New York, February 1, 2011—She was only ten-months-old when her politically active father was sentenced to five years in prison. Barely six when she went in hiding with her family, adopting a new identity. Just seven when she had to live apart from them to attend school.
Her real name is Roza Helou. With her fellow OneVoice Palestine youth leaders, she’s fighting to end the Israeli occupation, establish an independent Palestinian state, and permanently resolve the conflict.
“As much as people think there is no hope or partner for peace, I want to say to them that we’re right here, we’re working hard to achieve peace, and there is a partner on the other side,” said Roza.
Recounting her family’s early years, there’s a clear sense of pride in Roza’s tone. She seems unfazed by the hardships they’ve endured. Her father’s sense of nationalism clearly seeped in her veins.
“I rarely saw my dad during his five years of imprisonment for being a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which then was tagged a terrorist group by Israel” said Roza. “He spent more than 10 years behind bars.”
Roza’s father, Mohammad, finished serving his sentence in 1987, right at the outset of the first intifada (uprising). A constant target for interrogation and detention, he finally decided to evade further capture by changing his family’s name and hiding out in the West Bank city of Nablus. Roza, at the time six-years-old, kept few friends lest she accidentally let her real name slip.
Fearing Israeli forces were closing in on him, Mohammad moved with his wife and younger daughter to the Gaza Strip, but Roza stayed behind to finish the school year. Enrolling Roza at a Gaza school threatened to reveal the family’s true identity, she said.
Roza later transferred from the Nablus branch of Saint Joseph’s School to its Ramallah one. “I stayed with the families of my friends for two to three year, living out of a suitcase,” said Roza. “I saw my family on some weekends and during summer vacation.”
In 1991, Roza’s father came out of hiding when his party, the Palestinian Democratic Union or FIDA, selected him as their representative for the Madrid Conference of 1991. Israel approved his selection and allowed him to travel.
Following the Oslo Accords, Roza’s father became disillusioned with his party’s leadership and decided to quit politics and live abroad. The family wound up in Kenya where Roza spent her formative years.
Roza returned to Ramallah in late 2007 and began working as a travel consultant for Royal Jordanian Airlines shortly thereafter. She was also introduced to OneVoice.
“OneVoice is not an NGO, but a movement, and that sets it apart,” said Roza. “The movement works directly with the people to bring better understanding of why we need peace. This doesn’t simply entail signing a peace agreement, but actually achieving a viable, secure, and dignified Palestinian state.”
As a key member of the OneVoice Palestine Youth Council, Roza has played an active role in OneVoice’s multiplatform Imagine 2018 campaign—painting inspirational murals throughout the West Bank and collecting video visions of the future from fellow Palestinian citizens. She has worked tirelessly to cultivate a sense of personal responsibility in her community.
Despite the many challenges that come with working in an Israeli-Palestinian parallel movement, Roza remains determined to be part of OneVoice because she has seen the tangible effects of her work in amplifying support for the two-state solution.
“We’re not only speaking about the imperative to resolve the conflict and end the Israeli occupation,” said Roza. “We’re also taking concrete steps on the ground to accomplish this goal, so that future generations can live a normal life.”