Ordinary Israeli and Palestinian citizens are increasingly important in the Middle East peacemaking process, Orit Gazit, from west Jerusalem, told about 20 people Thursday as part of a town hall meeting series being held this week by activist group OneVoice.
“OneVoice’s goal is to get people to support and pressure leaders,” said Gazit, 28. “Our leaders will have to go in that direction, and it will come from beneath, from the grassroots.”
OneVoice is an international grassroots organization that helps Israelis and Palestinians reach a consensus on sensitive topics as well as present these goals to their leaders, Gazit said.
At the meetings — held at the McCormick Tribune Center, the University of Chicago and DePaul University — five speakers tried to unite students increasingly polarized about Middle East issues, said OneVoice’s Jake Hayman, 23, of London.
“The most important people who can do something are the university students,” said Nisreen Shahin, 29, executive director of the OneVoice office in Palestine.
The meeting was this week because OneVoice will receive a “Peacemakers Award,” said Weinberg senior Sarah Bush, president of Americans for Informed Democracy, one of the NU sponsors.
OneVoice wanted to used the meetings to launch its “International College Program,” a program to empower college students to make a difference in the peace process, she said.
OneVoice was founded after the failure of the Camp David negotiations in 2000 and escalating violence in the Middle East, according to the organization’s Web site.
Experts create suggestions for peace and survey Palestinians and Israelis about the issues, Gazit said.
Supporters then submit the suggestions to their leaders, she said. More than 120,000 people are involved.
Past efforts at peace haven’t been successful because not enough people have been involved, Gazit said.
Survey topics include the possibility of coexisting Israeli and Palestinian states, refugee problems and security, said Shahin.
When asked, 76 percent of Palestinians and Israelis want their states to coexist, Hayman said.
He said Palestinians and Israelis want a two-state solution, but neither know they’re in agreement.
OneVoice wants to bring back the voice of moderation that many Israelis and Palestinians do not express, said Muli Peleg, 47, a political science professor from Tel Aviv University.
“The problem is the mass majority is a silent majority,” he said.
The other important part of OneVoice is its leadership program, Gazit said. The goal is to go into communities and motivate people to help, she said.
Students play a crucial role, Shahin said.
“We focus on the youth target because we know they are the people who are really enthusiastic to do things for other people,” she said.
Gazit described her experiences growing up in west Jerusalem. She grew up afraid to get on public buses, she said.
“There is a point when you say, ‘OK — enough is enough,'” she said.
Medill sophomore Ramah Kudaimi was enthusiastic about the meeting.
“It was a great opportunity to show the peaceful movements that are going on, not on the violence that we always see,” she said.
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