New York, November 1, 2011—When you ask Daniel Gottlieb about his daughter Abigail's activism, he just laughs, knowingly: "It was only a matter of time, really," he says contentedly of her political engagement.
Daniel, along with his wife Adina Gottlieb, were themselves engaged social activists when they were younger. Awakening politically to a country reeling in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war, "we were part of the entire feeling of the need to change the government," he recalls. "We tried our best to allow our children to grow up in a country without having to go to war," he reflects, almost sadly.
And while their generation failed — Abigail served two years as an operational clerk in the Air Force and her younger sister committed three years to public service through the Nachal program — Daniel is very proud of his daughter's engagement: "She is not hiding. She is doing what we tried to do."
Abigail, 24, has been involved with OneVoice for over a year and in that time she has participated in nearly every campaign, from Imagine 2018 to the establishment of the Two-State Solution Caucus in the Israeli Knesset, becoming one of OneVoice's most involved youth leaders.
Always interested in understanding all sides of the conflict, Abigail traveled to Konstanz, Germany, in 2009 to participate in a Middle East Simulation, which involved Palestinians representing the Israeli delegation and Israelis representing the Palestinian delegation. It was there that Abigail first heard of OneVoice and where she met Tal Harris, the executive director of OneVoice Israel who at the time was working as a coordinator for the simulation.
Focusing on the platform established by the Arab Peace Initiative, the simulation was intended to motivate the young participants to take a leading role in ending the conflict. Despite the focus on the future, Abigail found that many people were too rooted in past wrongs to even begin talking about the right way forward.
Inspired by the simulation and about to begin a master’s degree in public policy at Tel Aviv University, she began volunteering with MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor). On paper, the two make a perfect match. Yachimovich, the leader of the Labor Party, matches Abigail’s level of engagement as one of the most active members of the Israeli Knesset. They also share a common journalistic background, with Abigail working for the Israeli Web site Walla! and Yachimovitch working in print and broadcast journalism before transitioning into politics.
Despite their commonalities, though, something was missing for Abigail. “The conflict isn’t the main issue for her,” says Abigail. “She’s more focused on domestic and social issues. For me, the conflict has to be dealt with at the same time and on the same level as domestic issues. They are connected.”
Which brings us back to the simulation in Germany: on the last night of the event, she raised the problem posed by the failure to move beyond history to Ilan Halevy, a Jewish member of the PLO in attendance. "It took a lot of courage," recalls Harris. "He was nasty to her in response. He drove her to tears in the middle of the gala."
"I was disappointed with his answer," says Abigail, "I didn't see the point of continuing this, either in the simulation or in real life, if people weren't going to move on from the past." But if this event brought Abigail to her lowest point, it also showed her the way forward. She saw the dangers of remaining tethered to the past and the opportunities embodied in the OneVoice vision for how to move forward. "Other participants from the conference, Palestinians included, came to me and told me that my question was legitimate."
In her own way, Abigail represents the possible paths of the conflict itself: confronted with the intransigence of many, she could have gotten discouraged, she could have retreated into a history riddled with injustice as some Israelis and Palestinians have done; but she chose rather to draw inspiration and strength from the experience, and to work for peace.
"She was willing to move on," says Harris, "she didn't lose faith and has become a more fervent ambassador for the two-state solution because of it."
Abigail will join her Palestinian counterpart, William Salameh, in leading an International Education Program tour of Northern California from November 11 - 18.