By Mattan Peretz*
On Sunday, I attended a political event that was a bit different than what I was used to as a youth leader with OneVoice Israel.
It wasn’t a demonstration in a square or protest outside the prime minister’s office. It wasn’t a lecture on a university campus or debate with representatives from across the political spectrum.
It wasn’t a community tour or an information booth to collect some signatures.
I attended an intriguing event that stood out to me as unique. The mass event – the Roundtable Peace Initiative – was attended by Israelis gathered in 11 cities and seated at 70 roundtables to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At the center of each table sat Knesset members, journalists, security personnel, and people who invested the best years of their lives working on this political issue. There were also leaders of various peace organizations – 20 total – that co-hosted with OneVoice. Although we have different modes of action, we work toward similar goals, and coming together for this was a great experience.
The politicians, peace groups, and other officials were not the real centers of the discussions, however. The most significant aspect of the event was the participation of the general public – close to 2,000 Israelis – who decided to come and speak their minds.
It was not the type of event where the audience sat passively by or a spectator from time to time asked a question, which may or may not be answered.
At this event, each and every person who stood or sat around a table had a chance to ask, to attack, to challenge, agree, and/or disagree.
Guest speakers could not satisfy the crowds with short answers, or try to escape the stage and divert the discussion to a subject more convenient and easy when talks became heated.
The participants remained seated at the tables until the streetlights went on around Beit Ariela (a Tel Aviv library) in an attempt to continue to provide answers to an eager public as night approached, and the political issues remained the center of public debates around dozens of tables.
Not every table discussion was the same: some were comprised of young people talking quietly and others had more intense debates. Participants moved from table to table, jumping in for a moment to hear and exchange a few words with the speakers and the public, while others sat together for hours, waiting to reach a conclusive resolution and end the discussion.
Although a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not reached at these tables, we did agree that the best ways to get out of the political stalemate are through dialogue, discussion, and negotiation.
But one may ask in response, “Negotiate? With whom?”
The answer is, “At first…ourselves.”
*Mattan Peretz is a youth leader in the Jerusalem Chapter of OneVoice Israel.