New York, September 30, 2010 - OneVoice’s 2010 Mid-Atlantic International Education Program (IEP) tour commenced officially in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.
The tour’s first stop was to the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) where OneVoice (OV) youth leaders Danny Shaket and Ahmad Omeir, as well as staff, met with Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, Stephanie Schwartz and Rachel Brandenburg, all of whom work on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The discussion touched on the topic of youth leadership and its importance in building leaders of tomorrow. In discussing the target audience of OneVoice Palestine (OVP) town hall meetings, Omeir explained that while they reach out to everyone, their focus is on a younger community because of their strength.
“The younger are tougher” Omeir said.
Shaket also stressed the importance of youth but pointed out that young Israelis have to serve in the army for four years, making it difficult for them to be engaged in the process. He explained that after the army, many Israelis travel and the conflict becomes more distant and irrelevant. He said that this is why OneVoice Israel (OVI) works largely at university campuses, and that their youth leaders are generally older.
Later in the day, Omeir and Shaket traveled across Washington D.C. and engaged approximately 80 members of the George Washington University community, at an event co-hosted by OV and GW Interfaith Action, in the Marvin Center.
Both Shaket and Omeir spoke candidly about their first-hand experiences with regional conflict. Shaket spoke of the uncertainty and sense of insecurity that runs the lives of Israelis. As a soldier, he spent time in the West Bank, and afterward realized that the, “Conflict is not as much between Israelis and Palestinians as it is between extremists and moderates”.
“I needed to engage civil society on my own side” he said.
Omeir talked about “how intense it gets to be”, as a Palestinian. He spoke about the time his dad came home one day with razors to shave his beard so he wouldn’t get stopped by soliders, and about the despair he felt after his close encounter with the death of a friend.
“All that time the only thing I could feel inside me was anger, that there is no hope” he admitted.
Incidents like these ultimately led Omeir to join the OV movement.
“I don’t want the same thing to happen to my other friends, or my children if I have any. I’m going to go for something pragmatic. And this is the two-state solution” he said.
Questions asked by students in the audience centered on the goal of a two-state solution. Some expressed disappointment in a lack of support for a one-state solution. Omeir clarified that the majority of Palestinians do not support it.
“In town hall meetings one privilege we have is to use it as a reality check. The one-state solution does not answer nationalist aspirations” he said.
Both Shaket and Omeir stressed their ultimate desire for safety first and an end to conflict.
“I don’t look for peace. Seriously, I couldn’t care less. I’m looking for an agreement” said Shaket.
Via e-mail, Jared MacDonald director of outreach of GW Interfaith Action responded to an inquiry of the event.
“On a campus such as that of GW, with people as literate and engaged in current affairs are they are, hearing from two activists give testimony over their experiences on the ground in Israel and Palestine--and having an interactive discussion with them thereon--is not something that could casually be passed up by many” he wrote.