New York, October 3, 2011—Reporting to the crowded Reichan-Barta'a checkpoint for his call to duty, Gabi Avner scrutinizes the congested flow of spices, ripened produce, and goods that sharply contrasts from the quaint suburbs of his distant hometown in Maryland.
Gabi, 26, who was raised a short distance from the affluence and power of Capitol Hill, grew up with what he describes as “never anything missing.” However, in his life as a high school student wrestling and playing football, the desire to see the place of his heritage grew stronger.
“What drew me to Israel is that I see it as an unfinished project. It’s such a young country, a young endeavor, a work in progress,” said Gabi.
After taking a semester to study abroad in Israel, Gabi never could have anticipated he would live in Israel long term. With such encounters as making plans to visit Café Caffit in Jerusalem the same night a suicide bomber planned an attack, Gabi unexpectedly found American life to be more trying.
“When I found myself back in the US, I missed the feeling of not living amongst my people,” Gabi said. “Identity was never much of an issue in the US, but when you are in a place where day-to-day your identity is an issue, it changes your perspective.
Taking this transformed perspective to Israel, Gabi desired to be what he calls a “full-fledged member of society” and made the life changing commitment of entering into the Israeli army.
For Gabi’s parents this voluntary service did not come as a shock. “I understood that he wanted to be involved and not just somebody on the sidelines. This was the way to do that,” said Phil Avner, Gabi’s father.
During his two and a half years in the army with such responsibilities as patrolling the Lebanon border, conducting night raids and monitoring checkpoints, Gabi began to encounter a Palestinian narrative that led to his current involvement in OneVoice Israel (OVI).
“My time in the army made me realize that we will not come out of this situation through any type of military victory,” said Gabi. “I was proud to serve my country, but I knew at the same time that this was not a situation that I would want for another generation or two.”
Following his service, Gabi partnered with OVI’s campaign for a two-state solution and promoted a more feasible Israeli-Palestinian coexistence to peers from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and later the Ben-Gurion University, where he recently completed his master’s degree in the politics of conflict.
“I like that I can work toward my goal of attaining a two-state solution as a proud Israeli Zionist in an organization that recognizes the importance of my identity as an integral part of making peace and not as a barrier to it,” Gabi said.
Gabi will join his Palestinian counterpart, Anas Ashqar, in leading an International Education Program tour of New York City from October 10-20.