From March 3-11, OneVoice Palestine communications officer and activist Wasim Almasri took part in the International Engagement Program's Washington, D.C. tour. Wasim had the opportunity to speak to political and religious communities during his stay and told us about his experience.
OneVoice: You studied in the U.S. for several years. What was it like to be back after living in Palestine for so long?
Wasim: I haven't been back since I left Truman College (Chicago) with my computer science degree in 2006. It's nice to travel outside of Palestine for a change; I haven't been granted a pass to leave the West Bank by the Israelis for a long time. It's nice to see the outside world, but now I see it with different lenses on. When I was in Chicago, I wasn't very involved in politics. Now, I am a father and improving quality of life for my daughters and my people is very important to me, so it increases my involvement in politics.
As a student, I saw the U.S. as the land of opportunity. As a politically active Palestinian, I see the U.S. as the mediator that should be an honest and sincere broker for the peace process. It's good to be here, but I can't wait to be back home and share my experience.
OneVoice: What was the reception like in Washington? How did the government officials and community members you met with greet you and what you had to say to them?
Wasim: I believe some people were surprised to hear a narrative they never heard before [the Palestinian narrative], but open to listening to what I had to say. The meetings were informative very valuable in terms of what the American public's vision is of the conflict and how they see a final agreement to the conflict and it ending. The government officials were very, very anxious to hear from the grassroots.
I think I had the most impact on the interfaith groups. They come from a community that is already doing peace building on their own. It motivates them to see us doing our work on the ground, and it motivates us to see them doing the same in the U.S. I know that the majority of Americans don't know the Palestinian narrative; the media shows certain things on the subject or moves on to other topics they think is more important. However, we must continue to do so in the face of such silence.
OneVoice: Why is it important for President Obama and Secretary Kerry to visit the region now, and how can that impact a potential return to the peace process? What should Palestinians say to the president when he arrives in the region?
Wasim: First, the people need a spark of hope, especially with mistrust between Israel and Palestine. The status quo is not making it easier for the Palestinians, particularly socially and economically. After the Israeli elections, we are thinking about a future Palestinian presidential election. The timing is important for Obama. He needs to leave a legacy for the next president, and Kerry has been working on this issue for a while and is passionate about it.
While in Palestine, Obama should acknowledge the work of civil society and their role in peace building, but there is no doubt that these organizations will continue their work even if conflict is not solved. The youth leaders want a push by the Americans so they can give them extra motivation to do their work.
OneVoice: Can you take what you already know and what you learned about these American audiences and use it in ways to push for peace in the occupied Palestinian territories? Does what you learned give you additional momentum to do what you do every day in Ramallah?
Wasim: Coming into this tour, I was unsure what the reception would be from the audiences here in the U.S. I was expecting ignorance, but the reception was great and the tour went really well. I was always going to come home and do the work I was going to do, but it's nice to see we have civil society supporters in America working within their role in peace building and using their position to influence policy. I enjoyed hearing everyone's perspectives and having the opportunity to deliver a personal experience to Americans, putting a face to the numbers or statistics that they don't normally see.