London, June 1, 2011—OneVoice Europe (OVE) launched the Education and Outreach Program in May with a week-long speaking tour of Southern England led by Israeli and Palestinian youth activists Uri Fishelson and Antwan Saca. More than 650 community members and high school students (ages 14 – 18) attended the events.
The Education and Outreach Program, led by Sharon Alsoodani, aims to diffuse polarization and radicalization of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in communities across the United Kingdom by promoting conflict resolution, mutual understanding, and tolerance. OneVoice’s young Israeli and Palestinian leaders will lead five week-long tours over the coming academic year, challenging British high school students impacted by the conflict to focus on forward-looking solutions.
"Don't be pro-Israel, don't be pro-Palestine,” said Antwan, 26, a Christian Palestinian from the West Bank city of Bethlehem, to Christian, Jewish, and Muslim audiences alike. “If you really want to help, be pro-agreement."
The tour kicked off on May 8 with community events held in Slough, a town 22 miles (35 km) west of London. Slough is home to the highest percentage (13.4) of Muslim residents. At the Holy Redeemer Church, about 200 people attended the event to discuss such topics as the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement and the Arab Spring.
“The speakers were so well grounded in their respective communities that their willingness to work together was all the more impressive,” commented an audience member.
Antwan and Uri participated in a panel event hosted by the Council for Christians and Jews, the UK’s oldest national interfaith organization, at Westminster Abbey in London on May 10. Around 40 people attended the discussion, held in the beautiful Jerusalem Chamber. The audience expressed their concerns over living conditions in Gaza and as well as Israel’s security in a rapidly changing Middle East. “I am sure many of those who were at [the] meeting were most encouraged to see a Palestinian and an Israeli engaging in such a constructive and open way,” said Reverend Robert Reiss, Canon of Westminster, who chaired the panel.
Antwan and Uri spoke at a women’s interfaith event in Birmingham and met with members of City Circle, an organization representing young professional Muslims.
London socialite Mona Bauwens, the daughter of former PLO official Jaweed al-Ghussein, invited the youth leaders to her home for a lively discussion on the Arab Spring. The event focused on the need for accountability and how it could be attained throughout the region. Participants included members from the media, political, and military spheres.
Throughout the tour, Antwan and Uri met with high school students, giving them the unique opportunity to engage directly with ordinary members of Israeli and Palestinian civil society, working to resolve the conflict peacefully and pragmatically. The youth leaders encouraged the students to propose and debate solutions.
“It was an incredible opportunity for students to meet with people who have been living through this conflict and I am sure this will have an impact on the students,” said one teacher, after hearing our nonviolent, determined activists talk about the campaigns and programs they have been running on the ground.