I had never heard of the organization One Voice prior to being approached to sign up for their annual conference, “Solutions Not Sides (SNS),” which was scheduled to take place at the University College London (UCL) in early September. The title resonated with me as I Googled to understand their mission: ‘One Voice is an international grassroots movement that amplifies the voice of mainstream Israelis and Palestinians, empowering them to propel their elected representatives toward the two-state solution.’
As twenty odd delegate students — we began with at least one thing in common, despite hailing from a range of religions and backgrounds. Most of us came with an open mind and most of us came feeling that in our small way we had an opportunity to play our part in bringing about peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I felt optimistic, hopeful. As an Orthodox Jew who supports the state of Israel, a Zionist, it was interesting and uplifting to be able to engage with people my age from who were Muslim, Christian, Palestinian, Atheist and Jews from other backgrounds. To me this was what was it was about – interactive and organic ‘interfaith’ that fosters understanding through speaking about tough issues face to face. Grassroots interfaith that facilitates sharing on a human level who I am, who he is, who she is and that all of us love, laugh and yearn for good between all humankind.
The delegates were the highlight. Sadly, I can’t say the same for the speaker line-up which surprisingly, proved to endorse one, pessimistic narrative. The majority of the speakers were highly educated, respected academics from England, Israel and Argentina. Most were experts in anti-Zionist rhetoric and with the pedigree of intellectual superiority, some delegates were left either confused or swayed to inaccurate conclusions.
Saif Aqel, a Palestinian peace activist studying mechanical engineering at a university in Nablus, made some unforgivable claims during a Skype call between the delegates from his home in Nablus. He described Israel as making it appear as though Hamas want to kill Israelis, that Hamas are willing to accept a two state solution if Israel wants it and that among Hamas members are moderate voices. Aqel is clearly ignorant to Hamas’ charter, or consciously presented a false narrative to the conference attendees. At a rally in 2014, Hamas political bureau member Mahmour Al-Zahar said, “Anyone who thinks that we will recognize the existence of the [Zionist] entity or the 1967 borders is deluded…Palestine stretches from the Egyptian border in the south to the Lebanon in the north and from Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean sea in the west and we will never recognize anything less than this.”
Sebastian Welisiejko, an economist discussing economic implications of the conflict, responded to a question about the transparency of donations to the Palestinian Authority (PA) by decrying that the same way there are no statistics on drug dealing, there are no statistics on the PA stealing from donations as it is illegal. He also claimed that corruption is less of an issue now and that he didn’t want to entertain this idea with conspiracy on Mahmoud Abbas, President of the PA. If Welisiejko is correct, can he explain the spring of 2016 strike led by Palestinian teachers who accuse the PA of falsifying information to their international donors? According to Palestinian teachers, “the information provided by the PA to donors claimed that the PA pays higher salaries to the teachers than the teachers actually receive.” This is of course not the first time Abbas and the PA have been accused of corruption and bribery. Why would Welisiejo make excuses for or belittle serious concerns of the Palestinian people?
Daniel Levy, political analysis, and co-founder of J Street, spoke on the history of past negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis. He shockingly claimed that the only reason why Israel hasn’t destroyed Gaza is because other countries wouldn’t let Israel get away with it. He advocated for Israel to be sanctioned due to inexcusable human rights violations and he expressed sympathy for the PA as according to Levy, they can’t say anything negative against Israel or else Israel will claim they are anti-Semitic. Can Levy tell us how he would describe the address by Abbas, President of the PA on Palestininan TV in 2015? Abbas stated, “Every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure, every shahid [martyr] will reach paradise, and every injured person will be rewarded by God…The Al-Aqsa mosque is ours. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is ours as well. They (Jews) have no right to desecrate the mosque with their dirty feet, we won’t allow them to do that.”
“Israel had been an occupier for 80 years;” “Bibi and his government need terrorism;” “Settlers are the root cause of no peace” — these are just some of the messages repeated in numerous ways throughout the one-sided One Voice conference. The conference did not have any expert speakers present to counter some of these disturbing claims, or offer other important facts.
When some of us suggested that the disproportionately high number of resolutions against Israel from the UN compared to other far worse human rights abusing countries should be addressed, we were cast aside. Ultimately, the speakers’ overriding message concluded that until Israel stops oppressing the Palestinian people violence against Israeli citizens is understandable.
In the end, it was the individual thinking and humanity of my fellow delegates that didn’t destroy all the hope I had arrived with. It was the seedling conversations with other students that made me realize that this was the true purpose of this conference. A Moroccan Muslim whose best friend was Jewish and who showed great knowledge in Jewish culture, a Muslim from Pakistan who admitted to being fed anti-Semitism at home, and a Christian who showed unwavering support for Israel, to name a few. These beginnings left me optimistic that it is only through a whole lot more dialogue that young Palestinians and young Israelis will ultimately be able to live side by side in peace.
Liora Cadranel is the Co-President of CAMERA-supported group University College London (UCL) Friends of Israel Society.