New York, March 28, 2011—Amid great polarization and growing apathy in the Bay area, hundreds of San Franciscans looked to OneVoice’s youth leaders Tomer Avital and Bashar Shweiki as models of activism when the pair visited their communities in mid-March.
Tomer and Bashar implored their American counterparts to join them in pressuring political leaders and engaging their peers on college campuses. At several events held at San Francisco State University, University of San Francisco, and University High School campuses, Bashar and Tomer shared their personal stories, inspiring students to ask how they could support moderate Israelis and Palestinians in their quest for a two-state solution. Tomer and Bashar provided hope and direction, while simultaneously feeling inspired by the students they reached.
“Many people in Israel are ‘couch moderates,’ they scream at the TV and reject the extremists, but they don’t act or take responsibility for ending the conflict,” said Tomer at the University High School on March 16. “We want you to spread the idea that there are two narratives deserving of respect [in order to] look to the future to reach an agreement.”
“The conflict affects political policy and individuals all over the world,” added Bashar, who emphasized the necessary role of American citizens at a University of San Francisco event on March 17. “You must put pressure on your leaders to reach a peace agreement.”
OneVoice Israel (OVI) and OneVoice Palestine (OVP) are definitely leading by example. From the first ever Two-State Solution Caucus in the Knesset launched in part by OVI, to OVP’s meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and participation in a demonstration with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, OneVoice understands the importance of engaging the decision makers at the top.
Tomer and Bashar agreed that leaders need to feel supported by their people in order to have the courage to sign a peace agreement. They also need the international community’s support, which is where the American students come in.
Though polarization is widespread on many west coast campuses, from last year’s student divestment bill at the University of California, Davis, to increasingly frequent incidents between pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine camps, many groups and professors are committed to moderate dialogue and cross-cultural interaction, creating change on their campuses and helping OneVoice to engage both sides.
Tomer and Bashar felt that they were able to reach some diverse audiences in San Francisco. The impact OneVoice had in Northern California made Bashar feel “inspired to work harder” and eager to “share the experiences on this tour with people back home.”
Audience members felt inspired as well: “Meeting the youth leaders was humbling, and reminded me that while we sit in class discussing the conflict, there are thousands of people suffering it,” recounted one University High School student.