New York, August 30, 2011—On the streets of Jerusalem, Eyal Shapira is looking for a confrontation. His eyes zone in on his target and with precision, he moves in. Armed with tactical knowledge from past military training, Eyal, a self-proclaimed Israeli patriot, is prepared to struggle for what he believes in.
Unbeknownst to his prey, the former Israeli soldier’s battle is actually a war of words between the “silent majority” of Israelis supporting a two-state solution and the opposed, often conservative, segment of the populous that refuses to yield. The prospect of a heated debate is especially high in Jerusalem, due to its religious and political significance that places it at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital despite the Palestinian desire for East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, to be the capital of their future state.
“Of course I talk about Jerusalem as one of the painful compromises that will have to be made, because it’s true,” said Eyal, when asked how he sees Jerusalem’s final status in an agreement. “I try to show Israelis that their interests lie in separating Jerusalem to ensure its demographics and security.”
Joining OneVoice Israel (OVI) just over a year ago, Eyal has already stepped up to a leadership role in the Jerusalem chapter. When the conflict flares up in the news, creating tension, Eyal will take to the streets or organize an event to set the facts straight and discredit the violent extremists on both sides.
“Just this Sunday, he sent all of us in the Jerusalem chapter an e-mail telling us to join him in the streets to talk to people,” said Chen Reingold, one of Eyal’s recruits who found herself attracted to his excitement, which she calls infectious, when he approached her on campus last year. “It’s not easy at all, but he is good at it.”
Understandably, the task of reaching out to a large cross-section of the Israeli public is frustrating. Eyal does it because he wants, “a better society, a better future… I need to try to make as much of a change as I can now.”
Believing that politicians are affected by the voice of the public, Eyal persistently attempts to convince people on the street that a peace agreement is of the utmost importance. He urges them to see that painful concessions must be made to obtain a secure, peaceful future.
“People who do not see eye-to-eye with me are the most important ones to talk to—they are my target audience,” said Eyal. “We show them the whole picture and the benefits of compromise.”
Eyal brought an Israeli specialist, Shaul Arieli, to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to lecture on the conflict and discuss pragmatic solutions for final status issues, including Jerusalem. He also organized a debate between Professor Robbie Sabel, an Israeli expert on International Law, and Dr. Sufian Abu Zaida, a former Palestinian Authority minister, about the United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood, scheduled for September.
“It was a very moving event for me,” said Eyal. “Sufian Abu Zaida represented for us the Palestinians who are willing to talk to us and to compromise. Although there was tension in the air, I felt that the audience left the event much more optimistic than how they came.”
Eyal will bring his power of persuasion to Washington, D.C. in three weeks time. Together with OneVoice Palestine activist, Obada Shtaya, Eyal will engage everyone from students, to dignitaries, to politicians, discussing the situation on the ground and encouraging them to raise their own voices in support of a two-state solution.
“It is only natural for Eyal, one of OVI’s most prominent activists, to represent OVI to American audiences,” said Danny Shaket, OVI’s Youth Leadership program coordinator, who himself represented OVI on the International Education Program’s Washington tour last year. “Eyal has educated hundreds of students on key issues, often recruiting them to be a part of the movement.”
Eyal will join his Palestinian counterpart, Obada Shtaya, in leading an International Education Program tour of Washington, D.C. from September 16-23.