New York, November 22, 2012 – “We are seniors, we are passionate about peace in the world, [and] we have common cause in our desire for peace.”
This was the message that Helen Anderson, a member of the Mill Valley Seniors for Peace, shared on the first day of the International Engagement Program’s Northern California tour even amidst the devastating escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Based at the Redwoods Retirement Community, Mill Valley Seniors for Peace members’ average age is 87, and they are every bit as vigorous and motivated as youth leaders Obada Shtaya, 21, of OneVoice Palestine and Shai Parnes, 30, of OneVoice Israel. The youth leaders expressed that the violence thousands of miles away increased the urgency to end the conflict, and they fed off the vast experience, knowledge, and immense encouragement from Redwoods throughout the entire tour.
Obada and Shai work tirelessly for the two-state solution and a permanent end to the conflict in Palestine and Israel, respectively. Both stressed that the two-state solution is a pragmatic approach and provides the best opportunity for realizing both group’s nationalistic goals for current and future generations. There is also agreement that the U.S. must leverage its influence more effectively and provide an environment for viable and just negotiations.
“We want a new era of peace and prosperity, and if the U.S. decides to fairly and justly intervene in the conflict tomorrow, it would only be beneficial to Palestinians and Israelis,” said Obada. “We are not paying lip-service to the two-state solution; we’re actually working on ways to get this going. The U.S. has a responsibility to solve this, too.”
Likewise, Shai repeatedly asked audience members to reflect on their own outlooks and feelings toward the parties involved in the conflict, including the U.S.
“You have to ask yourself what it really means to be pro-one side or the other,” Shai said. “I think both of us [Obada and I] can agree that we are pro-solution. As an Israeli, I hope that America uses its power to help Israel become a better place to live in.”
The remainder of the tour saw itself in more familiar surroundings. Students from UC Davis, San Francisco State, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz Universities made up the rest of the audiences. A wide variety of student associations, religious and activist organizations, and academic departments partnered with OneVoice: Muslim, Jewish, and multi-faith groups, along with political science and international relations departments, and educational organizations like the Olive Tree Initiative, took part.
The questions from the audience members focused on several key issues, from Israeli and Palestinian public opinion to settlements to the Palestinian U.N. non-member status bid.
“The only face of Israel that [Palestinians] see is the occupation,” said Obada at UC Davis. “If [Israel] freezes the settlements, to give us a sign that ‘we are not building anymore on your land and we’re willing to give you this state which is now yours,’ that is a step in the right direction. I hope the U.N. members will support our efforts and we believe that this is a multilateral, not a unilateral move, and it is very essential to go back to negotiations.”
When asked about the average Israeli’s perception of the conflict, Shai answered candidly that many do not live it on a daily basis, but become acutely aware when hostility escalates.
“The majority of Israelis don’t normally feel the effects of the conflict, except when there is an uptick in violence,” said Shai at SFSU. “When this happens, the public stays home, they are afraid to go to shopping centers, to go on buses. People in Israel say there is no partner, but I know for a fact that there is one on the other side. We [at OneVoice] are waking people up.”