OneVoice student leaders spoke about their life-changing experiences in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at an event on Thursday night in the East Quad Building Lounge.
Youth leaders Ahmad Omeir and Danny Shaket spoke about their lives growing up in Israel and Palestine, and took questions from the audience.
OneVoice was founded in 2002 by Daniel Lubetzky to promote peace as an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to promote the two-state solution.
Omeir is a 26-year-old Palestinian youth leader from Bal’a, a village in the northern West Bank. Danny Shaket is a 25-year-old undergraduate student at Tel Aviv University who grew up in Netanya, a town about 20 minutes outside of Tel Aviv.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict reached Omeir on a personal level in 2003 when one of his friends was killed by Israeli troops.
One afternoon, Omeir visited the candy shop his friend owned in his hometown, then went to the shop next door for a moment.
He says he heard Israeli troops come into his friend’s candy shop and speak harshly to him.
“I didn’t understand Hebrew at the time, but I understood the gunshots that came next,” he said.
He ran into the shop to see his friend lying on the ground covered in blood. An Israeli soldier told Omeir the only way he could live would be to put his foot on top of his friend’s chest.
He resisted at first, but then his friend, who was not dead yet, reached over and placed Omeir’s foot on his chest. At this point, Omeir fainted and did not regain consciousness until he woke up at a hospital the next day.
Omeir believes his friend was killed because he was Palestinian.
Shaket said he had not seen the violent side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until 2000 during the Second Intifada, a Palestinian uprising.
“It felt like all hell broke loose,” he said. “My hometown had seven or eight explosions right on my block.”
Around the same time, he was drafted into the Israeli National Army. Because of a medical condition, he could not serve in active duty, and he spent his time in the human resources department.
Shaket first found out about the OneVoice movement in 2007, and became a member in 2009. He was able to get a large group of OneVoice student activists to attend Vice President Joe Biden’s speech at Tel Aviv University in March 2010.
He also arranged a public debate about the two-state solution in Tel Aviv.
When Omeir first heard about OneVoice, he did not want to join the group because there was a social stigma around joining organizations that “encouraged love of one’s enemies,” he said.
But he eventually joined after hearing someone in the group say they were members because they did not want their children to live in fear.
“I did not want anyone to have to live in fear anymore,” he said. “I wanted to participate in change.”
Shaket believes peace is an end result, not an immediate goal, of talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Peace is the result, in the future, of an agreement between both sides, he said. “We first need to bring both sides to the table first before we can achieve peace.”
A number of pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli AU student groups and organizations co-sponsored the event, including Students for Justice in Palestine and the Center for Israel Studies.