Two youth activists from OneVoice Palestine and OneVoice Israel discussed their activities and imperative as grassroots organizers to compel citizens and policymakers towards a negotiated settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On March 4, the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center and OneVoice hosted a meeting, “Unwilling to Wait: Why Activists are Taking the Initiative on the Peace Process” with Wasim Almasri, Communications Officer for OneVoice Palestine, and Tom Bar-Gal, Regional Coordinator at OneVoice Israel. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, moderated the event.

Almasri began by outlining the shared mission of the OneVoice movement and the goals which both he and Bar-Gal work toward achieving in their respective communities. As a Palestinian born in Lebanon, he told his story of coming “home” to Palestine for the first time and the encounters with the occupation he would have thereafter which ultimately led him to join the OneVoice movement. He stressed the critical role of grassroots activism in bringing about a comprehensive agreement between Israel and Palestine. OneVoice Palestine, he explained, is committed to a two-state solution, which would bring an end to the occupation, ensure peace and security for both sides, and resolve all final-status issues in accordance with international laws.

By supplying the resources, knowledge and tools for civic participation and informed decision making among citizens and policymakers in Palestine, OneVoice has helped paved the way for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. However, Almasri insisted that activists at the grassroots level still depend on the support of the international community, and, in particular, on the support of American leadership to change the status quo. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he concluded, must be President Obama’s top priority when he visits the region at the end of March.

Bar-Gal also relayed his personal stories of how the occupation has touched his life and inspired his will to join the OneVoice movement. He discussed the work and mission of OneVoice Israel, which works in parallel with OneVoice Palestine. Bar-Gal outlined the concerns and interests of activists in Israel who want to see an end to the occupation and, in effect, the violence, international isolation, and economic hardship associated with it. However, Bar-Gal argued that despite the problems associated with the occupation, the leadership in Israel has not yet been motivated to change the status quo, in part because of a strong settler’s lobby in the Knesset and in part because the “silent majority” of Israelis do not yet feel empowered to speak out against it.

Therefore, he concluded, the work of OneVoice and other grassroots activists is essential because it brings what were formerly like-minded but disparate individuals together and amplifies their voice in society and government. Bar-Gal argued that the discourse in Israeli society must change before its leaders change their policies. And, likewise, the Israeli grassroots organizations will rely on the support of the American leadership in making sure these goals come to fruition.

By Darya Razavi, Middle East Program