Media should promote peace not conflict

United Nations International Media Seminar on Middle East Peace concludes with call on journalists to expand public dialogue, help bridge divide

Source: United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI)

Date: 28 Jul 2009


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

RIO DE JANEIRO, 28 July –- The seventeenth International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East concluded today, as the head of the United Nations Department of Public Information encouraged journalists to do more to expand the public dialogue about the situation in that region and to help bridge the divides that separated Israelis and Palestinians.

"You have enormous power to reach out to the widest possible audience to change the mindsets […] for better understanding and a peaceful future for all people in the Middle East," said Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information. The United Nations and major actors, both old and new, would assist in the search for a peaceful solution.

"Please write about what you have heard at this seminar," he continued, expressing the hope that the discussions — touching on, among others, the importance of spreading the message of peaceful coexistence and the role of media and civil society in shaping opinions about the Middle East — would help build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. For its part, the Department of Public Information would mobilize its forces and resources to continue the annual seminar so that understanding between the two sides could be enhanced.

The seminar, on "Promoting Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue –- a view from South America", opened yesterday and was organized by the United Nations Department of Public Information in cooperation with the Ministry of External Affairs of Brazil. (See Press Release PAL/2118) It was the first such event to be held in a South American country, and Mr. Akasaka thanked the Brazilian Government and people, noting that their keen interest in the subject and active participation had provided the setting for one of the liveliest seminars in several years.

Today’s meeting included two panel discussions, respectively on "Shaping Public Policy and Public Opinion in and about the Middle East through the Media", and "The Role of Israeli-Palestinian Civil Society and Media in Bridging Divides: The Case of Encounter Point and the Parents Circle-Families Forum". Yesterday’s panels concerned "The Challenge of the Post Conflict Gaza Conflict Reconstruction" and "The Peace Process, the United Nations and New Actors."

The panel on the role of Israeli-Palestinian civil society and media was moderated by Paula Refolo, Director, Strategic Communications Division, United Nations Department of Public Information. It featured Julia Bacha, co-director of the film Encounter Point; Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad, both featured in Encounter Point; Danny Nishlis, Director of Radio Haifa; and Michael Younan of the International Peace and Cooperation Centre.

Earlier in the day, the seminar’s panel discussion on "Shaping Public Policy and Public Opinion in and about the Middle East through the Media" was moderated by Giancarlo Summa, Director, United Nations Information Centre, Rio de Janeiro. It featured the participation of Felice Friedson, co-founder, President and CEO of the Media News Line Agency; Edmund Ghareeb, Professor at the American University in Washington, D.C.; Renata Malkes, Middle East correspondent for O Globol newspaper of Brazil; Pedro Brieger, Editor of Vision 7 International, for Channel 7 in Argentina; and Gideon Levy, Haaretz columnist.

The panel’s respondents included Yaakov Achimeir, anchor of a weekly programme on world affairs on TV Channel 1 in Israel; Mohammad Shaker Abdallah, political columnist and member of the editorial board of Al-Quds in Jerusalem; Etta Prince-Gibson, Editor of the weekly magazine The Jerusalem Report; and Helda Ereqat, from Ma’an News Agency in Palestine.

In closing remarks, Vera Machado, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ministry of External Relations of Brazil, thanked all the participants, who had reflected deeply over the past two days on issues that were vital to peace in the Middle East and the wider world. While both optimistic and pessimistic views had been expressed, Brazil, for its part, remained hopeful that Israelis and Palestinians could forge a just and lasting peace.

Panel Discussions

The seminar began its work in the morning with a panel discussion on "Shaping Public Policy and Public Opinion in and about the Middle East through the Media", which was moderated by GIANCARLO SUMMA, Director, United Nations Information Centre, Rio de Janeiro. He said the participants would discuss how the Israeli, Arab and international media covered the recent conflict in Gaza and other events in the Middle East.

He said that everyone was aware of the role the media could play in fuelling conflict, and recalled the radio broadcasts that had sparked the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. At the same time, the media could also play a role in bringing attention to issues, such as the Balkan wars during the 1990s and the Viet Nam war in the late 1960s and early 1970s, to sway public and political opinion in Europe and the United States, respectively, to bring an end to those conflicts. He urged the participants to examine the ways media coverage shaped public opinion, and what could be done to sustain the hopes of peoples on both sides of the Middle East issue.

Kicking off the discussion was FELICE FRIEDSON, co-founder, President and CEO of the Media News Line Agency, a non-profit news organization based in Jerusalem. She said she had been very troubled by the tenor of yesterday’s discussions, which to her were generally "partisan epithets dressed up as irrefutable evidence of fact".

Compelled by yesterday’s panels to rework her comments, she said it was clear that, while politicians with an agenda were not going to talk about everyday cooperation between Israelis and Arabs, journalists should be reporting such stories on a regular basis. Those politicians that preached separation were getting it wrong; resolution would only come through cooperation.

They should be able to cover "the other side of the story", she said. Presenting political arguments as absolute conclusions, without substantiation, was neither right nor real reporting. The Palestinians were poised to create a viable State and the Palestinian leadership should do all it could to promote and ensure a free press, which was critical to ensure an open society.

She said that, for all its horror, the crisis in Gaza at the beginning of the year had been instructive in several ways. In Israel, the issue of media coverage and access had become a public debate, as the Government had denied access to foreign, Israeli and Palestinian journalists. Indeed, lawsuits over that decision were still under way in Israel. A responsible press was going to shape the future, and she challenged the seminar to stop bickering and "do something tangible" by presenting work that was believable.

EDMUND GHAREEB, Professor at American University in Washington, D.C., said that, while United States President Barack Obama had pledged to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian issue head on, he was not yet convinced Mr. Obama was prepared to expend the political capital that was needed to expand the dialogue on the issue, much less bring about a change in United States policy. In any case, the media would likely play a huge role in shaping the Obama Administration’s strategy and the public’s perception of it.

He said that, while the press in the United States had a long history of openness, modern coverage of global and especially domestic issues had led some to brand it "cynical and shallow". Still, the United States media remained formidable, and while its performance had not been exemplary, it had been a bulwark against abuse of power in cases such as Watergate and Viet Nam.

The Middle East was perhaps the most avidly covered issue of the time. Now, in the era of the Internet and Cable News Network (CNN), reporters were becoming part of the action, "acting as a bullhorn for what used to be the whispers of diplomacy". The United States media’s coverage of political affairs, especially Middle East issues, was generally considered one-dimensional because of, among other things, the failure of Arab-American civil society groups, sympathy with Israel because of the Holocaust and "coverage without context". Moreover, Israel was doing a better job of making its case with the American media. The challenge was to provide not only more balanced coverage, but to expand the number and content of the voices reporting on the issue.

RENATA MALKES, Middle East correspondent for O Globo newspaper of Brazil, said she was concerned that mainstream media was losing its audience in the era of blogging and the so-called "citizen media". Today, readers and viewers were seeking out news and information that served their purposes and interests, rather than traditional news sources. The new "citizen journalists", able to provide constant streams of information to targeted audiences, were becoming quite formidable. All of that amounted to less space for traditional journalists, she said, admitting that she and others had not yet figured out a way to get that audience back. That was completely new territory.

She said covering the crisis in Gaza had been difficult because of general lack of access. To some degree, it had become a conflict covered by cell phone. In Brazil, people were seeking balanced coverage of a highly emotional issue. The Brazilian media had been able to give the Gaza Strip a "human face" by removing the perception that it was only the home of "refugees". That conflict had been a landmark in Brazilian media coverage because it had taken place in a situation of adversity. Journalists were not machines, but they were also aware that audiences wanted to feel the emotion of the issues that were being covered. The challenge was to provide balanced coverage of the region.

PEDRO BRIEGER, Editor of Vision 7 International, for Channel 7 in Argentina, said perceptions of the Middle East in his country had been shaped by the terrorist blasts that had rocked Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994. It had also, until recently, been shaped by United States media coverage of Middle East events. Indeed, European and United States media, specifically CNN, which had one reporter who translated events there into Spanish, hugely influenced most of Latin America.

He said the emerging Latin American network Telesur was beginning to play an important role in the region. That network had been on the ground during the 2006 conflict in Lebanon, as well as in Gaza earlier in the year. The coverage had been one-sided however, because it had not shown any images of what was happening in Israel. Al Jazeera was also becoming a player in the regional media, even though it was so far available only in English.

The next speaker, GIDEON LEVY, columnist for Haaretz, said that, without the collaboration and encouragement of the Israeli media, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands would have never lasted for more than 40 years. The Israeli media was free and courageous, especially in exposing domestic corruption, but when it came "to the biggest corruption of Israel", the media played a different role.

He said the media had been instrumental in promoting the official political line, providing the public with a "very sophisticated laundry list of words" and describing destruction of housing and killings by using "soft names". The media had always been there to demonize and dehumanize the Palestinians, he said, noting that, while the press did report killings of Palestinians, such coverage appeared in the back pages of newspapers. "No one recruited us for this role, we volunteered for it," he said, stressing that the issue was particularly troubling because the Israeli journalists were actually free to report what they wanted, and they chose to portray Palestinians "as something other".

For months, the media had pushed politicians to invade Gaza, largely focusing on the "super weapons" from Iran that were being smuggled into the area through tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. When war had broken out, it really was not a war at all; it was an undeniable violation of human rights. If the Israeli media had done its job, the crisis in Gaza would have been different, as would the overall perception of events in the Middle East.

The seminar next heard presentations from four respondents, the first of whom was YAAKOV ACHIMEIR, anchor of a weekly programme on world affairs on TV Channel 1 in Israel, who said that he was a Jewish journalist living in Israel and that was key to understanding his coverage of events in the Middle East. There were so many attacks being made against Israel about its position in the Middle East. But in fact, Israel had signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan.

Further, no one was calling for an investigation of war crimes regarding the bombardment of Israeli lands at the beginning of the year. Didn’t those innocent civilians also deserve the attention of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights? Above all, the role of a journalist was to spell out the truth. The truth must not be hidden. Israel was a good country and he apologized for not being very objective on the issue.

MOHAMMAD SHAKER ABDULLAH, political columnist and member of the editorial board of Al-Quds in Jerusalem, said he had hoped his colleagues from Israel would have been more objective and open-minded in their statements, especially about the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

He added that it would have been beneficial if the seminar had included a meeting between Arab and Israeli journalists so they could have an open discussion about difficult issues, such as the return of Palestine refugees. He was born in Jerusalem and was considered a resident. However, the Palestinians born there did not have citizenship. A wall surrounded Jerusalem, so those Palestinians were separated from the rest of the Territory. Movement in and out of Jerusalem was very difficult.

Turning to the coverage of the Gaza conflict, he said Al-Quds was subjected to three controls: Israel, which forbade coverage of certain issues; Hamas, which had forbidden distribution in Gaza; and the Palestinian Authority, which also objected to coverage of certain issues. That said, coverage of the Gaza crisis had been very difficult, but Al-Quds had nevertheless been able to publish some stories throughout. He called for more cooperation from his Israeli colleagues to ensure peace for the good of all peoples in the region.

ETTA PRINCE-GIBSON, Editor of the weekly magazine The Jerusalem Report, said she was a Jew, a Zionist, an Israeli, a feminist and a mother. She had raised her children during the worst of times and seen them scarred by people dying around them, yet she was trying — though she did not know how well she was doing — to ensure her children respected human rights for all people. She did not support the settlements, but she did not believe that the Middle East conflict had one single cause, one single protagonist or one single solution. As such, everyone needed to look beyond the conflict and perceptions of it. "We need to get past the ‘ain’t that awful’ stories", and look for real, considered solutions.

"One thing I won’t do is participate in the popularity contest that I believe we are being asked to participate in," she said, challenging the participants to get out of their comfort zones and investigate new media sources that, while they might not agree with them, might actually advance the dialogue. There were lots of people in the world being cheerleaders for this or that event, but the role of a journalist was to provide a realistic view of the situations they covered.

"All of you are entitled to better journalism than you’re getting, and all of us journalists are required to provide it," she said, reminding participants that there was no one in the room that had not said at one point or another: "life is complicated". So what made the Middle East issue any different? It was time to look for ways to challenge old perceptions and attitudes. She had tried hard to make sure her staff reported events in the Middle East in a fair manner.

The final respondent, HELDA EREQAT, from Ma’an New Agency in Palestine, agreed with other colleagues who believed the seminar was becoming too political. Everyone had gathered in Rio de Janeiro to explore ways journalists could work together to advance the Middle East peace process. As a Palestinian journalist living in Jerusalem, she faced innumerable hurdles in trying to do her job, not least of which was movement in and out of the city. It was also difficult to take pictures in the area. That was the sad reality of living and working under the rules stipulated by the Israeli occupation army.

When the floor was opened for discussion, one speaker said "facts were more important than views", and it was time for everyone –- Palestinians, Israelis, the United Nations — to change the language of the debate on the Middle East. A local student said the media should not try to cover reality, but it should report on the instances of peaceful coexistence and cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. Several speakers called on the journalists to extend every effort to reach out to each other as a way of perhaps expanding their views on the situation in the Middle East.

Also taking the floor, RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations, expressed appreciation to the Government of Brazil for hosting the seminar. The event was significant in that it was the first such seminar organized in Latin America and was recognition of the growing role of Brazil as a partner of both sides in advancing the peace process. To all those that were sceptical about the relevance of United Nations efforts, he noted that the General Assembly had passed a resolution that had started a programme making it possible to bring Arab and Israeli journalists together to discuss the situation in the Middle East. That noble project was worthy of applause and not scepticism, he said.

Turning to the Middle East peace process, he said that each side could tell its own narrative. He could speak for "days and nights" about the humiliation of his people and about the nightmarish and dehumanising conditions that faced even his own family. But he would rather talk about moving the peace process forward. Towards that goal, the Security Council, yesterday in New York, had held a very constructive open debate on the Middle East. More than 30 delegations had participated, and there had been broad agreement on the need to move beyond the obstacles that had hampered negotiations since Annapolis. (See Press Release SC/9717)

The biggest obstacle around which there was unanimity was the issue of freezing Israeli settlements, including natural growth, and dismantling outposts, so that negotiations could be reopened, based the two-State solution. Further, Palestine had "big hopes" for President Obama in that regard. It was the duty of all States to make sure the Israeli Government lived up to its obligations – "not demands, but obligations" — under the Road Map peace plan. That was the way to open the door to negotiations. Under those conditions, "we are ready to go back to negotiations […] so that this time when we move forward, a peace treaty can be reached," he declared.

He went on to say that if the Palestinian people and the international community waited for everything to fall in place for the reconstruction of Gaza to begin and for the crossings to be opened, "we will wait forever", and the suffering of the Palestinian people would continue. With that in mind, he said, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had come up with a practical suggestion to allow the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to begin work on projects worth some $93 million, which had been approved before the siege of Gaza two years ago.

That would be a small, practical step, but it was also a crucial one, he said. Israeli authorities had been given all guarantees that the materials would reach their expected destination. There was consensus on the issue among all parties, including the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process, which comprised the United Nations, European Union, Russian Federation and the United States. All that remained was final approval from Israeli authorities. The initiative could serve as a model for other projects. "If we want to think in a constructive way, we should ensure action is taken [on this issue]," he said.

On accountability, he said that, if the Palestinian side conducted any wrongdoing, it wanted its friends to point it out. Killing innocent human beings was wrong. The inquiry into rights violations during the most recent Gaza conflict was not an investigation solely into Israeli conduct. It was an investigation into violations from all sides.

"Let us give [the head of the panel of inquiry] a chance. We want him to investigate us before he investigates the Israelis. We want to be held responsible for any violations," he declared. However, Palestinians did not want any occupying force killing thousands of Palestinian women and children. Those criminals that had committed human rights violations during the conflict should be brought to justice. That was the only way to stop the killing of civilians on all sides. "It is your collective responsibility to see this process through."

Responding to some of the comments, Ms. FRIEDSON said journalism was not about beliefs; it was about facts. To journalists, she said: "You have a right to your opinion, but you also have a duty to check the facts." What mattered was being able to look into the eyes of readers and views, knowing that, as a journalist, you had given a complete story.

Mr. LEVY said he believed journalists were not supposed to be diplomats or politicians. They should do their jobs, and there were very clear professional criteria setting the standard for journalistic performance.

For his part, Mr. ACHIMEIR suggested that the Department of Public Information organize the next international seminar so that it was split between Jerusalem and a smaller city in the region. That would be a sure way to get a better understanding of the media and its impact on the people. That was important, because in Israel, there was a huge gap between the media and public perception.

The seminar’s discussion on "The Role of Israeli-Palestinian Civil Society and Media in Bridging Divides: The Case of ‘Encounter Point’ and the Parents Circle-Families Forum", was moderated by PAULA REFOLO, Director, Strategic Communications Division, United Nations Department of Public Information.

She said that, generally speaking, the media today devoted more attention to political developments in the Middle East than it did to the initiatives taken by ordinary Palestinians and Israelis to bridge the divides.

The first speaker was JULIA BACHA, co-director of Encounter Point, a film documentary relating the stories of loss on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian question. The film focused on two of the featured panellists, Ali Abu Awwad and Robi Damelin, members of the Parents Circle-Families Forum, which is a group of 500 Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families who promote reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge.

She said there had been a lot of comments during the seminar on the political aspects of the Middle East, but it was also important to examine the way news about events in the region was being gathered, accessed and delivered. Indeed, society appeared to be getting its news more and more from social networks rather than traditional media networks.

It was unfortunate that she had heard only one mention of Twitter, and had not heard anyone talk about Facebook or YouTube. While that might have been due to the age range of the participants, it was nevertheless necessary to take new media seriously, especially when dealing with the Arab world, where a "youth bulge" was seeing young people watching or reading traditional media less and less and communicating with each other via social networks. With that in mind, she said the United Nations could include bloggers or others that worked in new media fields in the next seminar, otherwise the discussions at such events would become obsolete.

Following poignant clips of her film, which set the stage for the discussion, she said that civic journalists were often accused of not telling the real story. Her response was that those journalists were actually expanding the horizons of their readers or viewers. She urged the seminar to move beyond the "violence bias," and "if it bleeds it leads" journalism. There were other stories to be told that were equally moving and equally important.

The next speaker, ROBI DAMELIN, painfully recalled that a Palestinian sniper had killed her son while he was guarding a checkpoint near a settlement. After he had been killed, she had joined the Parents Circle–Families Forum. She was sorry that Encounter Point had not been shown at the beginning of the seminar, because perhaps then, the rhetoric might have been a little less virulent. "I know everybody wants to be right, but we can never succeed if everybody is right," she declared.

She said she did not care how the media portrayed grieving mothers, from Palestine or Israel, because they all went to bed feeling the same pain. Indeed, she urged the United Nations to consider creating some sort of support group for Palestinian mothers. She urged the media to recognize the possibilities of reconciliation and negotiated solutions. Addressing the journalists in the room, she said that feeling sorry for the Palestinians did not help them; supporting Israel did not help it. "So all of you, if you are not willing to talk about a peaceful resolution, then just stay out of it," she said.

At the same time, she cited extremely high rates of domestic violence and alcohol-fuelled automobile accidents in Israel. Indeed, more people were killed on the road than in the conflict. Therefore, Israel could no longer ignore the fact that its moral fibre was being slowly eaten away by the occupation. " Israel is my country. I love it. But I want to live in a moral country," she said.

Later in the discussion, she expressed support for the Arab Peace Initiative but urged an "emotional breakthrough" around that proposal as the best way to put it on the fast track towards acceptance. She also said Encounter Point had changed the face of her organization. It had opened doors around the world for families on both sides of the equation to discuss painful events. Indeed, it had been a case of "the media being your best friend". "Take it from me, the difference that it makes for people that have seen this film, it makes a change in attitudes, it makes them remember who they are," she said.

Next, ALI ABU AWWAD took the floor. He said he had grown up in a politically active family and had resisted the Israeli occupation during the first intifada. He had been arrested for demonstrating and participating in the resistance movement and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He had served only four of those years when he had been released after the signing of the Oslo Accords. During the second intifada, Mr. Awwad’s brother had been shot and killed by an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint at the entrance to his family’s village.

On the subject at hand, he said he sometimes believed that the media in the Middle East was more political than the politicians. At the same time, he understood that it was hard to tell the truth because the truth was often so painful. It was hard to excuse your behaviour at the expense of another.

Much of the pain was provoked by the struggle for validation –- just to belong, he said. "My everyday life is so, so hard," he continued, adding: "It’s hard to hold on to your humanity when you’re living in a junkyard." He had achieved some sense of balance by turning off all feeling. So now, no matter how oppressive the Israeli occupation became, it could not harm him. He urged journalists to do their part by putting their "hearts in their cameras". He suggested the creation of a forum for media and the Middle East, focused on justice, peacebuilding and reconciliation.

Pledging to keep up his non-violent resistance to the occupation, he called on the United Nations to find out who killed his brother and see that that Israeli soldier was imprisoned. Being against the occupation was the best way to support Israel, because the occupation was destroying that country. He was not going to give up his resistance efforts. His tool was dialogue with the other side.

The Arab Peace Initiative had been ignored, largely because peace was a frightening thing. Peace required painful compromises and, in this case, giving up land. "My dream is to have any killing of any human being [classified] as a crime," he said, calling on the media to do its part towards that end. "I believe in a free Palestine and a secure Israel," he said.

DANNY NISHLIS, Director of Radio Haifa, said the seminar’s organizers must have realized that his home city was a model of cooperation between Arabs and Jews. As such, and as one of the last speakers in the seminar, he would present some stories of hope — not through "a vision", but through reality.

Among others, he recalled a story of Haifa being bombarded by hundreds of rockets during the war in Lebanon. At the height of the bombing, Israeli authorities had told all the Arabs in the city to leave. Mr. Nishlis had gone to his radio studio and spoke to the Arab population and urged it to stay put. He had later opened a small studio in the Arab quarter. His station had done all it could to calm the situation.

That story showed how strong the media’s influence could be with a strong agenda. His agenda was sustaining the coexistence in Haifa, no matter what. He urged the United Nations to consider holding its next media seminar in Haifa, so the participants could witness the situation there with their own eyes. He also supported the idea of developing a branch of "peace journalism", rather than "war reporting" — which several speakers at the seminar had mentioned — to promote peace worldwide.

MICHAEL YOUNAN, of the International Peace and Cooperation Centre, said his organization had been established in 1988 to develop initiatives that supported social and cultural programmes for the development of the Palestinian people. Among other things, his organization worked to set a framework for Palestinians "the day after" occupation ended. In the end, it believed that that the land would be shared, occupation would end and Palestinians and Israelis would live in peaceful coexistence in Jerusalem.

Responding to comments, Ms. DAMELIN said she believed in the media, but at the same time, she believed that non-governmental organizations needed to know how to use the media. She suggested that the United Nations consider setting up a programme that would help civil society organizations take better advantage of all media outlets.

Concluding Remarks

VERA MACHADO, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ministry of External Relations of Brazil, thanked all the participants in the seminar. She said that, over the past two days, participants had reflected deeply on issues that were vital to peace in the Middle East and the wider world. Both optimistic and pessimistic views had been expressed. Brazil, for its part, wished to keep a hopeful view of the situation. Brazil also believed that initiatives such as Ms. Bacha’s film Encounter Point should be continued, especially since matters regarding peace and reconciliation should not be left to Governments alone.

KIYO AKASAKA, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said the conference had been successful. It had been the first such seminar held in Latin America, and in Brazil’s tradition, it had shown the vitality and resourcefulness of the people. Indeed, the seminar had not had such active participation in many years. He thanked the Ministry of External Relations of Brazil, which had helped ensure an interesting and productive conference.

He went on to say that this was a media seminar, not a meeting to consider Middle East peace negotiations. The Secretary-General, in his message, however, had stressed the importance of the role to be played by the media towards a solution. He had stressed that they did indeed have a role to play in promoting dialogue and mutual understanding among Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr. Akasaka said he hoped the discussions at the seminar helped build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians through their creative and innovative ideas. He urged journalists to write about the issues discussed in the seminar. "You have enormous power to reach out to the widest possible audience to change the mindsets […] for better understanding and a peaceful future for all people in the Middle East," he said. The United Nations and major actors, both old and new, would assist the search for a peaceful solution.

Further to that end, the seminar had heard that the United States had reinvigorated its role and that the European Union would continue to play its part. The contributions of new actors, such as Brazil, had also been highlighted. As for the United Nations, UNRWA would continue with its education, health and food assistance to meet the needs of people on the ground. The Department of Public Information would continue to mobilize its forces and resources to continue the annual seminar so that the understanding between Israelis and Palestinians could be further enhanced.

For information media • not an official record

Source: United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI)

Date: 28 Jul 2009

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