Israeli and Palestinian Peace Activists Bring their Message to Boston Area
On September 11, Israeli activist Adva Vilchinski and Palestinian activist Ahmad Omeir shared their personal stories at Congregation Eitz Chayim in Cambridge at an event sponsored by J Street Boston and co-sponsored by OneVoice.
OneVoice is a grass-roots organization spanning Israel and the Palestinian territories (both the West Bank and Gaza), which has been pressing for a two-state solution for the past 11 years. It unites a large cross-section of Israeli and Palestinian peace activists in their own countries and appeals especially to young people.
Omeir, a Palestinian born in Kuwait, spent a couple years in the United States, then moved as a teenager to the West Bank because his father wanted the family to experience the life their compatriots lead. And what an experience it turned out to be: during the second intifada, Omeir joined demonstrators in Jenin, came under fire from the Israeli army, and saw his best friend killed. He reacted immediately with anger and hatred, but overcame those feelings over time and decided to work for a constructive solution to the conflict instead.
Vilchinski's path to focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian issue was also a long one, but in a different way. She described her early life in Tel Aviv as living in a bubble, punctuated only briefly in the 1990s by a series of bombings in the city. Her politicization began in college when she became a feminist. This point of view, as she said, required adherents to recognize the equality of all people, so she felt compelled to break the silence regarding the rights of Palestinians.
Showing a rare political sophistication for their 28 years, Omeir and Vilchinski evince the strong training and organizational work of OneVoice. It combines grass-roots organizing, public demonstrations, and work with politicians to keep the flame of the peace movement alive. OneVoice created the Two-State Caucus in the Knesset, the second-largest caucus there. They hold creatively eye-catching demonstrations, such as a freeze in Jerusalem's Zion Square to protest the lack of movement in two-state negotiations (see their video on Youtube; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0apJ9nLMnU). OneVoice holds tours in the United States regularly to raise its visibility and awareness about their work.
J Street, which sponsored the evening, is a national organization that advocates for bold U.S. leadership to bring about a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and works in Jewish communities across the country to forge a strong and effective voice on this issue. J Street has some 180,000 supporters nationally, and over 10,000 in the greater Boston area (www.jstreet.org).
The current situation on the ground in the Middle East is a difficult one: peace negotiations stalled for some time, Palestinian politics embroiled in leadership issues, Israeli political scene currently overwhelmingly focused on Iran, and both peoples worried economic issues. Despite this, both organizations believe that it is critical to continue to drive the movement forward toward a peaceful solution to the conflict, motivating their activists in their work in the Middle East and here in the United States.
Said, J Street Boston Chair, Donna Spiegelman, "It is especially energizing for J Street supporters in the American Jewish community to hear firsthand about the success of Israeli and Palestinian youth activism firmly focused on a two-state solution. The work of OneVoice, both on the ground and internationally, complements J Street's ongoing advocacy efforts with the U.S. Congress and administration, heartening those who believe in the goal of a Jewish state and Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security."