New York, April 4, 2011— At universities across Northern California, students flocked to OneVoice International Education Program (IEP) tour events this March, eager to challenge the status quo, challenge the youth leaders, and challenge themselves.
OneVoice activists Tomer Avital and Bashar Shweiki gracefully fielded an array of questions from students spanning the political spectrum, encouraging the attendees to check their premises and imagine a future of promise. The young men described the work they’re doing on the ground and pushed those in attendance to join the effort to end the conflict. Students who came jaded left with a sense of hope.
“We have to start thinking rationally and reasonably,” implored Bashar Shweiki of OneVoice Palestine.
Discussions were facilitated at numerous events on the tour, perhaps most notably at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz students came prepared, bringing critical issues to the table. In a true testament to the OneVoice mission, Tomer and Bashar were able to frankly discuss contentious issues like settlements and borders while maintaining a respectful attitude toward all parties.
“My goal was to challenge them to create dialogues and initiatives to reach a two-state solution and to not depict one side versus the other,” said Tomer, of OneVoice Israel. “American students should act as role models for us in the region, and not fuel extremists.”
Another stop on the tour was in Berkeley, when the OneVoice team stopped at the University of California, a public high school, and Jewish day school. The schoolchildren, though they had only ever known the Jewish perspective of the conflict, were particularly receptive and keen to hear Bashar’s story of life as a Palestinian. Bashar endeared himself to the children, telling them, “We are not here to compare suffering. If we do, we will never stop, never reach a solution, and another generation will inherit our conflict.”
At Stanford University, as one student explained, there has been marked polarization on campus, with one organization advocating for divestment from Israel and another vociferously contesting such a move. Tomer and Bashar clarified why such efforts only hurt the situation and asked the students to make a positive impact. Americans can help, says Tomer, by “setting an example of cooperation.”
“I’m interested in ending the conflict and I want to do something for my future and for my children’s future,” said Bashar, leaving the audience with some inspired words as the Stanford event came to a close. “You have to decide between resisting in the violent way or you have to think rationally and decide what the best way to end the conflict is. And the best way is the non-violent way.”