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Bigger picture of a role play.

Palestine's first Model United Nations conference comes as a sign of hope for a stronger Palestinian voice

More than 100 high school students from 15 Palestinian schools were given the opportunity for the first time to participate in a Model United Nations (MUN) conference. The three-day conference, which took place from October 7 to 9 in Ramallah, was Palestine's very first Model United Nations conference (PalMUN) organised by the present board members of the MUN club at the Friends School in Ramallah.

MUN started at the Friends School five years ago when six students travelled to Jordan to attend the 2006 Amman MUN. Since then the club has grown into one of the school's most active and competitive organisations.

According to the Friends School, in the past two years alone, 48 students were given the chance to participate in seven conferences in Amman, Amsterdam, Athens, Cairo, Doha and New York.

MUN conferences, which are an imitation of actual ones at the United Nations venue, allow students to discuss global and international affairs at a more competitive level, raising their awareness about politics, economics and global issues.

For the student organisers at Friends School, PalMUN means the start of future local PalMUN conferences that could hopefully better equip fellow students with leadership and debate skills.

Most Palestinian high school students do not have the organisational and financial resources to participate in MUN, said Michael Madormo, an English teacher and Model UN adviser at Friends School. They hope that this will not only become an annual tradition on a par with the top conferences in the region but will also help encourage new MUN chapters at high schools across Palestine.

Jalal Abu Khater, 17, of Occupied Jerusalem, and Mona Yasin, 17, of Ramallah, are two students who are members of the board of the MUN club at the Friends School in Ramallah. They told Weekend Review in a Skype interview prior to the conference that the idea to start this project had been inspired by their own experiences at international MUN conferences, which they hope will give other high school students a taste of their experience.

It gives students proper debating skills and teaches them how to tackle an argument, said Abu Khater.

"I really think it's an encouragement for us to do better and meet other people," Yasin said.

None of the schools that they got in touch with had been contacted for a PalMUN conference before, Madormo said. "But once most schools found out about it, they were on board and very excited about it," he said.

The participating students, who came from Haifa, Occupied Jerusalem, Nazareth, Nablus and the West Bank, represented about 50 countries, including Israel, and discussed topics such as poverty, world finance and the recognition of a Palestinian state, among several others.

The timing of the PalMUN conference couldn't have been more right. It has come at a time when only weeks prior to it, Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas submitted a request for state membership to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations.

Madormo described the conference as a "historic moment".

"The conference is going to be a good learning experience, but for me this is a lot more symbolic. At the same time that the state of Palestine is going to be denied [recognition] by the real United Nations, students have decided to hold their own conference, and for me it's a demonstration of what the people here are capable of," he said.

Although it may seem that PalMUN, like other MUN conferences, in the end, does boil down to role play, many believe it is a sign of hope to raise a stronger Palestinian voice in the real United Nations.

"It's a positive picture when you look at it, because you see that while we are trying to get a Palestinian state, we are working on something similar -- which is to have our first PalMUN conference," Yasin said.

Abu Khater said he believes that student participants at the conference will someday be "the real United Nations delegates who will represent Palestine in the United Nations in New York".

Dalal Awad (left) and Faisal Nahhas at the MUN conference of the UN General Assembly

Areen Bahour, president of Friends MUN board

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Oct 27, 2011
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