A fresh look at Israel
David Decolongon participated in the first-ever mission organized by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs designed exclusively for young people who originate, or whose families came from, East Asia. (photo from David Decolongon)
A Vancouver student who recently returned from Israel says he has a better understanding of the nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and other realities of life in the region – after participating in a mission for young leaders of East Asian descent.
David Decolongon is a student at Regent College, on the University of British Columbia campus. He graduated from UBC last year in political science with a minor in philosophy, and is considering whether to pursue a full master’s degree or complete a graduate diploma in Christian studies.
He was chosen to participate in the first-ever mission organized by the Centre for Israel and Jewish
Affairs designed exclusively for young people who originate, or whose families came from, East Asia. Decolongon, who was born in Vancouver, is of Filipino heritage.
“I connected with this trip in three major ways,” he said. “Number one, religiously. I’m a practising Christian and so being able to go to a place where a lot of this history took place was big enough for me. But also, over the summer, I was involved in a startup and so being able to connect with Israel through a startup team was big with me. But also to connect with it politically was big for me because I’m involved in politics, I work and volunteer for a political party right now.”
Though he said it is a “cop-out” to say the entire trip was a highlight in itself, he does identify a number of instances that stand out when he recalls the trip, which took place in February.
“Being able to go over to Ramallah and meet the Canadian attaché to the Palestinian Authority and to be able to go up north to see the Lebanese border and to learn the history of that area and to go to a lot of those places that you hear about a lot in the news is probably the significant highlight for me in this trip,” said Decolongon.
Though he had been to Israel before, on a church-organized trip, the variety of perspectives he witnessed on this occasion, combined with the diversity of fellow participants from across Canada, opened his eyes and mind, he said.
“When it comes to thinking about a hot topic such as Israel, people tend to use a lot of political rhetoric and they tend to take very pro- and anti-, very extreme, stances. I think when you’re on the ground and you see how these things affect people on a daily basis, whether they be Jewish-Israeli, Arab-Israeli, Palestinian, it becomes more real and, once you’re on the ground, the solutions that you bring to the table tend to be a lot more common sense, a lot more feasible and a lot more geared toward achieving peace for all groups,” he said.
Being pro-Israel, he added, does not mean being anti-Palestinian.
“You can take a pro-Israeli stance while at the same time wanting to push the well-being of Palestinians. People think it’s an either-or answer but when you’re on the ground and you get to see what really happens, you’re more interested in pushing forth the betterment of life for both groups,” he said.
People everywhere have the same desires for their children, said Decolongon.
“They want to make sure that their children can grow up in safety, that their young people have jobs coming out of college and university,” he said. “We come at it recognizing that both sides have common interest and it’s going to be messy and it’s going to be complex, but I think the solutions are attainable once you realize that both sides are human and that both sides can come to the table and either side may not get 100% of what they want but we can certainly make it livable for both sides.”
Decolongon was the only British Columbian among the eight participants, though the mission was led by Sarina Rehal, an employee in CIJA’s Toronto office who is from here and who graduated from UBC. The group met with a wide range of people, including an Arab-Israeli journalist, a leader in the region’s vibrant startup sector who thinks economic opportunity is the antidote to Islamic extremism, as well as political, military and academic experts.
The newly established East Asian Student Leaders program was created by CIJA as an experiential learning initiative for students of East Asian heritage or origin who demonstrate leadership in the areas of politics, journalism or campus activism.
Nico Slobinsky, director for the Pacific region of CIJA, said it is important to engage young leaders.
“It’s an ongoing dialogue and opportunity we are forging with these young leaders as they continue to engage in their communities, with our community, with civil society in Canada, in the years ahead,” said Slobinsky. “As they progress in their leadership, in their careers, into their life, they will continue to engage and that’s why we do this.
“In the case of this mission in particular, we were looking at emerging leaders in the pan-Asian communities,” he said.