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Monday, 24 August, 2009

Pick up any newspaper and you’ll find plenty to read about the political situation in the Middle East: who’s talking to whom? What stage are the negotiations at now? Which plan should be the blueprint for talks? You won’t be short of material.

But it strikes me that key voices are often missing from the debate: those of the Israelis and Palestinians whose daily lives are affected by this ongoing conflict. Their support and belief is critical to the outcome of negotiations – but the harsh realities of daily life, and the barriers, both physical and political that keep people apart, make building trust and mutual understanding very difficult.

It is clear that peace is never going to be achieved unless people start reaching out to each other, get to know each other and listen to stories that they may not have heard before.

This is why I’m really excited about our online project for The Elders’ visit to the Middle East. 

Over the coming days and weeks, we’re hoping to show how the internet can be used to begin to transcend the barriers that divide this region. That’s one thing that Peter Gabriel, one of the founders of The Elders has always said to me: “We’ve got the technology - why on earth aren’t we using it?!” 

On this visit, we’ll be using blogs, videos and photos to hear from people from all walks of Israeli and Palestinian life and see how their lives are affected by the conflict. The Elders will blog too and share their thoughts and experiences as part of the online conversation. On Friday - the last day of their visit – they will take part in an online conversation via video with Palestinians and Israelis – using the web to bring people together who cannot meet in person. 

People might disagree with each other; they might share experiences that others may not have heard about before; they might find their own ideas and preconceptions challenged. The most important thing is engaging in a discussion.

The Elders have always stressed that listening is job number one. We hope our website will provide a platform for the voices so often unheard in this conflict, yet so vital to be understood if peace is ever to be achieved. 

I’m looking forward to being part of this online conversation and I know that the Elders are too. 

LIVE ELDERS WEBCAST: 

Please join the Elders for a live webcast with guests from Israel and the Palestinian Territories on Friday 28 August at 09:30 GMT; 10:30 BST; 12:30 Jerusalem/Tel Aviv/Ramallah; 05:30 EDT.

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