February 23, 2020

Meet Avia Joel Pinkovitch: The Teenage Peacemaker

At 17, Israeli-born Avia Joel Pinkovitch may be a little young to take part in negotiations for a final status solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but in her mind, she and her fellow 11th-graders have more chance of achieving peace than the generations that came before them. 

“To us, this conflict seems very primitive,” Joel Pinkovitch said. “Now that I live here, I see just how alike both sides are.”

“Here” is the Eastern Mediterranean International Boarding School (EMIS) in Kfar Hayarok, just north of Tel Aviv. Twenty percent of Joel Pinkovitch’s grade is comprised of Israelis, 20 percent are Palestinians and 60 percent are international students from 21 countries including Rwanda, Indonesia, the United States, Guatemala, Vietnam, Afghanistan and several European nations. 

Joel Pinkovitch started studying at EMIS this year, after spending the rest of her high school career in a more mainstream school, which she said she loathed. The only focus in her previous school, she said was on passing exams. 

“I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to,” she said. EMIS, she explained, focuses on teaching students the tools to solve problems by themselves. In addition, she said, the subjects are taught by experts in the field who love what they teach.     

“I want to be doing good in the place with the most bad.”

“I feel like I’m looked at as an adult, as a smart person with the potential to go far,” she said. Her dream is to serve as a combat medic in the military. “I want to be doing good in the place with the most bad,” she said. She then plans to become a surgeon who also practices alternative medicine. 

EMIS recently hosted marathon “peace talks” on behalf of the school’s Leon Charney Resolution Center. Ninety students participated in negotiations facilitated by conflict resolution experts Sapir Handelman and Professor Peter Jones, and moderated by retired Brig. Gen. Israela Oron, former commander of the Israel Defense Forces Women’s Corps. At the end of the talks, the 11th-graders signed a “peace agreement.”

The students were allowed to choose which side they wanted to represent. Joel Pinkovitch was the only Israeli who chose to represent the Palestinians. “I wanted another perspective and I thought it would also be interesting for [the Palestinians] to see an Israeli represent them,” she said, adding that a Palestinian friend of hers was deeply touched by the gesture.

The negotiations didn’t begin well. Her Israeli counterparts were offended that she would choose to represent the other side. But later, she said, they understood that it worked to their benefit that she was Israeli. “I could understand both sides,” she said. 

The negotiations dealt with all the conflict’s sticking points, from security concerns to the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, to Jerusalem. “There was a lot of arguing,” Joel Pinkovitch admitted. “It wasn’t violent, but it was vociferous.” 

Still, the teens managed to make compromises. Among them, was deciding that the West Bank security barrier would be handed over to an international peacekeeping force and that passage between checkpoints for Palestinians would be eased. “The end goal would be to get rid of [the barrier] altogether,” she said. 

Joel Pinkovitch waxes hopeful about the future. “It seems absurd that this conflict still exists,” she said. Whereas previous decades were fraught by wars and a lack of knowledge about the “other,” the digital era has eradicated the distance between people and enables people to get know one another better, she said. 

“Before I came [to EMIS], I didn’t know what a Palestinian was,” she said. “And suddenly now, he’s in my room. He’s my friend. He is no longer ‘over there.’ In my opinion, that’s the way to begin finding a solution.”