An overview of Manger Square and the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. CNS photo/Debbie Hill

Day 9: Youth ask leaders to give peace a chance

  • May 20, 2014

While Pope Francis says Mass in Manger Square, Bethlehem there will be peace talks in the Middle East.

The talks won't involve the governments of Israel or the State of Palestine. There will be no involvement of officials from the European Union, the United States, Russia, France or the United Kingdom. Nobody with any authority to sign a piece of paper or shut down a check point or remove a section of the security wall will be involved.

Instead, up to half a million young Israelis and young Palestinians will be taking part in YaLa's third annual online peace conference. YaLa is a Facebook page, a Twitter account and an online academy offering courses in peace and conflict studies ( It was founded by former Israeli peace negotiator Uri Savir as a way for a younger generation to bypass the fears, anxieties and anger of the generation that has been in control of the peace process for too long.

YaLa's online event will include video appearances by two Nobel Peace laureates — Israeli President Shimon Peres and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Letters from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and former U.S. President Bill Clinton will be published on the web site to encourage the process.

Savir tells the Israeli newspaper Haaretz it's time for the young to build a new Middle East.

“The young generation in the Middle East is sick of the decisions of their leaders and are very disappointed that the talks stopped. They have a say in this because it is the young people who are sent to the front lines if there is a war,” he said.

“Young people in the Middle East want peace talks to succeed,” Savir added. He said his site is a “very innovative public diplomacy tool that will in time influence governments.”

It's hard to argue with Savir. Here on the West Bank half the population is under 18. In Israel, 27 per cent are under 14 and 43 per cent under 24. With all the talk of majorities and minorities in the region, the majority that really matters grew up with the Internet and thinks of the 1948, 1967, 1973 wars as impenetrable, ancient history.

The May 25 papal Mass in Manger Square won't involve anything like 500,000 people. The square is just not that big. But like the YaLa online event, it also won't involve anybody who can draw a definite and final border, dismantle settlements or sign a treaty.

What will happen is that a man of peace will address Prince of Peace on behalf of people who long for peace. Francis will say the same words we all hear on Sunday morning:

"O Lord Jesus Christ, who said to Your Apostles: "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you," regard not my sins but the faith of Your Church, and deign to give her peace and unity according to Your Will: Who live and reign, God, world without end. Amen."

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