Tension and suspicion permeated the air. For many in the room, this was the first time ever to meet someone from 'the other side', let alone doing so two weeks after the Hamas PLC election victory.
Amidst cautious translations between Hebrew and Arabic, tough questions and awkward silences highlighted the unease of the participants. http://blog.onevoicemovement.org/one_voice/files/picture_012.jpg.
Bassem Lafi from Ramallah shared his apprehension. "I am here to know what do Israelis think about Palestinians, and if they think they are all terrorists. I am here to demonstrate that this is not true."
[Adi’s Reaction- http://blog.onevoicemovement.org/one_voice/2006/03/adi_baldermans_.html ]
Ravit Asher, a very active Israeli OV young leader, whose father was killed during his military service, shared how she was trying to grapple with her personal loss on her “quest for reconciliation and desire to raise my children to a better future.”
Then Israeli Elad Dunievsky stood and addressed his 30 Palestinian counterparts in fluent Arabic. He highlighted his empathy for the suffering on both sides and urged unity among moderate Israelis and Palestinians to fight violent extremism.
After a standing ovation and amidst some stunned faces, an energized Fawaz Mghayer, a Palestinian from Jericho, spoke in fluent Hebrew and extolled all, "Alright, we’ve spent enough time talking. Let’s figure out how we can take action.”
Ideas started flowing. http://blog.onevoicemovement.org/one_voice/files/picture_046.jpg. The ice had melted.
“Let’s start with what Ghandi said: Be the change you want to see in the world”, said Nada Majdalani, a young Palestinian refugee. “That is why we are here – to see what we can do today." [Indeed, Nada followed through by traveling to Washington DC on a OneVoice college speaking tour from which she and Israeli Eyal Bino just returned http://blog.onevoicemovement.org/one_voice/2006/03/onevoice_youth_.html ]
Over more than 3 hours, 58 OneVoice Palestinian & Israeli Youth Leaders explored concrete ways in which they can empower citizens against extremism and towards conflict resolution. http://blog.onevoicemovement.org/one_voice/files/picture_054.jpg. Among the decisions reached that evening was to institute a college speaking tour on Israeli and Palestinian campuses.
“I was never part of the 'peace Camp' and never took part in a peace rally or demonstration,” shared Netanel Avneri from Bar-Ilan University. “But I understand the importance of working with people like me on the other side.”
The meeting, originally scheduled in East Jerusalem, had been canceled twice due to closures, a freeze on permits, and heightened security. But youth leaders persevered and regrouped in Zone B (where Palestinians and Israelis are technically allowed without permits). Some woke at dawn to travel from distant villages.
Sahar Faqeeh, http://blog.onevoicemovement.org/one_voice/files/picture_055.jpg, a Palestinian nursing student from Nablus, explained, "This is my first time meeting with Israelis. I don't know, maybe it’s the situation or the traditions that prevented me to do so. But for me it was an astonishing experience.”
Yoni Arad shared he used to be a checkpoint officer in his military reserve service. Then that day, “for the first time, I passed the A-Ram checkpoint north of Jerusalem in a different capacity: as one of OneVoice’s young leaders on my way to meet our Palestinian counterparts. It was the first time I approached a checkpoint with a sense of hope.”
“This was my first time to sit with Israelis - I never thought I would do it,” said Hanadi Abu Hadid. She wore a flowing Hijab and expressed herself in Arabic with translations from her peers. “It was good to see that we are all working for the same cause and to know that we have a partner on the other side with the same frustration and pain and desire to break the pattern.”
Eran Scheferman http://blog.onevoicemovement.org/one_voice/files/picture_064.jpg concluded, “We need to talk about this to those who say ‘all Palestinians are terrorists’ or ‘all Israelis are occupiers and soldiers.’ Let the Israelis pass the message to their settler friends, and the Palestinians to their Hamas friends. It is important to transmit the message to those who disagree with us, not to ones who already agree.”
The OneVoice Youth Leadership program has trained over 500 Palestinians and over 300 Israelis thus far. The most exceptional young leaders in their communities are chosen from a pool of qualified candidates after a rigorous interview process. Members go through an immersion training weekend program and then participate in bi-monthly training and activities in their communities. Occasionally (and increasingly, in spite of the obstacles) joint planning meetings like the above are being held, at the request of the activists. OneVoice Youth leaders are the engine of the movement to empower moderate citizens to claim their lives back from violent extremism. Learn more at www.OneVoiceMovement.org.