First, background information:
OneVoice is an organization, not a charity or a political party. When it comes to their aims it is that of the basic two state solution that many people around the world are adhering to; that a viable and independent Palestinian state be established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the capital as East Jerusalem.
How it operates to bring this about is a different storie. The organization is subdivided into different branches; OneVoice Palestine based in Ramallah, OneVoice Israel based in Tel-Aviv, OneVoice Europe based in London and OneVoice USA based in New York. These branches do not necessarily work together but work in parallel instead. They tend to focus on the issues in their own societies that they can work on to progress towards a two state solution. The organization trains youth leaders from the ages of 20 – 35 in public speaking, community mobilization and conflict resolution. The following is a talk that was held by OneVoice which I attended where they brought along a Palestinian and an Israeli to discuss the kinds of activities they had been doing back home.
Rami from OneVoice Palestine:
Rami is a Palestinian who studied rural and agricultural engineering and is from an area close to Jenin, in the North of the West Bank. His activist side immediately showed when he was checking whether our refreshments were made in Israel (there was hummous there after all) and that was another point to raise about OneVoice. Asides from the parameters of the two state solution set above, everyone was left to their own methodology, whether you boycotted anything or not was up to you. But I digress.
Before the Oslo accords of 1993, Rami explained how he, and many other Palestinians, felt that they had no future in the occupied Palestinian territories. After the Oslo accords, their hopes were raised up, they began to envision an independent Palestinian state, but then, as before, their hopes were crushed. He moved out of Palestine and went to Europe during the second Intifada of 2000, but after losing a friend who became a suicide bomber and seeing other close ones in the midst of the conflict he joined OneVoice.
He and other members of OneVoice went all over Palestine, from refugee camps to Universities, from villages to East Jerusalem, to ask them what he was asked, “what are you willing to do to end this conflict?”. They collected 350,000 signatures, each one representing the advocacy of the two state solution. Many people huff at that and say that a signature was just a signature, but in the case of Israel and Palestine during and post the second Intifada it was important, as the likes of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert claimed that there was “no partner” on the other side of the negotiations, that no one on the other side wanted peace or a two state solution.
In 2008, OneVoice Palestine held a competition called “Palestine 2018″, in which young children drew and expressed in whatever way what they envisioned an independent Palestine will be like. They spread their films on YouTube and other social networking sites as an attempt to demolish the myth that no Palestinians wants peace.
Another activity was based on an Israeli land law. That if any land in the West Bank is not clearly owned (i.e. cultivated) for a period of time, then it becomes Israel’s, which they can then use to build illegal settlements. With these being seen as a massive threat to OneVoice and their cause, Rami helped plant some trees on some land that was due to be confiscated. They then established a committee to look after the trees and that prevented the confiscation in the end.
Smadar/Dari from OneVoice Israel:
Dari is a resident of Ramat Gan, a city in the Tel-Aviv district of Israel. She had joined the Army as part of her compulsory service during the height of the second Intifada. Having come out feeling frustrated and helpless at the subsequent stalemate of negotiations she studied conflict resolution and joined OneVoice. She herself refuses to buy settlement goods or even set foot in them.
She explained how Israeli society is very polarized when it came to the issues of Palestine between “leftists and rightists”. While OneVoice did have definite premises of a fully independent and contingent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as the capital, they managed to surprisingly attracted supporters from all over the political spectrum who have eventually reached the same consensus as OneVoice.
In 2008 they also went around with a petition to sign for a two state solution. A common reply was a refusal to sign because “Palestinians would never sign for such a thing”. Thanks to Rami’s work above, they were able to provide evidence that more than 350,000 Palestinians want a two state solution too. I saw how this particular strategy has done its best to break the political (and somewhat physical) barriers between Israelis and Palestinians, and point out to both of them that the common man does want peace and that, as history teaches us, the politicians and the governments are most likely messing things up.
The comment about the politicians, especially on the Israeli side, is important considering that Israelis pride themselves on their democracy. So OneVoice created a “Two state solution inter-parliamentary group” in the Knesset/Parliament of Israel. Just one month ago, the settler movement tried to quietly pass a bill to allow the establishing of illegal outposts in the West Bank, and this group managed to publicize this issue and stop the bill as a result as, in their view, it was detrimental to any progress towards peace.
The 2007 Arab peace initiative was also something that was quiet in Israel and almost unheard of. So to publicize and make people notice that the “angry Arab neighbours” were looking for peace too they dressed someone as a Saudi King, who would ride in a limo, then get out and shake hands with the random public. After questions were asked about what the heck was going on, they would explain. This was also a good way to get media attention, a very influential medium in countries like Israel.
Anything that was taboo as well, such as, in some areas, talking about the settlement issue, was discussed in meeting held by OneVoice. Giving people the confidence to talk about these issues openly.
What made me realize is important for the movement is, asides from giving hope, to put a human and reasonable face to the opposition. Instead of the Palestinians or Israelis in this organization pointing fingers at each other, they have focused on present issues, pressuring their own leaders and looking at how their own society can be improved when it comes to arriving at a two state solution.
More to come in part 2…