The last two months have been among the toughest for Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution since OneVoice was born.
Last Friday one of our OneVoice youth leaders briefly walked out of a training program to answer a phone call. She did not return that day. Her brother had died while on duty in Lebanon.
Every Israeli knows a family that hid in a shelter, or soldiers sent to fight Hezbollah, or an acquaintance killed or maimed by a rocket. Every Palestinian knows someone in prison, or someone unable to travel to see his relatives or held up for hours at a checkpoint, or an acquaintance killed or maimed by a missile.
And while many on both sides may be sobered by the despair and suffering of innocent Israelis, Palestinians and Lebanese, the overarching sentiment is understandably one of patriotic solidarity for their people.
Amidst such polarization, it is often challenging for Israelis and Palestinians to join forces and speak as OneVoice against violent extremism and for conflict resolution. And yet, everyone also seems at once restless and exhausted, fed up with the situation, recognizing that violent extremism is the common enemy, wanting change, desperate to find a way out that will enable peace and calm and freedom to prevail.
OneVoice activists and staff members – mainstream nationalists from each side – continue to meet regularly, to coordinate efforts, and to organize activities to fight extremism.
Every month two leadership training workshops geared to the youth are conducted on the Israeli and Palestinian side, with 30-100 new recruits steadily adding to the 1,700+ youth leaders that have joined as of May 2006 (1,200 Palestinian and 500 Israeli activists, not to mention 210,000 citizen negotiation participants).
OneVoice Palestine focused on Nablus, Jericho, Ramallah and the surrounding villages and refugee camps during July and August. OneVoice Israel held an advanced leadership training program for youth leaders from across the country led by Dr. Amir Kfir in Tel Aviv, a communications workshop, and an immersion course for new recruits to the program.
Training revolves around a recently refined grassroots empowerment methodology, providing community organization, public speaking and conflict resolution skills, including active listening, managing emotions, mapping conflicts, role reversal, and problem solving. Young leaders learn to build teams, to organize and mobilize their communities, to facilitate town hall meetings, to brainstorm and come up with plans that fit with the OV mission, and to recruit new activists.
The goal of the leadership training program is to build a human infrastructure of activists that can mobilize their communities to fight extremism and achieve a two state resolution of the conflict.
OneVoice Palestine also holds 2 Town Hall meetings for the public at large every month. Hundreds of people from different sectors of society are integrated into a constructive but often heated debate on current affairs from a OneVoice lens. This summer, the National Dialogue Campaign allowed OV to focus on the role of citizens to use non-violent means to propel leaders towards a two state solution. More recently, the conflict in Lebanon has prompted frank discussions comparing the results of the Hezbollah-Israel war to those from the Cedar Revolution last year, where over a million Lebanese citizens mobilized to ouster Syrian troops.
Under normal circumstances these would be useful modest steps. Under the present circumstances, they are valiant and rare.
A Palestinian team member recently wrote to me, “In light of the current bloody war, the frustration and increasing hatred, people are in need for such forums more than ever…to keep the moderate side of peoples’ minds still awake and stimulated. Otherwise we leave them as an easy victim for any extreme trends. This is the least we must do now as OV on both sides.”
Things are certainly not easy. Volunteers from time to time express apprehension and guilt about involving themselves in projects partnering with moderates on the other side when they feel their duty is to support their people at war. Others feel frustration at the lack of more forceful mobilization to end the violence.
But in the end, they all hunger to understand how the other side sees things and what they are doing and willing to do. At meetings with activists in Jericho, Ramallah, and Tel Aviv, I was again struck by how similar the curiosities and anxieties of our activists were about “the other.” Each side wonders if there is a real partner on the other side. When we succeed in getting them to meet, even for a brief encounter, they are energized to learn that, indeed, they have a partner determined to work to end the conflict and achieve a two state solution that will form the basis for peace and prosperity for both peoples.
Ultimately, it is essential for Palestinians and Israelis to realize that they have a shared destiny and that they cannot let anyone hijack it. Moderate Palestinians and Israelis must strike an alliance against violent extremism before this solvable conflict becomes truly intractable if it is transformed by outsiders into a global religious struggle.
Times are tough. But from the toughest times rise calls for change. And it will not be long before people start asking what can be done to end the conflict. OneVoice will soon be asking all – What Are You Willing to Do to End the Conflict?