OneVoice, a Middle Eastern-based grassroots organization advocating for Arab-Israeli peace, made a stop at GW Wednesday night to discuss the possibility of a violence-free future in the region in the wake of Hamas’ victory in Palestinian elections last month.
The organization, which promotes moderate, non-violent methods of solving the conflict, has been traveling to college campuses in the D.C. area throughout the week and drew about 50 students to the Marvin Center Wednesday night.
Thomas Pickering, the U.S. ambassador to Israel in the 1980s and one of the guest speakers at the event, highlighted the changes that the Middle East has undergone recently, most notably the Islamist-nationalist Hamas party gaining a majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament and ousting the long-dominant Fatah faction.
Since the election, many have been concerned that this new Palestinian government might end hope of the revitalization of peace talks with Israel.
“What is needed now on both sides is what has always been needed – moderation, a goal of change, and some flexibility,” Pickering said. “With those changes, the Middle East can be an opportunity instead of a challenge.”
However, predicting what affect the Hamas party will have on the Arab-Israeli conflict has proven to be a much more elusive issue, said Rafi Dajani, the executive director at the American Task Force on Palestine, said.
“I think now they are trying to delay on coming up with public positions on issues that the international community cares about, to try and figure out where they need to stand in the conflict,” he said, referring to the lack of publicly stated agendas from the new Palestinian power.
Senior OneVoice youth activists Nada Majdalani, a Palestinian, and Eyal Bino, an Israeli, each offered their own perspective of the conflict. Both shared personal stories of growing up in the region throughout the conflict, and talked about how being involved with OneVoice has made them want to push for a collective understanding between the two feuding sides.
“I used to feel that these people, the Palestinians, were out to destroy us,” Bino said. “Then I came to NYU to study international relations, and I found myself interacting with other Arab students on issues that weren’t even related to class.”
Jake Hayman, OneVoice’s international coordinator and host of the event, said that the organization realistically does not expect the two groups to ever get along, but hopes that they find a better way of tolerating each other.
“OneVoice does not exist to get Arabs and Israelis to like each other, or even to hold much compassion for each other,” he said. “We exist to be a cog in the machine that pushes towards non-violent conflict resolution, that’s all.”
Hayman added that the campus tours OneVoice are meant to raise the awareness of his organization and particularly to get U.S. institutions to recognize their cause. Also, he said he wants to help get American students out of the habit of pitting one group against the other when engaging in debate about the conflict.
“We also wanted to address the problems we’ve found on U.S. campuses where groups identify themselves with one side by attacking the other,” he said. “There’s terrible de-humanization, and it can be avoided with moderate conflict resolution.”