New York, August 30, 2011—The bustling city of Nablus is stuck between two mountains, and for Obada Shtaya, the claustrophobia of living in the occupied Palestinian territories makes a change in the scenery a welcomed opportunity.
This is an especially hard task when Israeli checkpoints dot the West Bank and travel permits are hard to come by. But Obada, 20, has made the most of his young life even though the political situation has not been so kind.
Politics always appealed to Obada, and his family is acutely aware of its consequences within the conflict. Obada’s father was exiled to Lebanon in 1991 because of his political activism, which also prevented him from international travel for 20 years. His mother is also vocal in her political beliefs, he said, because in Palestine, politics is all around you, and there is no escaping it.
“My family realizes that the atmosphere of politics changes over time,” Obada said. “They accept that and support me in my endeavors, letting me do what I have to do and think is right.”
This is especially true for Obada in a post-second intifada Palestine, where he deems armed resistance to Israel undesirable. Even though his parents were brought up believing in the entirety of historical Palestine as part of a future state, he said there is room for an open mind given the current political and social situations within Palestinian society.
For these reasons, Obada joined OneVoice Palestine (OVP) in 2009 after attending one of their workshops with friend and OVP Youth Council Delegate, Mohammad Asideh. OneVoice provided the type of political know-how and aptitude for mobilization that Obada sought out.
“Obada has a way of discussing issues… he’s very diplomatic and likes to think outside the box,” Asideh said. “We come from the same village and I know his family well, so introducing OneVoice to Obada was something I wanted to do because he wants to hear all sides, but is not afraid to speak his mind.”
Obada’s propensity for politics occasionally makes way for two of his favorite pastimes, literature and karate, but is never fully absent.
With his father’s travel ban lifted in 2004, Obada had the opportunity to go to England with his father and his teammates for a karate championship. Obada took in the sights and sounds of the country, reveling in a new-found freedom.
The experience in England also sparked an interest in English literature and language. At the championship match, Obada didn’t speak the language well, but the experience definitely spoke to him, helping him decide his college major at An-Najah National University.
Hitting the books also allowed Obada to travel again, this time on an academic scholarship to Bilkent University in Turkey, where he studied drama, Shakespeare, and public speaking for an academic year.
There are times when life in the West Bank cannot be blocked out or left behind, literally or figuratively, he explained. The reality on the ground can be harsh at times, but Obada has learned to savor the moments that mean most to him, and he will work to bring his experiences home to his compatriots.
“Traveling to championships outside Palestine was always a relief for my teammates and I because it is almost the only way to leave Palestine,” he said. “All the way through the championship, the team would repeat, ‘we are going to be free for one week in a place where there are no barriers and no settlements to be seen,’ and we were filled with joy.”
Obada will join his Israeli counterpart, Eyal Shapira, in leading an International Education Program tour of Washington, D.C. from September 16-23.