During his Middle East trip in March 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama met with eight young Palestinians at the Al-Bireh Youth Resource Development Center in Ramallah. The meeting was originally scheduled for 20 minutes, but it continued for 45 minutes and made a profound impression on him.
At the meeting with Israeli students later in the afternoon, Obama said: "Before I came here, I met with a group of young Palestinians from the age of 15 to 22. And talking to them, they weren't that different from my daughters. They weren't that different from your daughters or sons. I honestly believe that if any Israeli parent sat down with those kids, they'd say, I want these kids to succeed. (Applause) I want them to prosper. I want them to have opportunities just like my kids do. (Applause.) I believe that's what Israeli parents would want for these kids if they had a chance to listen to them and talk to them. (Cheers, applause.) I believe that. (Cheers, applause.)"
What follows is the first publication of the moving presentations made by each of the eight Palestinian youth in their meeting with Obama.
Mr. President... It's my pleasure to meet you.
My name is Sima Qutteneh. I'm 16 years old. From Hebron.
I'm an ambitious person. My passion is in science, and I hope that I can develop this field in the world.
To improve myself, to improve my country, I do so many activities. I've joined several clubs and organizations, and I won some competitions such as Intel, First Lego League and first place at the Scientific Olympics.
In my opinion, I believe that education is the best way to build a creative society. So I've joined an organization which teaches children how to make scientific research, and how to put some sensible solutions to solve the problems that they have in their societies, to make a better future for tomorrow.
For my research, I was thinking about something that students suffered from. I found that the biggest challenge which students have is studying the English language, especially students who live near the settlements in the center of the city. I did some examinations and research and then determined the weakness points which students have. After that, I suggest some solutions for them. My research won first prize as the best research because the Ministry of Education profits from it to improve the Palestinian English textbooks for schools.
Yes, I could do all of this, even though we have lots of challenges and troubles here in Palestine. One of the troubles that I have is this: Most of my family and relatives live in Jerusalem, my hometown. 2008 was the last time I visited Jerusalem, where my whole family lives. I can visit Jordan, America and any other country. But I can't reach Jerusalem, which is only 30km away from Hebron. This holy land is my hometown, my land; I can't reach it to visit my family, to meet my friends and to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque!
Yes, Mr. President ... We can build and improve our country even with all of the problems. But we can't live without peace; we can't build our future without our land.
So, Mr. President, we want peace, we want to live in our land; it's our right to do that.
My name is Deema Yousef .I'm 18 years old and I live in Al-Bireh. I play soccer with the Palestinian national team, and I'd like to share a story that happened to me two years ago. We had a trip to Brazil for a training camp with the national team, and I got very excited and got myself ready, but at the end I was told that I [couldn't] go because I had a Gaza ID and the Israeli side didn't approve me going. So you can imagine how hard and painful that was to me. I shared my story with you so you know the different treatment people who have a Gaza ID face every day. I live right across from Besigot settlement; every day I open my window to see settlers, and that doesn't make me feel safe at all, because at any second the settlers can come and take over my house and kick me out of it. That's why we can't have peace unless the settlements are gone. I also had the opportunity to go to the United States and to live with an American family for a whole school year (nine months), and I wish that other Palestinian kids could have the opportunity to go to the United States and have the great experience that I had. So I would like to ask you for more scholarships for both high schools and colleges in the U.S. for Palestinians.
You are welcome to be here in Palestine, Mr. President.
My name is Rabee Toma. I am 23 years old and I am a dental student at Al-Quds University.
I led a health initiative at Al-Bireh Youth Club which targeted the Bedouins and those living in shantytowns. This initiative provided a lot of medical and dental examinations and health to those people. Based on that, I established a new health organization called Health First Organization with a mission to upgrade health standards in Palestine and offer better accessibility to better health services.
I have many aspirations and challenges that I face in my life, as all Palestinian youth have. But today, I want to focus on the health situation in Palestine.
Mr. President … many people died while waiting at Israeli checkpoints between Palestinian areas and could not reach the health centers and hospitals…. For instance, and coinciding with Mother's Day, between 2006 and 2012, 57 fetuses died while their mothers were waiting to cross Israeli checkpoints on the way to the hospital. On another matter, many people suffered and are suffering due to the fragility of the health system in Palestine, and the list goes on and on and on.
There are six Palestinian political prisoners who are infected by cancer and are still in Israeli prisons without proper medical or humanitarian follow up ….
Mr. President … we have the young leaders, we have the thoughts and we have the location, this Center … and also "I Have a Dream," and my dream is to achieve a better health system for all the Palestinian people.
BUT … what is missing is to implement these ideas. I hope that you can help me, and help organizations like mine to elevate standards of health programs in Palestine, through professionals, equipment and standards.
Quoting you, Mr. President … "Yes We Can"… "We can do" … and thank you….
The world looks at us as if we are terrorists, or some kind of a creature that is different from the human race. I explained to Mr. Obama how we are living in a jail everyday due to the checkpoints and the separation wall we have to face in our daily life - the segregation wall which is snaking round our land, confiscating our water reserve, our fertile soil and uprooting our olive trees. This wall is the cause of our daily suffering; we are incapable of reaching our schools, hospitals, or even seeing our relatives in different cities. It is time-consuming, tiring and inhumane. This was the message I sent to the leader of the free world, a message to tell the world that we are humans who are being tortured and disgraced. A message to tell the world that we have rights like everyone else.
I am Akram Dweikat, from Nablus City. I am 22 years old and I am studying computer engineering at An-Najah National University. I am a senior now; I will be graduated in two months. I want to show you how successful a Palestinian Youth can be!
I do a lot of volunteer work. One and a half years ago I thought why not begin doing something that will help me and my colleagues and be sustainable forever? So I started two technical clubs at my university, one for Microsoft technologies and one for Google technologies, and started organizing technical events within this context, more than 30 events so far, and the most important one of them is Startup Weekend Nablus. I was the founder and lead organizer, and it is a city-based global event where IT, business people and designers gather around the weekend to work on ideas and launch startups. I did it twice and in the last one I had 120 participants turn into 17 potential companies. These events were the kickstart for the entrepreneurial movement in the city, which is still at the beginning but will become more and more great. Through this I managed to enter global programs for students from Microsoft and Google; last year I participated in the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition for students where students were challenged to solve the world's toughest problems using technology. I have developed with my team a Blind Guidance System that is a stick with wheels and a Kinect Microsoft sensor on top of it, that does a 3D scan for the area to decide which is the safe path for the blind person to take, giving him voice and vibration feedback. He needs just to ask the system to ask him about a place, face recognition, object recognition, and it will lead him to it. It will let the blind navigate the world on his own! We won the local competition and participated in the global one in Sydney. In Sydney we competed and raised our country's flag, an experience that had a huge influence on me, that made me go for it also this year.
A lot of Palestinian youth like me are achieving a lot despite all the situation, yet we can achieve more and more if we got our freedom. We just need a chance. All the suffering we go through, all the limitations and the siege that the Israelis put on us, they are killing our innovation and entrepreneurship. But they did not prevent us from achieving something, even preventing us from exercising our basic rights, getting GPS, 3G connection, even though they are preventing one of our telecommunication companies from operating in Gaza.
We do have a large number of unemployment, due to the siege and limitations Israelis put on us and the lack of resources we suffer from. Yet in my opinion, the IT sector is the most promising sector for Palestine's ecosystem, since you do not need much infrastructure for IT companies, Internet connection and a computer, and the sky is the limit. What I feel that we need and there is a lack of is to develop it more, international experiences mentors, and support and workspace, places for the startups to work, scale up and accelerate. Even when we try to get more help from international experts, they prevent them from coming. This occupation must end, we want our land, and we want our freedom. We want our rights; we can do it.
I'm Hamza Odeh, 15 years old, livingin Nablus, originally from Haifa.
I joined Jabal An-Nar Youth Development Resources Center in 2012. I participated in the First Lego League and Mediterranean youth technology club, which developed my skills in leadership, communication and presentation in addition to my technical skills and scientific research. Now I am a member of the Youth Higher Council in Jabal An-Nar center; we serve our community through many voluntary activities in various topics.
As a youth in Palestine we have many abilities, skills and talents, but we can't express ourselves because of the occupation siege -do you know that 60% of the Palestinians have been arrested without serious reasons, and most of them are youth- in addition to the apartheid wall?
Mr. President, may I ask you to think about the persecution that the black race faced long ago? We Palestinians face the same persecution in the 21st century. Do you think that we deserve this persecution only because of our nationality, especially since this occupation and persecution are funded and supported by your government, Sir?
Mr. President ... it's my honor to meet you ... my name is Rami Al- Rashayda ... 15 years old, from Hebron.
My first step to enhance my leadership was joining the children's municipal council ... something to enhance my personality ... and at the same time to build my society, to develop my society ... by doing projects for Palestinian people, for our community, in many topics: education, community engagement, voluntary work.
Martin Luther King said in a speech, "I Have a Dream": "I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice."
And this is what we want too. We want Palestine to be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
In Hebron there is a street called Shuhada Street that connects the north and south of the city. It has been closed by the occupation since 1994 without any reason. Can you help us open this street ... Shuhada Street?! For your information, this is one of hundreds of violations committed by the occupation.
To protect ourselves ... this isn't terrorism. This is a mission for all the Palestinian people.
Back in 2008 our house was occupied for two weeks by Israeli soldiers. We were all sitting in one room ... not good for studying, to study for final exams. Despite all these challenges, I was able to get high marks.
So yes I can get high marks. Yes, I can enhance my personality. Yes, I can build my future.
Yes, we can. Yes, we can take our future in our hands.
Yes, we can. Yes, we can build a country.
Just these three small words can bring the change: Yes, we can.
Welcome, Mr. President. My name is Ghaydaa Hammoudeh, I am 16 years old, and I look forward to becoming a successful journalist, to be the next Helen Thomas. I participated in many programs at Al-Bireh Youth Foundation. For instance, I attended the English language training, the robotics training, Cisco's MYTecC (Mediterranean Youth Technology Club) program, and now in the next cycle I look forward to starting the road towards achieving my dream through participation in the Media Center.
A visit I made through the Al-Bireh Foundation to Spain opened my eyes to a self that I did not have a chance to discover here, not to mention opened the other participants' eyes to what is actually going on in Palestine - especially how the media misrepresents Palestinians and the conditions they live under, especially the challenges that face the students in Palestine, compared with students in Spain.
Mr. President … based on my visit, I came back energized, thinking how to change the status of our students, when it comes to access to schools, access to technology and interaction with the outside world. More on the emotional side, recapping how many Palestinian students must take the long road to reach their schools when an Israeli-only road is closer, or how a school cannot connect to the Internet since it's in an area labeled C, or even how a student cannot reach the clubhouse during certain hours since it's very near the illegal Israeli settlements, such as the Intel Clubhouse of Al-Bireh Youth Foundation.
Mr. President … towards achieving my dreams as a successful journalist, I began my journey to raise money for the schools in Jerusalem since they suffer the most problems, such as shortage of schools and high student-to-teacher rates, which makes teaching and learning very hard. Not to mention the denial of construction permits, leading to the possibility of school buildings falling at any time.
Mr. President, as a leader of the free world and based on the requests I am carrying from my colleagues, I hope you can help us towards bringing peace to the hearts of the Palestinian students, in order to assist us in creating a generation of youth that can lead the changes towards a democratic and free state of Palestine … giving us the chance to see the Mediterranean, not only when we visit Spain.