OneVoice hopes to build network of college students

Arab and Jew sit side-by-side at the San Francisco Hillel house and explain how the humanity that unites the two women is stronger than the boundaries dividing them.

They feel so strongly about this that the pair spent the week of Feb. 11 in California talking about OneVoice, a grassroots initiative that seeks to empower the moderate majority of Israeli and Palestinian citizens to take a more assertive role in resolving the conflict.

Wafa Nazzal, an Arab from Jenin, and Noga Ron, a Jew from Tel Aviv, visited Sanford University, Sonoma State and San Francisco State universities, U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Santa Cruz to educate interested parties stateside about their volunteer work as two of 3,100 youth leaders working to end the violence.

Although they share a vision of peace and equality, they recognize that they come from different points of view.

Ron, 28, is a thin woman with a big smile and wisps of hair that fall into her freckled face when she speaks. She was born and raised on a kibbutz in southern Israel. After serving in the army and graduating from Tel Aviv University, she became involved with OneVoice.

“It’s easy to say there’s no way to solve this problem.” it’s harder to do something to change it,” she continued. “I believe I can do something. I can change my world. That’s why I’m here.”

Nazzal, 21, wears a wasabi-green hijab that complements her striking dark eyes. She was born in Saudi Arabia and spent her childhood in Jordan. When she was a teenager, her family moved to Jenin, where her parents were born.

The second intifada in 2000 made life difficult for Nazzal and her family. In 2002, things got worse when the Israeli army invaded a Jenin refugee camp. Her family had no water, electricity or food, except what was rotting in their refrigerator.

Nazzal eventually enrolled at the Arab American University in Jenin, where she learned about OneVoice.

“OneVoice is the first organization I’ve found that believes in the power of people to ask their representatives to negotiate,” she said.

OneVoice was created in 2002 to empower moderates who support a two-state solution. It does this through town hall meetings, youth leadership programs, public service announcements and public events in Israel and the territories.

With other youth leaders, Ron and Nazzal have helped get 620,000 signatures — half from Israelis, half from Palestinians — on the OneVoice Mandate, which affirms mutual rights of both peoples. The goal is 1 million signatures.

This year, OneVoice is reaching out to American university students. The Bay Area appearances each drew up to 50 students.

Sarah Kleinman, 22, a graduate student at Stanford, attended the Feb. 13 lecture. Because of its small size (15 students), it ended up feeling more like a dialogue.

Seeing an Israeli and Palestinian sitting next to one another “was a pretty powerful message that we need to make peace — lasting peace,” she said.

“I think our generation recognizes that we need to come together as a global community,” she added. “OneVoice is another instance in which this optimism shines through.”

Nazzal and Ron hope that Bay Area college students like Kleinman will want to get involved with a Bay Area chapter of OneVoice.

Their speech aimed to promote an April leadership-training seminar in San Francisco. The training will establish a network of OneVoice student ambassadors who can help support the efforts of the youth leaders in the Middle East. There are already OneVoice chapters on college campuses in Boston, Washington and eastern Canada.

“We have high hopes for the Northern California network,” Rapp said.

For more information about the upcoming leadership training, or to apply, contact Laurel Rapp at [email protected].

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.