New York, December 1, 2011—"Lesson number one," Professor Joshua Davis said, as he opened a thick book and showed the roughly 55 students gathered at the OneVoice event at San Francisco Law School a dried rose from between the pages, "is don't give up."
That rose, he told the class, is over 25 years old. He was given it by a woman in Palestine as an apology. Studying in Palestine during the first intifada (uprising), his presence as an American Jew during a time of suffering angered one of his host's friends. One night in particular, he told the students, a fight broke out ending with the friend storming off.
She came back later that night to apologize and gave him the rose he still has to this day. "I took it and pressed it into the book," he told the class, gesturing to the thick tome A Complete Guide to William Shakespeare, "and in my head, this is cheesy, I thought as long as those rose petals survive there is hope for peace."
A hushed giggle spread through the students in response to Professor Davis' admittedly romantic sentiment. What he said next, though, recaptured the students' complete attention. As she handed him the rose, he recalled, she said "that it was right for me to be in that house, in Palestine, because if we can't speak to one another about these difficult issues than there really is no prospect for peace."
Sharing their stories with people at San Francisco State University, Netivot Shalom, St. Andrews, Temple Beth El, Temple Sinai, the Kehilla Synagogue, Mills College, and a buildOn high school classroom in Oakland on the Northern California speaking tour, Abigail and William's stories began and ended in parallel. They both spoke about their grandparents: William's were forced to leave Jaffa for Ramallah during the Nakba and Abigail's survived the Holocaust. They proceed on divergent paths from there, with Abigail sharing her experiences as an activist working to maintain the character of the state of Israel and William sharing his experiences working to end the occupation and establish an independent Palestine.
Yet in the end, they come to the same conclusion in much the same fashion: a two-state solution, they agree, remains in both of their peoples' best interest.
And, like the Palestinian woman who confronted Professor Davis 25 years ago, they are willing to have the difficult conversations needed to get there, even within the extremes of both societies. "We were invited into a settlement," Abigail told the roughly 40 people gathered at the Kehila event hosted in St. John's Presbyterian Church, "to explain what we do because the settlers wanted to engage with us and we wanted to engage with them."
Likewise, William affirmed that OneVoice Palestine works with all Palestinian stakeholders. "Hardliners," he said, "are our largest challenge. We work to bring those groups under our umbrella."
"We see photos of suicide bombers and settlers in the media," Abigail continued. "We don't see photos of William and I. That's why we work to amplify the voice of the moderate majority – we are larger than the extremists yet they seem louder."
Before he handed the floor to Abigail and William, Professor Davis recalled what was going through his mind as the Palestinian woman gave him the rose. "I thought it was incredible that with so much understandable anger she could come to that conclusion," he told the class. "I hope that will be a theme for tonight. If we can't talk here then how can anyone talk and how can there be progress."