Once a week, OneVoice Palestine activists gather over coffee. The brew is strong, much like the opinions of the Youth Leaders, who talk politics and the peace process in cafés across the West Bank. These Siaseh (or Politics) Cafés provide a forum wherein young Palestinians are able to debate their peers openly and evaluate decisions made by Palestinians leaders and the international community.
“We send the Youth Leaders a different topic from the news ahead of each session,” said Abdallah Hamarsheh, OVP’s Youth Leadership Training Program Director. “We also send invites to the Youth Leaders and ask them to bring friends who haven’t engaged in conversations with OneVoice in the past. The results are usually very interesting.”
Bringing different views to each conversation creates a unique discussion around Palestinian national interests and how the community addresses them. On one recent occasion in Nablus, activists discussed the ongoing negotiations with the Israelis and the role of the grassroots in reaffirming Palestinian national principles. While the majority showed ample support for non-violent activities, some questioned the prospects for progress in the window that remains for a final agreement. The activists questioned the sincerity of Israel’s participation in the negotiations in light of continued settlement construction in the West Bank and the recently proposed Knesset bill to annexbill the Jordan Valley.
“While the majority of participants support the two-state solution as a means to end the occupation and conflict, resolve the final status issues, and establish an independent Palestinian state, there is a common feeling of frustration among the participants,” said Ezzeldeen Masri, Director of OVP’s Gaza office. “More than 20 years have passed since the commencement of the peace process and yet Palestinians are not witnessing any progress.”
The Siaseh Cafés are part of OVP’s larger “Wake Up! What is Your Role?” campaign launched in November 2013. Through “Wake Up!” OVP is energizing the centrist, Palestinian mainstream to take their future into their own hands and support the negotiators. Through youth initiatives, TV and radio shows, town hall meetings, and issue-based discussions, the campaign aims to break the state of apathy about negotiations and demonstrate that non-violent resistance can be successful in securing Palestinian rights while connecting every day Palestinians to their leaders.
OneVoice Palestine is taking to the streets of the West Bank and Gaza to bolster support for the peace process by emphasizing that everyday Palestinians have a part to play in ending the occupation and establishing an independent state.
The “Wake Up! What is Your Role?” campaign, launched last year in the midst of the U.S.-led negotiations spear-headed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, is energizing the centrist Palestinian mainstream to take their future into their own hands and support the Palestinian negotiators. To launch the campaign, hundreds of activists gathered in the Jordan Valley to raise a 1,000-meter banner stitched together by OVP chapters in Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jerusalem, and Jericho. Written on the banner were the core national principles that are the basis for Palestinian negotiators. The PLO's Chief Negotiator, Dr. Saeb Erekat, addressed the activists while Jericho Governor Majid Fitani and Lieutenant Colonel Atef Naser looked on during an impromptu public meeting.
The “What Is Your Role?” campaign has five components: youth-led initiatives on campuses and in communities; public town hall meetings with Palestinian influencers; TV talk shows on Palestinian national television with live studio audiences and street interviews; radio shows on popular stations in the West Bank; and Siaseh (or “Political”) Cafés where activists get together to talk politics. Each medium reinforces facilitates open, candid discussions between average Palestinians and their leaders and provides a vehicle for non-violent activism and public engagement in the political process –making OVP’s campaign a unique and important part of the grassroots efforts needed for a successful outcome.
Students at the Al-HikmaIslamic School pose with OneVoice Youth Leaders Abeer Al-Natsheh and Danielle Cumpton after their event.
By Sharon Alsoodani*
The November 2013 UK Speaking Tour has come to a close, and after five days, two community events, 12 school sessions, four donor meetings, one university event, and 582 people reached, I’d like to reflect on the eventful week.
From November 25-29, Abeer Al-Natsheh, a OneVoice Palestine youth leader from Jerusalem, and Danielle Cumpton of OneVoice Israel and currently studying at Tel Aviv University, spoke to diverse audiences, visiting Al-Hikma Islamic School in Luton, the Jewish Society of City Boys’ School and South Hampstead Girls School, as well as a Quaker event in central London.
The Youth Leaders also helped form part of the panel for a discussion on the role of women in conflict resolution at an event hosted by Women in War and International Politics at King’s College London. I’ve had great experience speaking at many of these schools before, so the students had a fair amount of background knowledge which stimulated debate and led to vibrant discussions.
Although some questions asked by audience members were challenging, Danielle and Abeer handled each session with grace and patience and left the participants excited about the work of OneVoice. One student commented afterward that, “I see [this conflict] on the news every day, but I don’t know which side or narrative to trust. This is really helpful, to hear from people who are actually from there. How do I get involved?” For others, the highlight was just the personal connection with someone from Palestine or Israel. Girls at the Al-Hikma School were delighted to hear Hebrew spoken aloud, and many participants have signed up on OneVoice Europe’s online discussion forum to continue direct contact with the Youth Leaders.
Abeer and Danielle returned to their work in Israel and Palestine more motivated, having communicated to participants at different sessions the urgency of the current negotiations and the need to act now.
OVE is grateful to Lara Atkin for generously supporting this tour; Greg Rack and Cornelia Meyer for hosting meetings; and last but not least, our Youth Leaders Abeer and Danielle.
*Sharon Alsoodani is OVE’s Education Director and General Manager.
Danielle and Abeer at the discussion on the role of women in conflict resolution at Women in War and International Politics at King’s College London.
Students at the Jewish Society of City Boys’ School listen closely to Danielle and Abeer speak of their experiences living the conflict.
OneVoice Palestine youth leaders and community members from Nablus in front of the mural.
On Saturday November 23, 40 OneVoice Palestine (OVP) activists in Nablus organized an artistic initiative to support the Palestinian leadership and emphasize the importance of a peace agreement to achieve Palestinian national aspirations.
OVP's chapters in Nablus designed a mural reflecting on two important events in Palestinian history, according to OVP Youth Leader Alaa Salous. The first was the anniversary of the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s death on November 11 and the second was Palestine's Independence Day on November 15.
“Today we honor our leader by walking in his footsteps and supporting the two-state solution,” Salous said, “and we also want to promote young Palestinians’ roles in ending the occupation and building the independent state.”
The mural shows the faces of the late President Arafat and current President Mahmoud Abbas. The Youth Leaders wrote “Palestine, the 194th State” on the mural, referring to the name given to the diplomatic campaign by the Palestinian National Authority last year in an effort to gain statehood in the United Nations, which OVP supported through a national campaign in the West Bank and Gaza.
As the young leaders raised the mural on the wall of the Center, they were satisfied and very proud of the work they accomplished.
OneVoice staff was also happy of the outcome.
“I think this is a clear image of non-violent activism at its best,” said OVP Executive Director Samer Makhlouf. “We encourage our volunteers to organize these types of activities to protest the occupation and the Israeli government's policies against our people.”
Sir Paul McCartney joins OneVoice Israel staff and activists in Tel Aviv.
For the first time in over three years, Israel and the Palestinians are negotiating. But these talks are fragile, and now is the time for OneVoice to deploy all of its resources in making sure that the voice of the people is heard, and that this opportunity is not squandered.
In the coming weeks, our offices in Ramallah, Tel Aviv, and Gaza City will launch ambitious, parallel campaigns to support bold leadership, mobilising the majority of citizens who support two-states and an end to conflict. But they need your help.
This December, online donations to OneVoice Europe will be doubled. That means that every gift you make will train twice as many young people, hold twice as many pioneering events like our Knesset and Muqata visits, and mobilise twice as many activists to take to the streets and demand brave action from their leaders. We are honoured to have the support of OneVoice International Board of Advisors Member Sir Paul McCartney in this effort.
Upon meeting OneVoice activists in the region, Sir Paul commented to reporters that "they told me that the vast majority of people in both societies are moderates and simply want a better life for their families and themselves. This gave me great hope that, one day, people like them will help to bring about a peaceful resolution to the troubles in the area."
Sir Paul McCartney is promoting OneVoice's Big Give campaign, sending messages to his millions of Twitter and Facebook followers asking them to give what they can in support of our efforts. Writing on his blog last week, Sir Paul said:
“I support OneVoice because Israelis and Palestinians deserve peace, and the young people who are part of OneVoice need our help in making that happen. From December 5th, online donations to OneVoice are beingdoubled. Pleaseclick here, make a pledge, and show your support for the moderate majority who want to put conflict behind them.”
This December, please join Sir Paul, and the hundreds of thousands of people who have signed OneVoice's mandate, and demanded an end to conflict. Please donate what you can on December 5th, or click here to make a pledge. Together, we can help make history in 2014.