New York, October 21, 2010--Eliran Eyal and Mohammad Asideh met for the first time this month following their selection to represent their constituencies on OneVoice’s upcoming International Education Program (IEP) speaking tour of Southern California and Colorado. Next month, the pair will share the stage during a wide array of events with only each other to rely on. Eliran Eyal, 29, an actor and OneVoice Israel youth leader, hails from Ramat Gan, a town east of Tel Aviv. Mohammad Asideh, 23, president of OneVoice Palestine’s youth council, lives in the West Bank City of Nablus. They got together for a brief introductory interview on Wednesday and revealed their excitement for engaging American audiences.
Mohammad Asideh (left) and Eliran Eyal.
Why did you join OneVoice?
Eliran: I attended my first meeting about two years ago. At the time, I was writing a play about Gilad Shalit and a friend of mine involved with [OneVoice Israel’s] Beer Sheva chapter recommended I go to a town hall meeting for research, since some of the same issues I was writing about would come up in the discussion. At the meeting, I felt for first time in my life like I wasn’t being lied to about the Palestinian people. I saw that they wanted the same things I wanted and that the majority were not geared toward violence. I decided to join OneVoice over say, Shalom Achshav [Peace Now], because at OneVoice you know you have a partner on the other side.
Mohammad: I made a conscious effort to join OneVoice because I liked the way it spreads its ideology. Being part of OneVoice has a negative connotation in certain circles in Palestine and is sometimes seen as perpetuating normalization, but it does the opposite. As head of the youth council, I see the way town hall meetings in Jenin, Nablus, and Bethlehem work to engage young people about important topics like nationalism. Having 30 youths in a room talking about issues is the healthiest way to support progress.
What do you both personally hope to accomplish and take home with you from the tour?
M: The IEP tour is important because it gives me the chance to project being a Palestinian in a good light. I can also spread awareness about our issues to Americans. The American people would be strong supporters if they knew about all the pressure we are facing. On a personal level, I hope to learn and hear how others think--Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus--about the situation.
E: In general, my goal will be accomplished if after the session, I have students coming up to me saying, “You’re not alone, we’ve also been living a lie. You’re not all fighters and killers… seeing you two together, I know now there’s a chance for peace.” A week after we leave, I would love to see more active participation from the students, to see them make a bigger noise about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Do you foresee any challenges working together on tour?
M: People stereotype Jews and Muslims, Arabs and Israelis. I don’t know what people will ask me. I’m not expecting any problems, but no matter what, we will support each other on stage.
E: I will definitely support you. If any pro-Israelis get up and shout at you, I will speak up and I hope you’ll do the same.
M: We will support each other, but we shouldn’t expect to have problems.
In light of the stalled nature of these latest negotiations, do you feel any sort of pressure about being on tour, or are you anxious about reactions you might encounter from the audience?
E: I do feel pressure. I’m afraid people will shout and not give me a chance to speak. I don’t mind if people call me names, I’m pretty sure they will. I understand people are frustrated, I just wish to have a chance to speak my mind.
M: I fear the result if these negotiations really fail. After the last failure, there was the second intifada (uprising) and thousands were killed on both sides. Palestinians are afraid if the direct peace talks fail again. It will be a new war in the Middle East. At OneVoice, we are very supportive of negotiations as the best way to end the conflict.
OneVoice is a movement that has a message largely promoted by moderates. What does being a moderate mean to you?
E: Being a moderate is using rational thought to promote change. As an artist and actor in Israel, I see real art as something that gives you a different perspective. It’s not always for entertainment. Israel uses so much of its budget on defense and security, when it could be promoting and enriching our culture through the arts and theatre, something that really helps people.
M: A moderate is someone who is patriotic and defends Palestinian rights. A moderate wants to live in an individual state, have freedom of education and movement, and a better life without violence. Thinking in an extreme way causes problems for all people. A moderate thinks about solutions and for the future of the people, not its history.
Eliran and Mohammad are tentatively scheduled to appear at: the California State Northridge, Occidental College, San Diego State University, Santa Monica College, University of California Irvine, Los Angeles and San Diego campuses, and the University of Denver. This will be the fifth and final OneVoice IEP One tour of 2010. Since the IEP’s inception in April 2005, 14,000 students have attended 300 OneVoice regional tour events; and there have been more than 30 tours on over 100 U.S. college campuses.