By Mohammad Asideh*
For a young man like me, who as a teenager believed in using forceful resistance to combat the military occupation, standing up on stage and talking next to [OneVoice Israel youth leader] Eliran [Eyal] was not easy at first. Neither was repeatedly sharing my personal story with strangers who gathered in the audiences. I reminded myself that nothing about this conflict is easy and that in order to make a difference I must be willing to do whatever it takes.
As I embarked on the journey from the West Bank to the U.S., I asked myself why, as a representative of my people, did I feel it necessary to travel such as long way to talk to Americans about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Was it because their government is trying to negotiate peace between the two of us? Or was it because the American people have an interest in the Middle East and I am supposed to fascinate them? These questions remained unanswered until the end of an event at San Diego State University.
When our presentation at the university was over, an old man with a long white beard came up to me and said, "My son, I was in the Middle East in the 1970’s, and I’ve witnessed firsthand the things you’ve spoken about. After I did I decided not to shave my beard until I saw an end to the conflict. I am now 80 years old and I still haven’t had a chance to shave my beard. My son, I am afraid that I will die with it."
At that moment things had become clear. I was in the U.S. in order to connect with other people who care. I was there to talk about a realistic solution and to inspire peace and understanding between communities. The old man I spoke with was neither Palestinian nor Israeli, nor was he Muslim or Jewish. He was simply a man who wanted to live to see an end to this century old conflict.
Even though Eliran and I hardly saw eye to eye on anything, what brought us together was our desire to achieve something better for the future generations of Israelis and Palestinians. Even though Eliran was once a soldier, he and I are now OneVoice youth leaders. We were in the United States to garner support for the silent majorities of our people who believe in the two-state solution and a nonviolent end to the conflict. I took refuge in the fact that we shared this one common goal.
I felt really positive about my role on the tour, especially after the one event, when I was invited to speak with a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. It shocked me to learn that there was strong polarization between Palestinian and Jewish groups even on American college campuses. I told them that as a Palestinian, I was very proud and thankful for their efforts in spreading awareness. I also stressed the importance of having a partner to talk to on the other side and asked them to begin a dialogue with the Jewish groups. Not everyone was happy to hear my plea for cooperation, but in the end, they decided to have an internal meeting within their group to decide how to proceed. I hope that hearing what I had to say made a difference and I hope I can continue to work with them from home.
Our last event of the tour took place at a synagogue. It was the first time I had ever been inside of one. As Eliran and I spoke about our lives throughout the conflict, some of the people in attendance started to cry. You could tell that they cared deeply for us and what we were talking about. After I spoke, many expressed their love for the Palestinian people, asked how they could help with the movement. It was a very special moment for me, and I couldn’t wait to tell my family about the overwhelming support I had received on their behalf.
I returned home to the West Bank with a new impression of the American public, and I now have a better understanding of the strong support we have from them. Sharing my personal story reinforced my desire for a better future and gave me more ideas about to achieve it. I want to get much more involved with the Imagine 2018 campaign in Palestine, and am excited for all the possibilities ahead as I continue to work toward a two state solution with OneVoice.
* Mohammad Asideh is president of OneVoice Palestine's Youth Council and a senior youth leader. He recently participated in a OneVoice International Education Program 10-day tour speaking tour of Colorado and Southern California, at several academic and social institutions.