Published in The Globe and Mail -- Saturday, March 8, 2003 -- Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Making peace, one person at a time

      Three daughters of ambassadors from various flashpoints of Middle Eastern conflict have begun their own diplomatic mission -- in the halls and auditoriums of Ottawa high schools.
      But first, they had to learn to trust each other.
      Today, the young women tell their stories, in three essays written for The Globe and Mail, and speak to The Globe's JANE TABER

   Feature interview of Michelle Divon, Lana Ayoub and Tara Ogaick, by JANET TABER
   Peace starts with people acknowledging one another, by MICHELLE DIVON, 16, ISRAEL
   Justice and security are the pillars, by LANA AYOUB, 17, JORDAN
   An urge to do something, anything, by TARA OGAICK, 16, IRAN AND SAUDI ARABIA
   A letter to the editor

      OTTAWA -- The religious tensions that permeate the Middle East played out on a high-school field one warm fall day last September, when Michelle Divon met Lana Ayoub for the very first time.
      In an English classroom a few days later, those tensions led to a bitter confrontation between Ms. Divon and another student, Tara Ogaick, over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
      For a time, cruel words, chilly looks and awkward moments in hallways and classrooms defined the relationship between these Grade 11 students in an Ottawa high school. Things had to change, they decided.
      Six months later, they are good friends. They hang out on weekends, they go out for dinner. Not so long ago, they cowered in their seats at a local cinema while watching The Ring, a horror movie.
      More than that, however, these girls have become a formidable troika -- a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim working together for peace, visiting local schools and bringing their youthful confidence and enthusiasm to the task of delivering a sophisticated, optimistic message of hope.
      Ms. Divon, 16, all dark curly hair and blue eyes, is the daughter of Haim Divon, the Israeli ambassador to Canada. The family was posted to Ottawa nearly three years ago after having lived in Israel for the past 7 years.
      Outspoken and opinionated, Ms. Divon is the instigator of this peace initiative.
      Ms. Ayoub, 17, is Jordanian Ambassador Fouad Ayoub's daughter. She and her family arrived in the city last August. Though she has spent most of her life in Europe, where her father served as an ambassador in England and Switzerland, she came to Canada directly from a year in Jordan.
      She is smart and understated. When asked what she thinks of Ottawa, compared with London and Bern, she replies, diplomatically, "It's cute."
      Ms. Ogaick, 16, is half-Iranian, but her parents live in Saudi Arabia. She left Riyadh last summer after living there for five years, to become a first-time -- and homesick -- boarder at Ashbury College, a private school in Rockcliffe Park, Ottawa's moneyed enclave.
      Her mother, Farnaz, is Iranian, while her father, Gary, is a former Canadian diplomat. Ms. Ogaick is the youngest, and quietest, of the trio.
      When Ms. Divon recalls her first meeting with Ms. Ayoub, she says, "It was very awkward." They were in gym class, participating in an "awful," as she describes it, five-lap run of their school's large field. (Ms. Divon has since dropped gym.)
      Waiting for their group to run, the two girls found themselves beside each other, and began to talk. Ms. Ayoub mentioned she was from Jordan, and that her father was at the embassy.
      "I'm like, 'Oh, I'm from Israel,' " Ms. Divon says. "And that was just a really awkward moment. I was, 'Oh, no.' Okay, Israel and Jordan are at peace, but still there is this Arab-Jewish kind of tension. . . . The first thing I thought was, 'Does she hate me?' You don't know what the other person is thinking."
      Ms. Ayoub had similar thoughts. "We just sort of walked away from each other and kept our distance," she remembers.
      Keeping a polite distance was just what Ms. Divon and Ms. Ogaick found they could not do. On Sept. 11, 2002, a day for remembrance and deliberation, their English teacher brought up the subject of terrorism. The discussion eventually turned to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and quickly turned into a debate between two students -- Ms. Divon and Ms. Ogaick.
      "It was actually very embarrassing when I think about it," Ms. Ogaick says. "I think she was insulting me more. I started off the argument, I'll give myself that."
      Ms. Divon says Ms. Ogaick made a "generalization" about Israelis that shocked her. But today the two say they cannot recall exactly what was said.
      "It became a really broad, heated debate. And it didn't end well," Ms. Divon says.
      "It ended with a very, very cold glance," Ms. Ogaick says. "And then I was storming out of the classroom, deciding we didn't like each other."
      Still, Ms. Divon was bothered by what had happened in that classroom. So was Ms. Ogaick, and she talked to her friend, Ms. Ayoub, about what had happened.
      Ms. Divon talked to her parents. They listened. "This is ridiculous," she remembers deciding. "If the two of us can't communicate, we can't even talk to one another, how do we ever expect there will be peace in the region? How can we expect that? I'm an awful example."
      She drew on her experiences from her life in the Middle East itself: "I lived in Israel for seven years before I came here. And so, obviously, I've never had that kind of confrontation or anything. In Israel, you can't. It's awful -- it's complete segregation. In the region, people don't even have the opportunity to meet each other. There are borders.
      "That's why this is a golden opportunity."
      Days later, in drama class, she asked their teacher if she could speak privately with Ms. Ogaick.
      "And I said, 'You know what, I was thinking, even if we can't resolve anything politically, I want things to be all right between us.' "
      Ms. Divon says that conversation "broke the ice." From there, the two "really hit it off."
      "She was right," Ms. Ogaick says. "We had to get the communication going, and when we actually started to talk, we had so much in common."
      They talked of their shared experiences in the Middle East, lives in which people can become sheltered within their own cultures. "Then," Ms. Divon says, "I said -because things were going really well -- 'This is my life. I mean, this conflict. I'm going back to this. I want to do something about this.' I said, 'I want you to join me.' "
      Ms. Ogaick agreed, even though, as Ms. Divon says, "at the time, obviously, we had no idea what we'd be doing." And Ms. Ogaick asked her friend, Ms. Ayoub, if she would like to join too.
      "I was really excited to do this thing," Ms. Ayoub says. At school, "there had been certain comments that had been thrown at the different religions and nationalities. And we wanted to inform people of what they didn't know."
      Until that point, Ms. Divon had not spoken to Ms. Ayoub since their meeting on the field. "And that's the thing," she stresses. "Most Arabs and Jews who meet each other -- some will decide to ignore each other, some will decide to argue with each other, just as the three of us did. It's very typical. It's awful. I've learned so much."
      And what they learned was that they all shared one dream.
      "The funny thing is the three of us were completely for peace," Ms. Divon says. "The three of us -- we're people for peace, and it's funny how we have this instinct that makes us keep our distance."
      Having overcome that first hurdle, they began working together after school on a presentation to give to their schoolmates. Together, they came up with a 30-minute piece that recognized their different cultures, religions and upbringing, while celebrating their similarities.
      That presentation has become what they do, going from school to school in the Ottawa region. It has brought some students to tears. In one especially moving segment, Ms. Ogaick reads an e-mail from Arena Defler, 16, a close Israeli friend of Ms. Divon. About two years ago, a suicide bomber killed Ms. Defler's father and uncle.
      "The other side is affected by this war as well," Ms. Ogaick reads from Ms. Defler's letter. "Palestinian children who don't have a father or mother or families, who have lost someone dear to them, they are hurting exactly as I am hurting. And this is why I am not trying to say that it's my country or that I am better then them. . . . We are all suffering and there's no more feeling of hope."
      She continues: "If you feel as I feel or feel that you have something you can do to help, then do it! Don't be afraid of what people may say or how they may react, and don't be afraid to speak up and spread your idea, because one small idea can turn into a bigger idea which might help us defeat this situation."
      Ms. Defler said she hoped that her letter will inspire others to do something, and it has. Indeed, Ms. Divon received that e-mail around the same time as her conflicts with Ms. Ogaick and Ms. Ayoub.
      In her part of the presentation, Ms. Ayoub speaks of her country and her family. "I talk about Jordan, where it's situated between Iraq and Palestine, and how it's kind of stuck in the middle of these two big conflicts that are happening and hurting Jordan badly."
      She talks, too, of King Hussein, who passed away in 1999. He worked so hard for peace, she says, and after he died, things got worse: "For him to have worked so hard, and for peace not to come out this, would be wrong," she says.
      Ms. Ayoub tells the story of her 16-year-old Palestinian cousin, Jasmeen, who lives on the West Bank: "She is walking back from school and Israeli tanks start chasing them, and sometimes they shoot at them. And a bullet actually went through one of her friend's bags. If the bag was not there, she probably would have been killed."
      But the underlying point, as Ms. Divon tells other students, is that if these three young women can be friends, "maybe this" -- peace -- "is possible."
      "We just talk about the younger generation," she says. "We should start educating the younger generation -- we're going to have to deal with the outcome of this crisis and whatever is going to happen. We're trying to make people care."
      Each girl says she has been changed by the experience -- they are not as quick to judge other people now, and they have learned to open their eyes. And they believe they have changed others, too, such as the Saudi and Egyptian girls who heard their presentation and want to help.
      Right now, however, March Break and a week-long vacation beckons. Ms. Ogaick is a bit stressed and excited -two weeks ago, she joined the school's theatre troupe, which is spending the break performing in Germany. She has had to master quickly the part of Romeo's servant, Balthasar, in an adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet that is set in Jerusalem -- Juliet is Israeli, and Romeo is Palestinian.
      Despite all her involvement with plays and peace missions, though, her distractions do not take away the pain of being apart from her parents.
"I'm not going to lie," she says. "I miss my parents a lot, and I haven't had the easiest year. But I've grown up so much."
      She plans to return to Riyadh this summer, although war may put those plans in doubt. It's something that she and her parents talk about. They have assured her that they are safe, and have taken the necessary precautions to protect themselves.
      Meanwhile, Ms. Ayoub is off this week to New York to visit her older brother. She will return to Ashbury next year for Grade 12, and figures she'll end up at an American university. This summer, she and Ms. Divon hope to visit each other, if and when they are in the Middle East at the same time.
      And Ms. Divon's plans? For the break, she is just hanging around town. Then there's another year of high school -- followed by two years of compulsory military service in Israel.
      She doesn't consider that incongruous with her current activism for peace. It's simply what every Israeli teenager has to do.
      "But what I do think is the fact that we're going back home is good, because we can share our experiences and start something back home -first, that we don't have the opportunity to meet people from the other side."
      That opportunity is something she has only found in Canada.

Jane Taber is a member of The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau.

MICHELLE DIVON, 16, ISRAEL -- 'Peace starts with people acknowledging one another'

      The conflict in the Middle East has distanced us as human beings. It has made us forget our shared humanity. Of course we need a political solution, but how can peace be achieved without the people believing in change?
      Peace isn't just written on a piece of paper. Peace starts with people acknowledging one another.
      There is a tremendous amount of mistrust, fear and resentment between both sides of the Israeli-Arab conflict, but hatred is something we are taught, not something we are born with.
      The only way to eliminate our preconceived ideas about the "other side" is to communicate with and learn about each other. When Lana, Tara and I met at school, we too judged one another on the basis of our national and religious backgrounds. Lana and I chose to ignore each other, while Tara and I engaged in a heated and political debate in class.
      These scenarios are nothing out of the ordinary; in fact, most Arabs and Jews would do the same when coming into contact. Months later, the "miracle" of dialogue brought us together. Talking is something people forget to do these days.
      Meeting Tara and Lana has been a golden opportunity for me. Back in Israel, we would not have the chance to meet, and surely not have the privilege to learn from each other and enjoy a friendship. In Canada, we all have the power to start something positive. We have the power to lay the groundwork for future co-existence. We can be an example to our brothers in the region, of how tolerance is possible.
      By sharing our story and my experiences in Israel with other students in Ottawa, I hope to increase understanding between all people and to raise awareness of the human toll of the conflict. I am also beginning to organize events to bring the Jewish and Arab-Muslim communities together, to focus on our similar cultures and shared humanity.
      Our similarities are far greater than our differences, and I would like to provide people with the opportunity to discover this on their own. Just like we cannot shake hands with a clenched fist, we cannot make peace without looking each other in the eye.

LANA AYOUB, 17, JORDAN -- 'Justice and security are the pillars'

I, like many other young people in the region, am bewildered at how the hopes of achieving peace fluctuate. Sometimes it seems as though peace is at our hands, only to find out that it has just been another mirage, and I can only wonder why.
      An opportunity to achieve some peace showed itself on a very small scale, at a very small school, in a very typical gym. We each assumed that we knew how we were viewed through the other's eyes, because of our nationalities. As time went on, we began to slowly communicate, at first defensively. With time, we discovered that communication was the key to solving these tensions between us.
      To contribute to peace in the region, I hope to be able to convey a message that peace can be achieved, and to achieve it, the necessary elements must be part of it: Justice and security are the pillars on which peace rests. I am not a philosopher or a lawyer to know what the perfect definition of justice is, but I have a basic understanding of it.
      The injustice that the Palestinians have suffered for so long must be corrected. The insecurity that the Israelis have been living with must come to an end. Only when both of these objectives are realized, can we have a future not revolving around hatred and violence.
      The only aspect I can contribute to now is to broaden people's perspectives and to raise awareness of this ongoing conflict and the need to put an end to it.
      People have to understand that although this conflict is taking place far, far away, they are still affected by it. There is a famous quote that says, "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Nothing could be more accurate in this case.
      I have been privileged to know one of the greatest peacemakers of our time, his late majesty, King Hussein of Jordan. I remember hearing him say peace has to start with the people themselves. He left us a legacy of peace and sometimes when I get involved in this effort, I do so remembering him. A wish of his was that all the children of Abraham could have a future worthy of their past. For those not familiar, the children of Abraham are Christians, Jews and Muslims.

TARA OGAICK, 16, IRAN AND SAUDI ARABIA -- 'An urge to do something, anything'

      There is so much pain and suffering in the world right now that I have an urge to do something, anything. I've lived in Saudi Arabia for the past five years and my parents continue to live there.
      When I was there, my school wanted to do something on its part to raise the awareness of the students and keep them informed on the crisis surrounding the Israelis and the Palestinians, because it affected us all. They started handing out little peace pins, and people who were opposed to the conflict wore them as a symbol of hope and understanding. I think that's when I first realized that I wanted to do something.
      When I came to Ottawa and met Michelle and Lana, we were given that opportunity. We each wrote a little about how we are personally affected by this conflict, and some of our ideas, and then we spoke to our fellow students in chapel. The majority of what I speak about now is how it felt to come to Canada after being from somewhere different, the restrictions of living in Saudi Arabia, and how being Muslim affects me in Canada.
      There are countless arguments on both sides as to how the other party is to blame, but we wanted to get past that. We wanted to start something that could begin with communication and openness. That is what we would like, over all. I've learned two big lessons from this: That first impressions and judging people straight away are harmful, and that it takes sacrifice and dedication to get what you want sometimes.
      We've grown a lot, but that doesn't necessarily mean we always agree on everything. I am just happy to have been given this opportunity. Thank you to everyone who has supported us, and to those who have faith in us.

Letter to the Editor -- Monday, March 10, 2003

Middle East troika


Toronto -- Jane Taber's Making Peace, One Person At A Time (March 8), about the three daughters of ambassadors from the Middle East, is a welcome antidote to the relentless news we hear about what is not going right in that part of the world. The efforts of these three young women to get to know each other, despite their differences, is a wonderful example for adults and shows the contribution youth can make to changing the world.

Michelle Divon, Lana Ayoub and Tara Ogaick receive e-mail at

The girls' story -- THREE FAITHS, ONE DREAM OF PEACE -- was also reported days earlier in The Ottawa Citizen, seen at .
They inspired yet another social outcome for Carleton and Ottawa University Muslim and Jewish students:
in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, Monday, April 7, 2003 at, March 8, 2003, at