With the level of regional violence at its lowest point for some time there is a palpable sense of renewed – albeit guarded – optimism in many quarters of the Middle East as the Israelis and Palestinians gear up for next month’s US-sponsored conference in Annapolis.
But while the politicians go about their business, OneVoice chief has been persistently pushing along a grass roots peace initiative of his own for over five years. The OneVoice movement set out on its dogged road to engender optimism in the Middle East in early 2000 and has spread its influence right across the globe, operating offices in Tel Aviv, Ramallah, New York, London and Ottawa, in addition to dozens of smaller units around the world.
This week Lubetzky and his cohorts will hold a number of mass public events to highlight the movement’s efforts to fuel a positive approach to coexistence, and the possibility of an Israeli and a Palestinian state existing peacefully and harmoniously side by side. The highlight will be in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park, with performances by top Israeli musicians like Mashina, Keren Peless and Hadag Nachash, as well as Canadian rocker Bryan Adams. There will also be satellite links to similar events happening in Washington DC, London and Ottawa, Boston, Irvine in California, and Aberdeen in Scotland.
A simultaneous festival in Jericho was cancelled over the weekend, due to threats on OneVoice organizers by Hamas – an indication that while Israelis are buying into the organization’s message, there’s still a long way to go on the Palestinian side.
Despite formidable obstacles like that, Lubetzky fervently feels, however, that the two state solution and coexistence is the only way to go in the Middle East.
“There is simply no alternative,” he told ISRAEL21c from his downtown Tel Aviv offices. “We have to find a way for all of us to live together here, with mutual respect. I realize that won’t happen overnight but we must start from a position of respect. Once that happens the other things can slowly fall into place and we can start addressing the practical aspects – things like economics, transportation etc.”
Lubetzky, a Mexican-born US resident and frequent visitor to Israel, says the name of the movement reflects both the complexity of the regional situation and the need for unity through listening. “Some people don’t like the name. They say: ‘How can you say one voice in the Middle East, where people have so many voices?’ The point is – yes, that is true. Even within our own movement there are so many voices, and that’s what is so powerful. You have Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Europeans, Jews, Moslems and Christians – all, in spite of their different narratives, are joining as one voice against violent extremism. That’s the distinguishing factor in what we’re doing.”
OneVoice has come a long way since its inception, but the dynamics of the Middle East and world politics have continued to ebb and flow just as rapidly. Lubetzky is nothing if not a realist. “When the idea for the movement began to take shape, things were pretty good here. People, at least most Israelis, were optimistic about the chances of peace. Then the second Intifada started and that knocked everything back a long way. But we are making progress.”
That is evident from the votes count on the OneVoice website. The movement is aiming to get one million people, from around the world, on board its peace train by committing to the idea of a two state solution. The web site allows visitors to sign a mandate to pledge support for the leadership of Israel and the Palestinian Autonomy, “if they sit down to negotiate a two state solution to end the Israeli Palestinian conflict.”
Signed mandates will be physically delivered, en masse, to the Israeli Knesset and the Palestinian Legislative Council.
“The idea is to exert pressure on the politicians so they work this thing out, and eventually achieve a peace treaty,” explains executive director of OneVoice Israel, Gil Shami. And it’s not just about attending the events later this week and pledging support on the website.
“People need to be committed,” Shami continues. “We need people on the streets. We need activists and pressure groups. We need to let our leaders, and the extremists, know that enough is enough.”
That sentiment is echoed by Shami’s counterpart at the movement’s Ramallah offices, Nisreen Shaheen. “What distinguishes this movement from all others is that it takes responsibility and gets citizens to take action – to figure out what is their role towards ending the occupation and achieving peace.”
Shaheen believes this week’s events can generate the forces needed to keep the groundswell pointing in the right direction. “This October mobilization can possibly reframe the conflict and inspire citizens on both sides to understand they have to all take action and align themselves towards a peaceful solution among Palestine and Israel. This awakening of the moderate voices is so urgently needed both in Palestine and in Israel, to strengthen good leaders and give them the support they need to carry out the peace of the brave.”
Lubetzky is also aware of the suspicion that exists on both sides but says he is encouraged by response to this week’s events, and the movement’s ongoing efforts, from possibly the least expected sources. “We have a lot of support from people in refugee camps in Gaza. They just want to live their lives, feed their kids and live in safety.”
The Tel Aviv offices were buzzing with frenetic activity in the lead up to the People’s Summit events, and Lubetzky – and his staff – were just a little sleep deprived.
“Some people have told me I’m crazy and I often wonder about the enormity of this task we have taken on ourselves. But the momentum is gathering. We have 3,100 youth leaders out there working tirelessly – we have to work with young people, they are our future,” said Lubetzky.
And the buck won’t stop this Thursday. “We have more events planned in the coming months,” Lubetzky continues. “We are getting a unified parallel voice – not joined yet – from Israelis and Palestinians. There has never been such a massive mobilization on both sides. The big picture is that just by doing this [People’s Summit events] we are going to have success. We [OneVoice] were not born out of hope. We were born out of the despair of the second Intifada. We realized then that the silent majority must be heard to combat the extremists. You have to be positive, and you have to be affirmative to get things moving. That’s what we’re about.”