Steven Aiello

Perspectives on Peace: A View from the Diaspora (Message # 4)

The following is a personal message from a young Palestinian student living in the diaspora. This is the fourth in a series highlighting what the next generation’s leaders are thinking and feeling. The previous post is available here. If you are interested in submitting a piece, please contact me ( Submissions will all be anonymous.

“As I sit in my living room in Dubai, watching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict erupt once more, the scene on the television remains the same as it has been for as long as I can remember: buildings on fire, Palestinians dying, women crying, paramedics running around and general chaos unfolding. In contrast, my living room remains calm – I sit there quietly trying to understand why this is happening again and why this battle always seems to be so one-sided.

My household, often bustling with noise is, once again, reduced to silence. My mother shakes her head and bemoans the brutality while my father, a proud Yaffaoui, says nothing, trying not to let his anger show. Unfortunately, for both Palestinians and Israelis – this scene has repeated itself time and time again. I have seen this conflict explode more times than I can remember, and unfortunately – even when there is relative peace and calm in the West Bank and Gaza – I, like most who have some connection to the conflict, am simply waiting for another catalyst to set off the tinder box of war and for more innocent civilians to die. As a Palestinian living in the diaspora, I have come to accept the violence and injustice of this conflict as the norm. Although it is still shocking to see images and videos of bombed houses, dying children and screaming mothers – I am no longer fuelled with as much anger and frustration as I was in the past. Such is the consequence of having become accustomed to seeing such scenes for almost all of my life. This is not to say that I don’t care about what’s happening in my homeland. Despite the fact that we have all, to an extent, become increasingly desensitised to images of war, which are not solely limited to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the fact remains that I still get very passionate when discussing the issue in person. Which suggests that despite having never lived in Palestine, having only a few family members still there and having only visited once – I still feel a strong duty to stand up for Palestinian issues which is something that I hope to maintain regardless of my dwindling sensitivity to media surrounding the conflict.

Furthermore, despite my inability to relate to the conditions under which Gazans are forced to live and my relative insensitivity to the appalling images of the current situation in Gaza circulating on Social Media, I do not blame Gazans for how they have retaliated. It is of course much easier to remain passive when viewing a shocking image on Facebook, than if you were to see a friend or family member killed in front of you. As for the diaspora, when you are so removed and when your daily life really does not change as a result of the conflict it’s easy to forget about the on-going disaster and to go on with your life; until you are back in the living room, watching the evening news with your parents – confronted with an all too familiar scene. This scenario is one which is difficult for non-Palestinians or Israelis to understand given the length and repetitiveness of this conflict.

For many in the diaspora, the prospect of peace is a difficult issue to address, given not only how little we are able to differentiate between periods of peace and war in the region, other than increased media coverage, but also because it is difficult to fully comprehend the reality on the ground.

However, the concept of peace in the region remains a possibility in my eyes but only if those in the diaspora, both Palestinians and Israelis, actually involve themselves in the process by communicating with each other. I just finished my first year of university in Britain, and nothing has opened my eyes more to the reality of the conflict than my discussions with Israelis and Jews. As a Palestinian in the diaspora, I consider it of the utmost importance to try to understand the viewpoint of the ‘other side’ which I might not have otherwise been able to had I been living under the occupation. As a Palestinian, I find this especially important as by engaging in conversation with Israelis abroad, we can help dispel whatever stereotypes or generalisations that we or they may be associated with – which may, hopefully, have a ripple effect on those actually involved in the conflict. Following my conversations with Israelis, it is clear that the same applies to the ‘other side’ and subsequently– I have never been more willing to reason with my counterparts and argue against intolerance than ever before. I only hope that they would do the same for me if confronted by similar ignorance among their peers. Based on having had such discussions, I have come to realise that although there is a clear inequality when it comes to the suffering inflicted on the opposing population – most liberal young Palestinians and Israelis share two emotions; fear and hopelessness. Ultimately these two factors are, in my opinion, caused by the recklessness and irrationality of our respective leaders. The willingness, I have witnessed, of members of both Diasporas to communicate with each other should be taken as an example by our own leaders who have failed to compromise time and time again.

Thus, the change of this factor appears to be the key to achieving peace. On the Israelis side, a shift from the increasingly radical right wing politics of Netanyahu is necessary. The Israeli leadership must understand that they cannot counter Hamas’ violence with increasingly deadly militaristic displays of strength given the numerous civilian casualties, and that such tactics are also ineffective. This was demonstrated following operation Cast Lead, Hamas gained more support following the Israeli aggression. On the other side, the corrupt Palestinian leadership must be reformed and Palestinians who put the safety of Palestinians first must take power. In Gaza, Hamas – although democratically elected- must also understand that whatever small ideological victory they may gain by launching missiles at Israel is offset massively by the incredible suffering Gazans are forced to endure as a result of their actions. Ultimately, leaders on both sides need to appreciate that dialogue and respect for one another is in fact the best way to achieve a lasting peace for their citizens rather than random shows of military capabilities, which only cause suffering on both sides.

A shift in attitude in the leadership will have ripple effects throughout both societies as, hopefully, we come to accept each other’s rights to exist and can go back to living in peace as our ancestors once did.

Until that becomes reality, I will be sitting in the living room with my parents, watching the news and hoping that the current round of violence comes to an end as soon as possible.” —– S.O.A.

About the Author
Steven Aiello is the Director of Debate for Peace (, and a board member of the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development NY. He has a BA in Economics, MA in Diplomacy and Conflict Studies, and MA in Islamic Studies. He teaches Model UN for schools throughout Israel. Among his other hats he serves as Regional Coordinator for Creating Friendships for Peace, and Dialogue Officer at Asfar. Steven has also served as Chief of the Middle East Desk Head for Wikistrat, interned for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the American Islamic Congress. His writing has been published in the NY Daily News, Jerusalem Post, Iran Human Rights Review; Berkley Center at Georgetown;, and the Center for Islamic Pluralism. He can be reached via email at