article originally appeared in the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

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