New York, September 30, 2011—Standing on a platform at Gallaudet University days before the Palestinian Authority took their statehood bid to the UN, Eyal Shapira, an Israeli, and Obada Shtaya, a Palestinian, recounted their personal narratives as interpreters translated their stories into sign language for the 40 person deaf audience.
Eyal, 25, and Obada, 20, brought the seldom represented voices of average Israelis and Palestinians to American students, policymakers and the media during OneVoice’s Washington, DC speaking tour. Engaging with hundreds of students, they led discussions at American University, Gallaudet University, Georgetown University, George Washington University and University of the District of Columbia.
As the debate continues about the American response to the PA’s UN bid, the project of highlighting Israeli and Palestinian voices of moderation becomes even more important as a means of tempering polarization and conveying national ambitions.
“Americans sometimes take positions without knowing the facts,” said Eyal to a full room at American University. “That is why we [have] come here. And what we are trying to deliver to you is that you don’t have to be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian — you can be pro-peace, pro-agreement [and] pro-OneVoice.”
Recurrent throughout their tour was their appeal for pragmatism and negotiations in the face of increasingly unilateral diplomatic actions.
“Support an agreement, do not support either side,” implored Obada to 75 students gathered at George Washington University.
Eyal and Obada were welcomed on campuses by a wide variety of student groups representing diverse views, including co-sponsorship with UDC’s Muslim Law Students’ Association, the Georgetown Conflict Resolution Association, Georgetown Hillel, Amnesty International, J Street U and others — highlighting the common demand for moderate voices and pragmatic negotiations.
Their voices were clearly well received; as the session at Gallaudet University ended and some students began making their way to their next class, an eager handful remained behind to talk privately with Eyal and Obada about the situation and what they can do on campus.
“The conversation was useful to show the GW student body that when it comes to this issue, being pro-Israeli and being pro-Palestinian is not zero sum,” said Rory Silver, president of J Street U at GW. “You can be both and at the end of the day it is pro-Israeli to be pro-Palestinian and vice versa.”