A few weeks ago, I met Tomer, a 28-year-old Israeli parliamentary journalist living in Jerusalem, at a OneVoice event at Congregation Bet Haverim in Davis. Tomer was presenting alongside Bashar, a businessman who lives in the Palestinian city Hebron. I was really taken by their parallel pursuits for peace, which in part have been fueled by a nonprofit peace organization called OneVoice. Tomer and Bashar were in the United States as cultural ambassadors, in part to spread a message of peace and advocacy, and also, I think, to give us a real, human understanding of what it means to live in Israel and Palestine in 2011.
Tomer has been an active member of OneVoice since being recruited as a freshmen in college. I introduced myself to him and Bashar after the presentation, and within seconds we discovered that we had both studied abroad in Spain. Tomer was kind enough to answer some questions I had about his experience with OneVoice, and agreed to let me post these answers on my blog. Why? Well, there was something about hearing him and Bashar talk that ignited something in me I had long buried: a desire to understand just what happens in places like Jerusalem and Ramallah, and a feeling that maybe, someday, things could be different.
What is your personal approach toward organizing youth in Israel in a movement for peace? What campaigns (OneVoice or otherwise) have you seen that didn't really seem to have an impact in Israel, and what campaigns do you think really work?
TA: Most of my friends are indifferent. They became used to living in ongoing conflict. The only Campaign that works, I believe, is a positive one that shows the benefits of peace. Other methods that try to frighten people with worrisome data (e.g that in 20 years we will be the minority, and Israel will become totally isolated) don't work.
Tomer and Bashar at a OneVoice event at San Francisco State University
Photo Credit: OneVoice
What, if any, role should Americans or other non-Israelis/non-Palestinians play in promoting peace in the Middle East? What is the best way for us to educate ourselves?
TA: Creating "Pro-peace" initiatives are very helpful. We are inspired when we see people outside the region sympathize with us, not by taking sides, but by calling to our leaders to negotiate. Now we mainly see events full of hatred that urge others to boycott Israel among other things. That only fuels our extremists.
What kind of responses have you gotten in your travels to promote OneVoice? Were there any discussions or reactions that surprised you?
TA: We met mainly confused people that wanted to learn more. That was good because Bashar and I could approach them to show several points of view. We also met other peace activists - we strengthen each other. We conversed with many other activists that were surprised to see that we could get along.
What would your ideal Israel look like?
TA: We should have a Middle East Union. Ideally, Israel and its neighbors could bond and build economic, touristic and cultural bridges. Israel itself can gain a lot from peace. Our children would not have to spend 3 years in the army, and we could use the security budget to improve our education, infrastructure and so forth. Besides that, I believe that the conflict damages us and dulls our morals. Israel today, I believe, lives half of its potential.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Indoors, I love to write fiction and watch "How I Met Your Mother" with my friends. Outside I enjoy hiking, and riding my bicycles. I live just across the street from the Knesset and I walk to my work place. That is a dream come true.
Many thanks to Tomer for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope to interview a OneVoice ambassador from Palestine in the coming weeks. Who knows, maybe someday these ambassadors can lead a unified action toward peace in the Middle East.
Next year in Jerusalem - or Ramallah - or, even better, both.