From left to right: OneVoice Palestine’s Wasim Almasri, IEP Director Rachel Steinberg, and OneVoice Israel’s Tom Bar-Gal before meetings in Washington. Wasim holds the OneVoice petition. Tom displays an informational packet for D.C. policymakers.
Just a few weeks before President Barack Obama’s first trip in office to Israel and Palestine, OneVoice activists Wasim Almasri and Tom Bar-Gal set out to leave an impression on Washington’s policy community.
From March 3-8, Tom of OneVoice Israel and Wasim of OneVoice Palestine had an opportunity to meet with representatives of the U.S. Department of State, Congress, and members of the Obama administration; with prominent intellectuals and influencers at international think-tanks, and future leaders at some of the D.C.-area’s top universities.
In connecting the U.S. policymaking community with the voices of Israeli and Palestinian civil society, Tom and Wasim sought to achieve two goals: present OneVoice’s petition asking President Obama to support the two-state solution, end the occupation and a return to serious negotiations with a limited and clear time frame and references, and share with the policy community why supporting grassroots peacebuilding efforts on the ground in Israel and Palestine in addition to working to secure negotiations at the diplomatic level are a critical combination for breaking the status quo.
During the American election season and through Inauguration Day, OneVoice called on President Obama to leverage his leadership role to facilitate a return to serious and meaningful negotiations for the Israeli and Palestinian leadership and to prioritize ending the occupation and achieving the two-state solution in his second term. Over 1,600 people signed on to this call online and on paper, and during the Washington tour, Tom and Wasim delivered the petition to American policymakers.
On the collegiate level, the tour stopped at American University and the University of Maryland – College Park, as well as included a networking event with the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Questions about outreach and bringing skeptical people into the fold of OneVoice’s nonviolent resistance work and message were top on the agenda at these events.
“We cannot change everybody’s minds,” Tom told students at American. “We know there are people who are hard-headed [and] for a long time, the two-state solution was not part of the discourse [in Israel]. It wasn’t even relevant. And for some it isn’t achievable. But as long as we keep putting this message out there, it slowly becomes part of the narrative.”
“Through [OVP’s] youth leadership program, we talk to the people about the occupation, the two-state solution, and about what needs to be done,” added Wasim. “We start creating a human infrastructure that actually wants to work toward ending the occupation through actively participating in non-violent resistance activities and positive engagement. Also, our town hall meeting program addresses a lot of social and economic issues and connects the average person with the decision makers. This is how we try to create a ripe environment for conflict resolution and peacebuilding.”
At the Wilson Center for International Scholars and the New America Foundation, two internationally renowned think-tanks, Tom was asked for his thoughts on the relationship between the make-up of the Knesset and Israeli public opinion, as well as the generational gap regarding support for the two-state solution.
“My view is that the majority of the Israeli people are not represented in the Knesset because they are silent [on this issue],” Tom explained. “I think people, and this goes for about every person I talked to, are willing to give up more than they are willing to say...[L]ess people might be talking about this [and] people are less vocal about expressing their opinions, that is true. But, I think more people [young and old] actually support the two-state solution.
“For instance, last year we had a big social justice movement [#J14 Movement] that took place in Tel Aviv,” Tom continued. “We held an event of our own, connecting the social justice that so many Israelis wanted to the two-state solution and the costs of propping up the occupation. We showed them why we needed the two-state solution to achieve what they wanted and found it very successful.”
On Capitol Hill, Wasim contended that the structure of OneVoice is the only possible methodology for introducing the two-state solution to each side’s public.
“We believe that working in parallel is in the best interest of the people,” Wasim told Congressional staffers. “For [OVP], it addresses the national self-interest of the Palestinians and we [OVP and OVI] have different ways we interact with each society. So we try to address the conflict in a way that the Palestinians will have an interest in it…and our colleagues in Israel do the same thing [in their own community].”
He paused, and looked at the staffers in the room. All work directly with prominent members of the U.S. House and Senate with varying interests in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Wasim had a direct comment for them all.
“In OneVoice’s message, there’s a sentence that states that the work we do is empowering the people to push their elected representatives toward establishing a two-state solution and end to the conflict.
“You are the people,” he said. “Start pushing your elected representatives toward it.”