New York, January 12, 2011—OneVoice Palestine (OVP) returned to the site of a famously emotional town hall meeting on Jan. 5 to continue the important work of building consensus and confronting pessimism within Palestinian society.
In a valley northwest of the West Bank city of Nablus lays the municipality of Asirah ash-Shamaliyah. Named after the firewood that residents historically gathered from its large forests and sold, Asirah is the combustible mixture of emotions, beliefs, and politics that one could expect from a town frequently raided by Israeli forces.
It was this difficult environment that led OVP Executive Director Samer Makhlouf to select it as the venue for a town hall meeting in August of last year. “I insisted on it,” Makhlouf said, “We had a similar experience in Salfeet and now we have a very active and committed chapter there.” He was also aware that the process of changing hardened opinions is more akin to a marathon than a sprint. His suggestion to return to Asirah six months on was met with enthusiasm by the town’s mayor.
If that first encounter had been cautious, this time OVP youth leaders addressed the audience with the hard truth that, while the status quo is dire, there is an imminent danger of it worsening if Palestinian society does not embrace the notion of a two-state solution sooner rather than later. If the previous audience had been fragmented and hostile, this one was receptive and hopeful with a small minority of extremists that was soon speechless.
OVP was delighted to find that the seed it planted back in August had flourished, but is acutely aware that ongoing attention will be needed if it is to grow into a sturdy tree. Further trips to Asirah are planned and it could soon be home to a new OneVoice chapter.
The choices made by OVP in this town hall meeting were brave and made possible by the trust bestowed upon them by the participants. The vast majority showed determination and resolve to approach the task at hand—with one stipulation: Israel’s willingness to do the same. The people of Asirah have placed their faith in OneVoice; it is now OneVoice’s responsibility to repay that faith by showing them a willing partner on the other side.