New York, October 24, 2012—Roughly two dozen twentysomethings, split evenly between men and women, gathered earlier this month at the Adam Center for Dialogue of Civilizations in Gaza City's Al-Rimal neighborhood for OneVoice Palestine's leadership development pilot program in Gaza.
The nondescript conference room in Al-Johara Tower was buzzing with chatter. The participants, handpicked by OneVoice's Gaza Director Ezzeldin Masri, differed in background, education, and politics, but shared a belief in the two-state solution. In coordination with the Adam Center, and other local civil society organizations such as Save Youth Future, OneVoice Palestine planned an intensive 36-hour training program in leadership skills and teamwork.
"Over the next couple of weeks, we're hoping to solidify these participants into the first OneVoice volunteer group in Gaza," said Masri enthusiastically. "Then, we'll support them in designing and implementing initiatives across Gaza." Their focus will be on ending the internal division in order to present a united front in negotiations with Israel.
"We cannot have 20 factions each trying to impose their vision on the people," explained Masri. "We need national consensus on how to end the occupation and the conflict, and the only pragmatic solution is the two-state solution. We must come to terms with Israel to put Palestine back on the map."
Imad al-Falouji, head of the Adam Center, joined Masri for the introductory session to the trainings, spoke about pursuing a non-violent political course to achieve an independent Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and answered questions about the Fatah-Hamas split and the power of the grassroots to effect positive change. The participants, many of them university graduates without job prospects in Gaza's crippled economy, agreed to start the program on October 11, eager to make an impact in their communities.
Since reopening the Gaza office in late 2011, Masri led 15 informal sessions about OneVoice's mission and work, reaching a total of 350 young people. "My goal throughout," he said, "was to train young Palestinians to become moderate political leaders supportive of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a negotiated two-state solution."
While the challenges of operating under a government opposed to the two-state solution remained, successfully recruiting a core group of participants meant Masri had overcome a major hurdle. It left him confident that there was indeed space for OneVoice Palestine to operate in Gaza and as he stated, "move forward."