NEW YORK and JERUSALEM, June 2, 2016—Sarah Perle Benazera and Ohood Murqaten, Co-Chairs of the YaLa Young Leaders Core Leadership Group, received the 2016 IIE Victor J. Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East for their roles leading the charge for peace and positive social change in their communities and in the region. They are part of a dynamic and talented leadership team that has made YaLa Young Leaders the broadest and fastest-growing Middle East peace movement today, with nearly a million members from all across the MENA region, hailing from Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Qatar.
The IIE Goldberg Prize, which includes a $10,000 prize, was presented at a ceremony on June 2nd at America House in Jerusalem by Victor J. Goldberg, a retired IBM executive who is a longtime Trustee of the New York-based Institute of International Education and who established and endowed the prize in 2005. American Consul General Donald Blome spoke at the Prize ceremony.
An online movement led by young adults, for young adults, YaLa focuses on dialogue and engagement as a means to securing a safe, productive, and peaceful region, capitalizing on the catalyzing power of social networks, media and technology to lead their generation to a better future.
Sarah and Ohood coordinate a diverse Middle Eastern team of administrators who manage the YaLa Young Leaders' Facebook page, reaching an average of 65,000 people per day. During times of high tension in the region, the YaLa page provides a safe environment for young people on both sides to search for a different point of view on the situation, and to find partners for dialogue. The group also created the YaLa Press blog platform to share more in-depth personal stories and experiences and show the human face of the Middle East. It is the first ever blog platform to connect young Arabs and Israelis from across the region, and now has more than 270 blog posts online.
Sarah was instrumental in creating YaLa Press and served as its editor. She also inspired a new direction for YaLa's flagship project, the YaLa Academy, which has brought over 900 Israeli, Palestinian and MENA youth together for joint online training and dialogue. Sarah developed YaLa Academy's newest and most innovative program: the YaLa New Media & Citizen Journalism program, supported by the U.S. Institute of Peace. Ohood serves as the Arabic Curriculum and Student Relations Coordinator for the YaLa Citizen Journalism Program. It has achieved considerable success, with over 300 MENA young leaders (one third Israeli, one third Palestinian and one third from across the region) taking part inYaLa's efforts to bring young people together to cooperate in social media and journalism campaigns to advance the cause of peace. Ohood coordinated the MENA Leaders for Change program on behalf of YaLa Palestine, an innovative peace leadership training and empowerment program that trained 300 youth between 2012 and 2014 with support from the U.S. Department of State. Previously, she took part in an International Visitors Leadership Program focused on Women’s Rights, with support from the US Consulate General in Jerusalem.
Every day, Sarah and Ohood facilitate discussions between dozens of young people who are hungry for dialogue. They empower YaLa participants and give them the tools they need to tell their stories, listen to the stories of the "other side" and create a common new narrative. Ohood and Sarah, together with the teams at YaLa Palestine and the Peres Center for Peace, lead activities that have served as a bonding experience that brought many members and students closer together despite the political tensions in the region.
In presenting the award, IIE Trustee Victor J. Goldberg said, "This award recognizes innovation, and rewards those who are courageous and committed enough to work together to overcome the religious, cultural, ethnic, and political issues which divide the Middle East. We hope that the dedication shown by our prize winners will inspire others to join together across these divides to advance the cause of peace in the coming years."
IIE, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1919 and headquartered in New York City, created the Goldberg IIE Prize with an endowment from IIE's Executive Committee member and former Vice Chairman, Victor J. Goldberg. The Selection Committee for the Prize includes leading experts from academia, the non-profit sector, and government.
About Ohood Murqaten
Ohood Murqaten has a B.A. in Television and Media Studies and more than five years of experience in the media, communications, social justice and peacebuilding sectors in Palestine. In addition to working for YaLa Palestine as project coordinator for the MENA Leaders for Change and Citizen Journalism program, she has served as a facilitator for Search for Common Ground, media officer for Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission, and for a number of Palestinian television, radio and media companies. She has been a gender equality and peace building activist for the Canaan Conference of Women for Peace in the Middle East in Berlin, Germany and attended a study trip to the Holocaust Memorial at Auschwitz, organized by Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, part of the Trilateral Project: "Hearts of Flesh-Not Stone."
About Sarah Perle Benazera
Sarah Perle Benazera is a peace-believer, peace-activist, storyteller and educator, with years of hands-on experience in international and inter-cultural dialogue working at the people-to-people level for a better Middle East. In addition to working as a project manager at YaLa Young Leaders, she has been involved in various Peace and Cooperation projects, organizing conferences, participating in panels and programs about peace education and cooperation, and working and volunteering with Kid4Peace Jerusalem. She has studied Environmental Studies and cross-border cooperation at Sde Boker and the Arava Institute, as well as Political Philosophy at the Université Panthéon Sorbonne in Paris.
About the Institute of International Education
The Institute of International Education is a world leader in the international exchange of people and ideas. IIE designs and implements programs of study and training for students, educators, young professionals and trainees from all sectors with funding from government agencies, foundations, and corporations. An independent, not-for-profit organization founded in 1919, IIE has a network of 19 offices and affiliates worldwide and over 1,400 member institutions.
About Victor J. Goldberg
Victor J. Goldberg retired from IBM in 1993 as a corporate vice president after a 34-year career at the company. Mr. Goldberg received both his undergraduate and his M.B.A. degrees from Northwestern University. He joined the Board of Trustees of the Institute of International Education in 1979, is a member of its Executive Committee and served for 13 years as vice chairman of the Board. He is a trustee of the International Fellowship Program, a Ford Foundation initiative for underserved populations around the world, and also serves on the Westchester County Fair Campaign Practices Committee and the board of Education Through Music.
About the Prize
The Institute of International Education awards the IIE Victor J. Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East annually to recognize outstanding work being conducted jointly by two individuals, one Arab and one Israeli, working together to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. The two individuals whose work is judged to be most successful in bringing people together and breaking down the barriers of hatred toward "the other" share a $10,000 prize. The Selection Committee for the Prize includes leaders from business, academia, the not-for-profit sector, and government.
Chaired by Thomas S. Johnson, the Chairman of IIE's Board of Trustees and retired Chairman and CEO of GreenPoint Financial Corporation, the committee includes: Susan Berresford, former President of the Ford Foundation; Peter Edelman, Co-Director of the Joint Degree in Law and Public Policy and Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center and past Board President of the New Israel Fund; Alain McNamara, Executive Director, Jordanian-American Commission for Educational Exchange (JACEE); Kenton Keith, retired Senior Vice President of the Meridian International Center, Former Ambassador to Qatar and Director of USIA's Office of North African, Near Eastern, and South Asian Affairs; Maisa Galal, Director of Human Resources, General Motors Egypt; and Harold Tanner, an investment banker and former President of the American Jewish Committee and head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.